Well, slap my ass and call me Sally! An update!

I truly do not know what to say other than THANKYOU to all the new readers who have put this fic on alert and/or have sent me a review. After I posted that last chapter, I received nearly 200 new alerts – in only one week! Wow! I am amazed and completely humbled.

And THANKYOU to my loyal, patient readers for sticking by me even though I don't update as often as I know you would like. From now on I will no longer assume that I only have a dozen readers. **smacks forehead in shame** You know what they say about assuming things….

In case anyone is interested, my hometown of Hartford, Vermont (and surrounding region) was severely affected by Hurricane Irene in August. My family was lucky and did not sustain any damage (we live on higher ground), however many homes , businesses and bridges close to the White River were either destroyed or inundated with as much as five feet of thick mud and silt.

While most of the major clean-up and recovery has been accomplished, many people are still without homes and/or heat, power, etc. As I write this at the end of October, most of the leaves are already down and nights are becoming increasingly cold (32F/0C) and we've even had our first snowfall already. I don't have my electric mattress pad out yet, but I will soon! My town's local homeless shelter has become the central resource for recovery aid in our region, and they expect the need to pick back up as more people realize they and their homes are not prepared to withstand the winter weather.

If you would like to help by donating something, the info is on my profile. Thank you for considering this!

My heart and prayers go out to all the people affected by the devastating earthquake in Turkey as well as the horrible flooding in Bangkok.

But enough depressing world news! Let's get to the happy stuff! Here's the story already!

Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight and the characters therein. No copyright infringement is intended. The intellectual property including, but not limited to, all characterizations, plot lines, backgrounds and details belong to mylittlebakersdozen. No copying or reproduction of this work in any language is permitted without express written authorization of the author. Thank you!

Chapter 11: Louis and Elvis

BPOV

Edward and I walked quietly back into the classroom to gather up his art supplies. We were alone in the large room, as Zafrina and the rest of the class had already departed. Rather than feeling relieved, however, I almost wished that someone else was nearby to minimize the awkwardness I felt.

The silence between us stretched and crackled, nearly taking on a life of its own. Mutely I watched as he efficiently packed up his drawing pad and pastels, and even though I was curious about what exactly he had drawn, now was not the time to ask for a show-and-tell session.

We walked down the hallway toward the stairwell, the only sounds apparent were our footsteps and the soft buzz of the fluorescent lights. We arrived at the doorway to his studio and Edward glanced at me before inserting his key into the lock. He motioned for me to enter before him and once I was past the threshold, he flicked the light switch on and gently closed the door.

The butterflies in my stomach were starting to gang up on me again and I nervously started stretching my fingers back.

Edward awkwardly cleared his throat and asked, "Um, why don't you have a seat?"

I sat down in the same armchair I had last time I was in here, only this time I was even less relaxed and fidgeted more. I tried to keep still by pressing my hands between my knees, but I found I couldn't even look up at him. Instead I glanced around the small room, and was startled by the volume of work I saw around me. The last time I was here, merely a few days ago, the studio had been disorganized but fairly empty in terms of artwork. Now, however, I saw multiple sketches of my likeness covering the walls, and several large empty canvases stacked up in the corner. Edward had been busy.

While I was looking around, Edward fiddled with his stereo and soon a quiet melody filled the air. I cocked my head a bit to the side, trying to place it.

"Uh, it's Debussey," Edward admitted. He seemed a little apologetic.

Hearing him say the composer's name sparked my memory, and I finally looked up him and smiled. "No, Clairdelune – it's great." My mom loved this piece of piano music and would play her CD of it frequently. I hadn't heard it in a few years and closed my eyes, fondly remembering dancing with her in the living room, the two of us giggling like little girls and really hamming it up. When the music finally ended, I opened my eyes and saw Edward mirroring my own smile.

"Any requests?" he asked softly.

Still smiling, I shook my head. "Not really. More of the same would be great, though."

He turned back to his music collection and inserted another disc into the player. The music filled the void and erased what remained of our awkwardness. The lack of spoken words now seemed insignificant and comfortable. I relaxed into the old armchair and took a deep breath. Edward continued to putter about behind me, and I soon discovered what he was up to. Carrying two steaming mugs, he offered me one with a shy smile.

