Chapter 3- "So there I was, flat on my back…"
Author's Note: My sincerest apologies for the delay in getting this chapter to you all – my bullshit excuses are at the end of the chapter. My amazing beta laraisawkward is made of awesomesauce. Her story "When the Words Scream" is wonderful and original. Go check it out!
Some of you caught on when Alice said that Bella was their only single friend and want to know what's going on with Rose. This chapter should answer that question for you. However, you should know that I'm tragically canon, and Rose's current romantic situation may not be permanent.
AMC = Air Mobility Command, the organization that oversees the activities of all of the Air Force's aircraft
LGB = three-letter identifier for the Long Beach airport in California, where the Boeing C-17 facility is located
"Wheels down" = "we're on the ground"
Things I own: A shelf full of stupidly expensive reference books, none of which contain data on pooping frequency.
Things I don't own: Twilight or the C-17 (or any other airplane, for that matter. Dammit).
A week had passed since Bear left for Afghanistan. Carlisle was receiving regular updates from Command, so we knew that he had arrived safely. At the daily status meeting, he had informed us that Bear and Major Masen had completed the flight leg from Bagram to Qatar, and would be departing for Sicily around six o'clock in the evening our time here in California. I was relieved that the first flight was over, although I wouldn't be completely comfortable until they were back safely. I didn't know Major Masen, but I knew he was friends with Jasper, and surely he had a family and friends who loved him and would grieve him if something went wrong. As for Bear, I knew I was only one of a large number of people who would be devastated by his loss.
Stop being morbid, Bella. All this negative thinking can't be good karma.
I returned my attention to the proposed changes to the Head-Up Display I was reviewing in an attempt to divert myself from my previous train of thought. It worked, and I lost myself in numbers and symbols for the next few hours.
"You up for tacos and margaritas for dinner? Kate and Angela are coming."
I looked up to see Rose standing in the doorway to my office.
"Sure, I'm in."
I grabbed my purse and followed Rose out of the office. Angela Weber, our administrative assistant, sat at her desk talking to Captain Kate McDermott, the Flight Physiologist for the test wing.
Kate looked up and smiled. "Come on chiquitas, first round is on me. We're celebrating – my man got his paperwork today, he'll be home in eight weeks!"
Kate's husband Garrett was also in the Air Force, and had been deployed to a base in Iraq for the last nine months. We were all thrilled to hear that he was coming home soon.
A short time later, we were seated at a sidewalk table at our favorite Mexican restaurant, drinking margaritas, and nibbling on chips and salsa.
"So Garrett also mentioned when I talked to him that he's heard only good things about our new pilot."
"Well, I hope his information is accurate," Rose answered. "Dealing with that douchebag Hunter is bad enough, I can't imagine if we had two of them."
We all groaned and nodded. At one point or another, all four of us had been on the receiving end of Captain Hunter's unwanted advances, and he'd subsequently acted like a complete dickhead for turning him down. He'd been a bit tamer in the last few months, though – I had heard rumors that Carlisle had talked to him about his behavior. That would have an effect, but I had also heard from Seth Clearwater that he had overheard Bear threaten Hunter with bodily harm if he didn't quit harassing all the female staff. Hunter seemed the type to take that sort of threat much more seriously.
"We'll find out soon enough, I suppose," said Kate. "Bear should be back with him in a week or so…Hey, I forgot to tell you all about the ridiculous meeting I was in right before Bear left."
"Aren't most of our meetings ridiculous?" I joked.
"Yes, true, but this was without a doubt the absolute pinnacle of ridiculousness. We had a videoconference with AMC to talk about how the damage to the aircraft might affect the flight crew. When the bottom of the fuselage was sheared off, it damaged the piping coming from the lavatories, so they were unusable. They weren't worried about the guys having to take a pee, because they've got that spot in the cargo compartment where they can pee in the tube. However, they were worried about them not being able to go number two. So this lieutenant general sits there with a straight face and asks me how long a person can go without having to poop."
