A/N: So I know I never put author's notes at the beginning of a chapter, but I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who reviewed the last chapter in favor of "I'm not taking this crap" Bella. I was concerned that I didn't work that in quite the way I wanted it to sound, and I re-wrote it four or five times before publishing it. So thanks!
My shift at the book store seemed to go on forever, possibly because it was a slow day so I had plenty of time to stew over the way Edward was behaving. I bit Maggie's head off when she asked me a question about a woman looking for A Tale of Two Cities and then had to spend the next two hours convincing her that she wasn't doing anything wrong.
Maggie wisely offered to cover for me so I could leave fifteen minutes early, but I think she just wanted to get me out of there as soon as possible.
When I got to my house to change I half expected to find Edward waiting for me, which would have been good for me because I was still pissed and needed to take out some aggression, but bad for him because I was still pissed and needed to take out some aggression.
I got changed into the all black outfit that was my uniform for the restaurant and drove over, purposely taking my time so I would miss the pre-serving meal. My time at my first job earlier had proved that I was rotten company in a social context. I walked in as the staff table was being cleared down and made my way to the back room to drop my coat and stand behind the bar. Lynn was clearly far more adept at reading moods and wisely chose to keep her mouth shut.
At around 8:30 we got a crowd of guys coming in for a bachelor party. They were fairly sober so it was clear we were one of their earlier stops.
"Hey Lady!" One of the guys called out to me, "My buddy Pat is getting married in the morning! A round of tequila for everybody!"
Okay, scratch that, they were mostly sober. There was always one guy who hadn't gotten out of the habit of pre-gaming and thought he was the life of the party.
"None for me I'm the DD."This came from a taller guy with dark brown hair a little way's down the bar, "I'll just have a diet coke please."
"Aww, come on man, you gotta do one!" Life of the Party seemed disappointed.
"No can do," dark hair replied, "Someone has to make sure none of you violates your marriage vows tonight."
"Fine," Life of the Party shrugged. He turned to me, "You're gonna have to do his shot for him."
I gave him a half smile and checked the clock. We had a rule that Lynn and I didn't allow patrons to buy us drinks until 9, but I really wasn't in the mood to deal with rules today.
"Sure," I said to Party guy. I prepared the shots and some chasers, before handing them out to the guys. As I tipped my head back to take mine I could have sworn I saw a flash of bronze in the corner, but I wrote it off.
After the first shot the rest of the men proceeded to buy a round of different concoctions which I continued to pour and throw back.
"What I want to know," dark hair said coming up to the bar in front of me, "Is how a tiny little thing like you is managing to hold her liquor better than most of these idiots."
I laughed, "Well, I'd tell you but I'd have to kill you, it's a trade secret."
"Hmm," he nodded his head as if thinking, "Well, what if I solicited your services for a few bartending lessons, then it technically you'd be telling someone else in the business."
I shook my head, "Sorry pal, but in order to learn that one you have to get your official bartenders card. And just a tip, never tell a girl you want to 'solicit her services'."
He laughed this time, "Fair enough. Let me buy you dinner to make it up to you?"
"I'm afraid not. I'm seeing someone."
"Well, you can't blame a guy for trying. I think these numbskulls have had more than enough, let's see if I can't get them back to the hotel so that there's at least some chance of them making it to the ceremony in the morning."
It took him roughly fifteen minutes, but he managed to get them all out. After the bachelor party left things started to quiet down, and Sue came over to tell me I could head out around 10:30.
As I walked to my car I noticed a very familiar vampire waiting for me.
"Hey," I said.
"Hey," he replied.
We stared at each other for a moment.
"I didn't know if you'd want to talk to me yet," Edward said, "I can run home if you don't want to see me right now."
I shook my head, "That depends. Did you and Alice have a nice chat?"
He looked down at the ground. "Not only did Alice and I have a nice chat, but Esme and I had nice chat, Rosalie and I had a nice chat, and Emmett and I had a chat that resulted in me needing to buy Esme a new coffee table."
"Well then I would be happy to have you come back to my house and we can talk." I moved to get into the driver's seat, but Edward stepped in front of me. "What are you doing?"
"Bella, I realize that this may seem like exactly the type of behavior you want me to stop, but you've had quite a bit to drink tonight, and even though you seem to be handling it remarkably well, I can't let you drive."
I couldn't help myself, I started to laugh. "Edward, have you ever seen Coyote Ugly?" He shook his head. "There's a part in the movie where people keep buying the main character shots, and in order to keep her boss happy she has to take them. The thing is, her friend shows her how to do it without taking a drink. I 'chase' the shots with an empty beer bottle, and I spit the tequila or whatever into that. The only thing I've had tonight is water."
"Oh," he said, "well, then you're all right to drive then."
He opened the door for me and walked around to the passenger side.
"And just so you know," I said as I stared the car, "That isn't quite the behavior I was referring to, you're allowed to try and keep me safe, I wouldn't expect anything less of you. What I object to is you trying to make my decisions for me."
"That's what Alice and Esme said. They said I needed to learn to respect your space because you've grown into a different person since I left and that you're fully capable of making your own decisions."
I nodded at him, "And what was your response to that?"
"I've learned that Alice is generally right where things concern you, and that it's generally best not to argue with her when it comes to matters like this."