I looked curiously at the metal thingy inside the cup and gently inhaled the hot liquid's aroma, not recognizing it.

Edward chuckled softly and answered my unspoken question. "It's jasmine tea. Green tea leaves with jasmine blossoms. The mesh strainer holds the loose tea leaves, so please don't squeeze it, or else the leaves will end up loose in your mug and the tea will get very bitter."

I carefully took a sip, not wanting to burn my tongue, and was pleasantly surprised by the taste. "This is really good. Thank you."

Edward dipped his head down and nodded, trying not to smile too widely. He then walked over to the wall across from me and sat down against it, stretching his long legs out in front of him. Because the room was so small, the soles of his Doc Martens were only a few feet away from me. I studied the pattern of wear on the treads, wondering where those boots had taken him.

We quietly sipped our tea, occasionally meeting each other's gaze before quickly looking away.

Finally he could take no more and mischievously cocked his eyebrow at me. "So – about that 800-pound gorilla in the room…."

Gah! I really didn't want to talk about this with him, but I knew I had no choice. Was I nineteen or nine? It was time to put on the big-girl panties and act like the adult I was.

"Yeah," I started. "About that."

I took another sip of tea before proceeding to tell him all about Rosalie's decision to "volunteer" me for modeling duty. To his credit, he remained silent, allowing me time to choose my words. My discomfort must have been obvious, but he never commented on it.

At one point I saw him shake his head and chuckle, and called him out on it.

"Well," he ruminated, "some of her behavior makes a little more sense to me now, after hearing your story."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, did she ever tell you that I stopped by your room several times last week?"

My surprise must have been obvious, because Edward chuckled again. "Apparently not. Anyways, she made some oblique remark about how I would be seeing you soon and not to worry about it. It seems that she meant tonight, with your modeling."

I didn't know whether to feel embarrassed or pissed off – I think I was a little bit of both. Rosalie's interference in my life was unacceptable.

"What's the deal with her?" I asked. "I mean, you obviously know her better than I do, seeing as your brother is dating her, so what gives? Is she always like this?"

Edward grimaced a bit and tugged the hair on the back of his head. "Let's just say that Rosalie is very…protective. She and Emmett have been dating since high school, so she's practically family for all intents and purposes." He took another sip of tea and seemed to gather his thoughts. "My guess is that she's testing you, to see if you fit in."

"Fit in? What business is it of hers?"

"I could be wrong, of course. I'm only guessing. But even if I'm right, that doesn't mean that I agree with her or her methods."

I sat still, stewing over his words while I continued to drink the cooling tea.

Testing me? For what? And what in the world was she trying to get me to fit into?

My irrational insecurities about being the only ugly girl in Arnason Hall quickly jumped to mind, but I quickly disregarded them. No one could be that petty. Could they?

Edward was watching me closely while I pondered his words. "What are you thinking about, Bella? I see so many different emotions running across your face. I wish I could read your mind, just to keep up with you."

I shrugged. "Yeah, my mom always called me her open-book, because she always knew when I was trying to bluff my way out of something. Speaking of which, don't ever ask me to play poker!"

We grinned at each other until I had to look down, summoning the courage to ask him the questions swirling around in my head.

"Why do you think she's testing me? For what? Do I have to be like Miss America just to room with her, or something like that?"

Edward snarfed a bit of his tea and started coughing, a big smile gracing his handsome face.

"Uh, no, nothing like that. I hope, at least!" He continued to grin at me when suddenly he seemed embarrassed. His hand had migrated to the back of his head to tug on his unruly hair. That awkward tell had become undeniably endearing. "Um, I think it has to do more with me than it does with you."

I cocked my eyebrow at him, gesturing with my hand for him to explain.

Was Edward blushing? Oh, man, this has gotta be good!

"Well, I don't date often, and Rose knows that, so my behavior lately has probably really piqued her interest."

Holding my breath, I waited for him to continue.

"Um, yeah," he said with another trademark tug. "I'm not usually the one who chases after a girl. They usually chase after me." His face contorted into a grimace. "God, that sounds so conceited. I just meant that no one has interested me enough to put any amount of real effort into it. Until now, of course."