As Rose and I erupted in a fit of giggles, Angela asked, "Did he actually use the word poop?"
"No. His phrase was 'moving their bowels.' It was all I could do not to burst into giggles like these two," Kate answered, while pointing to Rose and I.
"So what did you tell him?" I asked.
"I told him the truth – that I didn't have any reliable data on the frequency with which men move their bowels."
"So what are they going to do if they have to go?" Rose asked.
"Apparently they were going to put some plastic bags on board, just in case."
Those poor guys – I can't imagine having to poop in a bag; although Bear would come back and share the story like a badge of honor. Ew – I hope he doesn't have to do it, mainly because I don't want to hear about it.
The rest of the week passed uneventfully, and late Thursday afternoon found Rose and me in her car, headed for San Diego. All four of Rose's brothers had attended the US Naval Academy, like their father, and now were all officers in the Navy. Two of her brothers were currently stationed in San Diego, and the one closest to her in age had just had a baby with his wife a few weeks ago. The baby's christening was to be held on Sunday, and all of Rose's family was coming in for the weekend to celebrate. Her parents had rented a house on Coronado Island for the weekend, and we were all going to stay there and enjoy a mini-vacation of sorts.
I adored Rose's family – they were loud and friendly, and welcomed newcomers with open arms. Rose's mom and my own had bonded while we were still at MIT, and were close friends to this day. They had actually invited my mom to come and stay for the christening, but her elementary school art students were holding a show for their parents this weekend, and she needed to be there to coordinate all of the details.
The other notable absence, both in the car and at this weekend's festivities, was Rose's boyfriend, Royce King.
Oh, sorry – "Royce King the Second" – as he likes to introduce himself. Pretentious jackass.
So, yeah – I didn't like him. He didn't mistreat Rosalie, exactly, he was just self-absorbed and his career always came first. He showered her with flowers and other gifts, but I suspected that he liked her because she was smart, successful, and made him look good. It was no secret that his goal was to be CEO of Boeing someday, and I believed he was with Rose because he thought she could help him get there.
I had asked her earlier in the week if he was coming with us, and she told me that he said he couldn't make it because he had a Management Club dinner this weekend. That was such a ridiculous excuse – they had those dinners once a month, surely he could miss one. Her nephew was only going to be christened once. I didn't say anything to Rose, though. I didn't have to – she already knew what I thought of Royce.
She maintained that he was supportive of her career, and that not many guys would be like that, so he was worth hanging on to. I thought that was a crock of shit, frankly, but it was an old argument, and rehashing it wasn't going to do either of us any good. I was hoping that sooner or later she would realize that she could do better than Royce, and would kick him to the curb. When that happened, I would be there to support her.
My phone buzzed with an incoming text, and I was thrilled to see it was from Bear.
"Wheels down LGB – C U tomorrow?"
"Based on your smile, I'm going to guess that text is from Bear, saying they're back safe?" Rose asked.
"Yes, they've just landed. He asked if he was going to see us tomorrow, I'll just text him back and let him know we'll be in the office Monday."
"Nope, going to San Diego for Rose's nephew's christening. See you Monday."
Angela greeted me with a smile on Monday morning as I approached my office.
"How was your weekend? Did the christening go well?"
"It was wonderful. Henry's such a good baby, he didn't even cry. Rose is running a bit behind this morning, though. She overindulged in the champagne yesterday, and I had to drive us home last night."
"Ugh, champagne hangovers are the worst, I swear," Angela said. "There's a meeting at nine o'clock to go over the repair plans for the airplane Bear brought back, so you have some time if you want to go to the hangar and see it for yourself."
I laughed, "You know me so well. I'll go right over – will you tell Rose that's where I am when she finally drags her butt in here?"
Rose met me about half an hour later as I was walking around under the airplane, assessing the damage.