"Good," I said, "Because they're absolutely right. As much as I know we both hate to think about this Edward, you need to realize that when you left me I acquired some independence, I had no choice in the matter. I know you only want what you think is best for me, but sometimes what you think is best for me and what I think is best for me are two different things, and you need to talk to me about these things instead of trying to control my decisions."
"I know Bella, believe me, after today, I understand your point more than you can possibly comprehend."
"Okay," I told him, "We're going to go back to my place and I'm going to change into comfy clothes, and we're going to figure some stuff out alright?"
He nodded, looking almost relieved. We pulled up to my house about five minutes later and I headed upstairs to change, where I had the living daylights scared out of me by Alice.
"Go easy on him," she said, "We've already taken care of reaming him out." I simply nodded and she leaped out the window. I changed and went downstairs to see Edward sitting patiently on my couch waiting for me. I sat down on the opposite end of the couch, curling up to face him, but maintaining some distance in case I lost my ability to think around him as usual.
"So the way I see it," I began, "we have some things to work out. I don't want you to continue to make all of my decisions, but I don't want to make my decisions without either, and I'm willing to compromise in some areas. So how about we take turns picking things that we think need to be changed or addressed and we can talk about them." Edward smirked but agreed. "Alright then, let's start with my health. I agree that it's not up to the standards it should be, but you don't have any idea how bad it was two years ago. I was much more underweight and I wasn't eating anything healthy at all. I've been getting better, but it's taking some time. The same can be said for my sleep schedule."
He nodded, "I'll admit that I may have overreacted about that. My family tells me that you've been doing much better since they've been around. It's just that I worry about you, and I hate to think this is my fault. Is there any way I can convince you to see a nutritionist in order to try and get you back to being healthy again?"
"Of course, I was planning on doing it soon anyway. I've been trying to take care of it myself, and for the most part I've done okay, but it's not a bad idea to check in with a professional." He seemed pleased with that answer, "Okay, it's your turn to pick something."
"Living arrangements," he said without hesitation, "I want you to come live with me and the rest of the family."
I started to shake my head before he was even finished with his sentence, "Can't do it. For one reason I'd renege on my lease here, but more importantly as much as I love your family, I'm not ready to live with them 24/7. There's just something bizarre about trying to sleep in a house where everybody is up all night. However, I'm willing to compromise on this point."
Edward did not look pleased with this response, but he seemed to accept it, "Fine, will you consider spending the weekends with me and staying at the house anytime I need to go hunting or anytime the rest of the family goes hunting without me. And I'd like to stay here with you during the week."
"That's fine, assuming your hunting trips aren't any more than two days and the rest of your family agrees to this idea." He nodded his assent, "Alright, so I'm going to throw my employment out, because I'd prefer to talk about this while I'm still lucid. I was considering leaving my job at the restaurant after your family moved back into town and I'm willing to keep that idea in mind, but I want to hear your thoughts."
"You know that I would be perfectly happy if you didn't work at all and would let me take care of you, but I know that isn't going to happen, so I need to ask, why were you considering quitting at the restaurant?"
I shrugged, "The only reason I worked two jobs was to take up time, and once you guys moved here I had plenty of other things to do, so there was no reason for me to continue to work there. And you're right, I'm not going to just sit back and let you support me."
Edward considered this for a moment, "Alright, I'm good with you continuing to work at the bookstore, at least for now. What's your schedule like there, and how much flexibility do you have?"
I explained that I worked Monday through Thursday and that I had some flexibility, but not the type that allowed me to call in one morning and tell my boss I would be taking a month off.
Edward must have seen how exhausted I was getting because he said, "Alright, I'm bringing up one last thing and then it's off to bed with you. I'd like to discuss dates and gifts. I know that nothing material will ever be able to make up for what I did to you, but regardless of whether I'd left you or not, I'd want to spoil you. So I want to know where you're going to draw the line. Am I allowed to get you things or take you away for the weekend?"
I thought about this for a moment. I still hated gifts and attention, but I knew that Edward desperately wanted to get these things for me, and I knew that Alice and the rest of the Cullens wanted it too, "Okay, this is my absolute limit, you can take me out sometimes, within a forty mile radius, and you can get me if gifts, within reason, if there is an occasion which calls for one. This means Christmas or my Birthday, not National Talk Like a Pirate day, or gee, I saw this in a window and thought you'd like it, type of things. Weekend vacations are acceptable if they are infrequent and we keep to the East Coast, preferably within driving distance. I'm also going to refuse to stay in luxury suites every time we go somewhere, if your family already has house or apartment than that's fine, but we don't need to spend more than most people make in a month so I have somewhere pretty to sleep."
He considered my proposal for a moment or two, "So to clarify, I'm allowed to buy you things for your birthday and Christmas, but I can't get you something that you would define as over the top, I can take you on short vacations as long as we don't have to fly anywhere, and dates have to be within an hour from home?"
I nodded, "Pretty much."
"I agree, as long as we can renegotiate this later and you will allow me the occasional just because present, as well as accepting gifts from my family without too much of a fuss. I know you hate being taken care of or fussed over, but they love you too, and they want to show it."
I agreed on this point and then decided that it was time for the human to go to bed. Edward and I climbed the stairs to my room and I got under the covers while he lay on top of them, still managing to hold me in his arms.
It was bliss.