He looked at me and smirked. My stomach did an Olympic-sized flip off the high-dive board and I could feel my face becoming hotter.

I gulped and whispered, "But why should Rosalie care?"

"Ahh, Rosalie. Well, I told you that she was protective. Maybe fiercely loyal would be a better way to describe her. Anyways, she hasn't had an easy upbringing, and when she and Emmett started dating, my folks kind of took her under their wing, so to speak. Her parents didn't care. They were off doing God knows what and were probably relieved that she wasn't in their way anymore. So Rose essentially adopted us as her family, and is leery of anyone else coming in and shaking up the dynamics. I know she can come off as an icy bitch, but she is one of the most tender-hearted, caring, generous people I've ever met."

Rosalie? Tender-hearted? I nearly snorted.

Edward continued his story. "I think she feels threatened by you. She sees how captivated I am by you, and probably doesn't want anything or anyone to endanger her sense of belonging, of security, with my family. That's why I think she was testing you with this modeling assignment. She probably wanted to see if you had the balls to go through with it."

I was flabbergasted. What in the world could have happened to Rosalie to make her act this way? When I tried to ask Edward that very question, he cut me off with an apologetic smile.

"Sorry, but that's not my story to tell. Maybe if Rose trusts you enough one day, she'll tell you herself. Either way, it's in the past, and I wouldn't worry about it."

Shaking my head mutely, I just sat there, trying to absorb everything he had told me. I looked down at my cup and discovered that I had nearly finished my tea.

"Can I get you some more?" Edward's voice gently broke through my thoughts. I nodded and smiled.

"Yes, please. This is really good."

While he was making our second cups of tea, I stood up and stretched my legs, curious to poke about his studio a bit. The sketches tacked to one wall beckoned to me, and I was surprised to see how many different versions of myself I saw there. How long had he been watching me? In none of these drawings did it appear that I was aware of his observations.

His velvety voice interrupted my thoughts once more. "Mind if I change the music a bit, Bella?"

I hummed my agreement, still entranced by the surprisingly intimate sketches. A new song started to play softly in the background. I was momentarily startled when Edward silently walked up behind me, grasped my hand in his, and gently spun me around to face him.

"Dance with me," he whispered.

My heart beat a staccato rhythm just being this close to him. I placed my hand on his upper arm, marveling that I was actually caressing his bicep, and followed his lead as we started to sway. Only then did I notice the words to the song that was playing.

Heaven, I'm in heaven
and my heart beats so that I can hardly speak
And I seem to find the happiness I seek
When we're out together dancing cheek to cheek

"Gotta love Louis Armstrong," Edward murmured. I was too self-conscious to look up at him, knowing that my regular blush would erupt like Mount Vesuvius and consume me if I dared to get lost in those eyes of his at such close range.

Oh, heaven, I'm in heaven
and the cares that hung around me through the week
Seem to vanish like a gambler's lucky streak
When we're out together dancing cheek to cheek

We slowly moved about, and I squeaked out a surprised cry when Edward dipped me dramatically in time with the music.

"What?" he laughed as he righted me.

"I can't dance!" I spluttered between giggles.

"Hmm. Well, maybe you just never had the right partner before." Edward leaned in closer and murmured suggestively in my ear, "You seem to move just right to me."

Knock me over with a feather, why don't you, Don Juan?

His warm breath tickled my neck and I nearly jumped when I felt his velvety soft lips graze my skin, unleashing a flurry of goosebumps.

"Mmm," he hummed, making my insides melt even more than I thought possible. "You smell so sweet, like…flowers and fruit."

He trailed his nose and lips ever so softly up the shell of my ear and continued on to my temple, pausing minutely to caress my skin with a whisper of a kiss. I held my breath, too afraid to move for fear of breaking this magical spell I was under. Could he feel me trembling?

"Bella." My name on his lips was a whispered incantation, pregnant with the promise of adoration. I slowly opened my eyes to meet his, awed by the depth of feeling I saw within. His gaze dropped to my lips and my pulse picked up speed. Achingly slowly, completely opposite the way I attacked him outside the classroom, he brought his lips closer to mine until they met in a reverent embrace.