"So, you think anybody had to poop in a bag?" she asked.
"Good God, please don't ask. You know Bear would be more than happy to share all the gory details with us."
Rose liked to poke fun at me for being "squeamish and girly," as she put it. After growing up with four brothers, there was no subject too disgusting for her.
"Okay, I'll go easy on you because you took care of my drunk ass yesterday. We'd better get going; it's nearly time for that meeting."
We found the conference room full of our fellow engineers, all scrutinizing various drawings, schematics and plans for repairing the aircraft. Command wanted the airplane back in service as soon as possible, so we had to figure out how to complete the repairs in the least amount of time feasible.
I was concentrating on a wiring diagram when I felt Rose nudge my side. I turned around and immediately saw Bear standing there with a big grin on his face. That familiar grin put a big smile on my own face, and I stepped toward him, reaching for his hands.
"You're back," I said, the relief apparent in my voice. It was a stupid thing to say, really. Of course he was back; I had known that for days. I wanted to smack him for making me worry for the last couple of weeks, but I knew that wasn't fair. Worrying about someone while they were doing something risky was one thing, but I knew my paranoia and morbid thoughts about something bad happening to Bear were a direct result of my father's death. That was my own baggage, and I needed to carry it alone.
"Of course, I promised I'd come back safe, didn't I?" Bear replied.
I wanted to hug him, but we were in a room full of people – some watching our encounter avidly, others averting their eyes. I knew there were a few people who already thought that Bear and I were more than friends because of the casual and friendly way we interacted with each other. I didn't need to fuel those rumors by hugging him in the middle of the conference room.
I released his hands and took a small step back. It was then that I noticed that Bear was not alone. With him was…
Oh, wow. That has to be the most beautiful specimen of a man I have ever laid eyes on.
I had never thought to use the word "beautiful" in reference to a man before, but this man was beautiful. He was tall and broad-shouldered, and had the most piercing green eyes I had ever seen. My father had once given my mother a small statue of an elephant, carved from jade. His eyes were the exact color of that jade statue.
He had a little bump on the bridge of his nose, like maybe it had been broken at one point. He also had a really strong, defined jawline. He was beautiful, but in a very masculine way.
Masculine, but beautiful? Does that even make sense? Eh, whatever…his eyes are hypnotic and I kinda want to lick that jaw.
I realized that I was staring, and quickly shifted my gaze back to Bear. I could feel a blush burning my cheeks and hoped that no one would notice.
"Bella, this is Major Edward Masen, our new test pilot. Edward, this is Dr. Bella Swan and Dr. Rosalie Hale. They're with the Systems Engineering group here at Boeing."
As Bear made the introductions, I glanced at Major Masen again and attempted a small smile. Major Masen looked a bit uncertain as to how to greet us, which wasn't surprising given that he'd only recently returned from deployment. My manners saved me from my own awkwardness, and I held out my hand for him to shake.
"It's nice to meet you, Major Masen. I hope you'll like it here," I said as he grasped my hand.
The moment our skin made contact, I felt a tingling sensation, almost like a spark. I looked at him to see if he felt it, too, but his eyes were focused on our joined hands.
He made eye contact with me briefly before glancing back down and quietly saying, "Please, call me Edward. It's…nice to meet you, too, Dr. Swan."
"Bella, please," I requested as I wondered why he seemed so uncomfortable.
Rose moved forward then to shake his hand, and the introductions continued around the room.
Once Bear had introduced him to everyone, he said that he was taking Major Masen – Edward – to see Carlisle and they left the room. I realized I was staring at the empty doorway, and turned around to find Rose smirking at me.
"Oh, nothing," she answered. "Nothing at all."
Yeah, right – like I believe that line of bullshit. She's definitely thinking something devious, she'll just wait until I'm off-guard and then she'll attack. She must have noticed my blush, and she's like a pit bull when she gets something in her mind. She'll make me dissect that whole interaction to figure out why I blushed like a schoolgirl. Time to get my game face on.