The tip of his tongue gently caressed my lips, politely requesting permission to explore further. I moaned softly, letting my instincts take over. We explored each other slowly, touching and tasting and learning one another.

I felt cherished, worshipped, adored.

Edward ended our kiss with a sweet, soft peck and rested his forehead on mine.

"Wow," he breathed.

"Yeah," I echoed.

We leaned back slightly to look at each other and both exhaled a breathy chuckle.

"That was…," I began.

"…perfect," he finished.

We grinned at each other, oblivious to just how sappy we were.

Edward trailed his hands down my arms, entwining his fingers with mine. I couldn't stop grinning – I was deliriously happy and the joy just bubbled out of me. He brought our hands up to his chest and let go in order to wrap his warm, strong arms tightly around me, leaving my little hands captive between us as he picked me up and slowly spun me around. He buried his face in my hair and breathed in deeply, sighing happily. I couldn't help the giggle that came out.

"What's so funny?" he murmured into my neck.

"Nothing," I squeaked happily.

"Nuh-uh, Bella. Spill." That caramel-coated husky voice made my insides quiver.

"Uh," I replied shakily, "I was just thinking that it was a good thing that I showered today." The abrupt stop to his worship of my hair made me giggle even harder.

"Oh, Bella, you really shouldn't have said that." His voice at my ear was teasing but deliciously intense, and I barely had a chance to register the desire flaring in my belly when I felt an explosive tickle along my ribs.

I shrieked out with laughter as his long fingers sought out and found all my ticklish spots. I tried to move away but he was too quick and too strong. Gasping for breath, I yelped out "Uncle!" before we collapsed onto the faded green armchair.

I found myself on his lap, encircled by his arms, and leaned in to kiss him on those yummy, scrummy lips. When we came up for air a second time, we relaxed into a comfortable snuggle and contentedly listened to the rest of the Louis Armstrong album.

"So, Bella." He cleared his throat nervously.

"Yes, Edward?" I mimicked with a little smirk, for he seemed so serious all of a sudden.

"Um, where do you…I mean, how… uh, what would you like from all this?"

"I'm sorry, Edward, but I don't understand."

He tugged on his bottom lip and shrugged. "Uh, what I mean is, did you just want to keep this casual, or what? I'd really like this to be long-term, but…." He paused to look at my bewildered expression. "I'm not proposing marriage or anything, but…."

My eyes must have bugged out of my head because he began to stumble over his words.

"…but I really like you and I'd really like to have a long-term relationship with you and not just a casual thing, but if that's not what you want then I'll understand…."

"Edward."

"…and I'll respect whatever decision you make but I thought you should know how I feel…."

"Edward."

"Yeah?"

"Shut up and kiss me, you dork."

~~~MS~MS~MS~MS~~~

"Okay, so now I know why you were modeling in that class. Can you tell me what was going on with that guy in the hallway?"

My body stiffened at the memory, and Edward responded by holding me tighter. We had stayed on the old armchair, snuggling and kissing whenever one of us felt the urge. Never before had I felt so safe or so cherished, and that feeling gave me the confidence to tell Edward about my uneasy acquaintance with James.

"Yeah. James. Where should I begin?" I asked rhetorically. "Well, we're in the same drawing class, to start with."

"Figure Drawing? Well, I suppose I'm not too surprised, actually," commented Edward disdainfully.

I pulled my head away from his chest to look up at him questioningly.

"Never mind right now," Edward murmured. "I'll explain later. Please, go on."

I merely quirked my eyebrow at him and then tried to recapture my train of thought.

"Well, as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted," I mock-scolded him, before giggling as his long fingers found a ticklish spot beneath my ribcage.

"Hey! Let a girl talk here!" I good-naturedly demanded. Edward gave me his best puppy-dog eyes and held up his hands in surrender.

"Anyways, James is in my morning drawing class, and he just creeps me out. He has asked me to model for his specialproject," I emphasized with air quotes, "and he's really persistent. I told him I wasn't interested, but that hasn't stopped him. Just the way he looks at me…ugh!" I shivered. "He makes my skin crawl. He looks at me like I'm a piece of meat and he's a starving man. And then to know that he was in there, tonight, seeing me naked… I don't want him to know anything about me, least of all how I look with no clothes on!"

Edward just held me tighter and soothed me with little kisses on the top of my head. When he didn't say anything I had to ask. "What are you thinking?"

"I don't really know what to say, Bella. I don't know him well. In fact, he's only ever been in this one class with me, and to be honest I never gave him much thought. I would describe his work as barely mediocre. Not horrible, but definitely not good, either. And he does seem rather creepy. He certainly seems to be the type to take a figure drawing class for the sole reason of ogling naked girls."

Edward paused to nuzzle me for a moment. "I'll see what else I can find out about him, okay?"

I nodded against him and then suddenly sat up. "Edward! He has a studio here! He cornered me one day with a huge canvas that he was bringing in."

Edward's eyes narrowed. "That should make it a lot easier," he mumbled, and I wasn't sure if I was meant to hear that or not.

"Edward, be careful. He really seems to dislike you."

"But I don't even know him."

"Well, I mentioned to him that you were my friend, and he didn't seem to take that too well."

"Um, okay. Whatever. I'll keep that in mind, though."

The two of us were quiet, each apparently content to digest the latest information silently. My curiosity soon got the better of me, though, and I felt compelled to burst our little bubble.

"Hey, Edward?"

"Mmhmm?" he murmured into my hair.

"Can I see your drawings from class tonight?"

He slowly sat up straighter and looked directly at me. "Really?"

"Yeah," I smiled. "Of course, I can't guarantee that I won't run out of here screaming, but I am curious."

"What? You doubt my ability? I'll have you know that I can paint both velvet Elvises and paint-by-numbers." He puffed up his chest, trying but failing to hide his grin.

Just the image of Edward painting Elvis on velvet caused me to laugh so hard that I started to snort.

"Oh my God," he guffawed. "I didn't think it was that funny!"

When I finally had a chance to catch my breath I managed to sputter a defense. "It's just…," I giggled, "I pictured you… in a beret, with a paintbrush… standing by the Seine with your thumb stretched out in front of you…." His indignant eyebrow twitched and I could hold in my laughter no longer. "And the tip of your tongue was sticking out because you were concentrating so hard…," I laughed harder and tried to breathe again. "And you were working on your masterpiece, the ultimate velvet Elv…."

I was unable to finish my thought, though, because I couldn't breathe anymore from laughing so hard from his unrelenting ticklish fingers.

~~~MS~MS~MS~MS~~~

It was nearly midnight when we finally locked up his studio and ventured out into the inky black night. Hand in hand, we approached the main door to our dorm. Stopping briefly, Edward turned to look at me.

"Hey, Bella? You never did answer me before."

"Um, what question, Edward?"

"Do you want a long-term thing with me?"

I melted at his vulnerability and lovingly caressed his dear face with my hands. "Edward, why don't we just take this one step at a time? I like you, you like me, let's just get to know each other better and see where it goes. But I will tell you that I'm not in a rush to go anywhere. I'm perfectly happy right where I am."

His sweet smile blossomed into a grin. "So, would you say we're a couple now?"

"Yes, Edward," I smiled. "A very happy couple, in fact. Now come here and kiss me."

End notes:

Well? Do these two sappy lovebirds make you as giddy as they do me?

FYI, as undergrads in college, my husband wooed me with jasmine tea, and the scent of that beverage still gives me delicious butterflies in my belly. Naturally I had to give my Edward and Bella the same! And I confess that while I was writing Edward's endearing "proposal", I was in a local café drinking jasmine tea to get me into the right frame of mind!

The song featured in this chapter is CheekToCheek, by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. **Sigh** I love these two – his deep, gravelly voice, begging for a throat-clearing cough, combined with her sultry angelic sweetness. Oxymoronic? Maybe. So bite me.

Before I go, I'd like to remind my readers that if anyone is interested in donating anything to the recovery efforts from Hurricane Irene, the info is listed on my profile. Thank you!

Thankyou again for reading, and pleasetakeamomenttoreview! Happy Halloween!

**skips away like Alice**