"Take a look at this wiring diagram – do you think we'll need to replace all these harnesses?" I asked.
She gave me a look that clearly said that she wasn't going to forget what she had seen, and then looked at the diagram I was holding and we got back to work.
Later that afternoon I was back in my office, looking over the agenda for the briefing we were to give Major Masen tomorrow. Whenever we got a new flight test pilot, all of the various engineering groups would put together presentations on the design changes we were currently working on, in order to bring them up to speed.
Kate poked her head in my office and said, "Bella, can you come in Rose's office for a minute? I need to ask you all something."
"Sure," I replied, and followed her out.
As we passed Angela's desk, Kate said, "Angie, I think you need to be in on this, too."
Angela looked at me with a raised eyebrow, but I just shrugged and nodded my head toward Rose's office, indicating she should come with us.
Once we were all inside, Kate closed the door behind her with a grin and took a deep breath before blurting out, "Holy shit! Have you seen the new pilot?"
"Major Masen?" Angela asked.
"Major hotness is more like it," Kate replied. "Damn, that man is fine. Tall – you know I like them tall – great ass, and did you see the sex hair? I don't know how that hot mess is regulation, but I don't give a damn. It would be a crime to cut it. Makes you want to grab hold and just…."
"Kate! You're a married woman!" I reminded her.
"So? I've got eyes in my head, don't I? Just because I'm married doesn't mean I can't enjoy the scenery. Besides, Garrett and I have a policy – it doesn't matter where you get your appetite, as long as you eat at home. And since I can't currently share a meal with my man, if you know what I'm saying, Major Sexmuffin will make excellent dildo fodder."
As Angela and I giggled like schoolgirls, Rose chuckled and said, "Dildo fodder – that's a good one, Kate. And you're right, he is a fine specimen of a man, isn't he, Bella?"
"Yes, very attractive," I answered.
"Is that all?" Rose asked. "Because it looked to me like you two had a moment there."
"Rose, we exchanged maybe a dozen words and spent less than five minutes in the same room together. The only thing we shared was an awkward handshake and maybe some static electricity. Besides, we know almost nothing about him. Yes, he's beautiful, but he could also turn out to be a complete douchebag."
"Pfft – so pessimistic. Bear seems to like him, and he's a pretty good judge of character," Rose replied. "Angela, have you seen him?"
When Angela replied that she had, Rose asked for her opinion.
"He certainly is gorgeous. It'll be nice to have the eye candy around to enjoy, even if he does turn out to be a jerk."
"How long do you suppose it will take before the office whores make a move on him?" Kate asked.
"Lauren and Jessica? Those skanks won't waste any time. They're like sharks getting a whiff of blood in the water. They're probably already hatching their evil little plot to get him involved in a threesome – coming up with excuses to go by his office, offering to help him get 'settled in'," Rose replied.
For some reason the thought of Lauren or Jessica – or both – getting their hooks into Edward really bothered me. The idea of him being a douchebag bothered me, too. I realized that I wanted his insides to be as worthy of admiration as his outside, and it had nothing to do with our future working relationship. I wanted him to be a decent guy. I wanted to justify my attraction to him. It's not like I'd never noticed a handsome guy before – as Kate said, I had eyes in my head after all – but I'd never been interested in a man based solely on his looks.
So, you're interested in him now? I asked myself.
I thought about it, and realized that I was interested in him. At the very least I wanted to get to know him and find out what made him tick. The realization that I was interested in Edward on a personal level was disturbing. I was leery of getting involved with someone from work. I knew that there were already rumors circulating about Bear and me, and our relationship was purely platonic. I didn't like the idea of my coworkers speculating about my romantic life, in the event I ever actually acquired one.
Then there was the possibility of a breakup. Everyone would know about it, and I'd still have to work with him every day.
Great, now I'm contemplating the end of a purely hypothetical "relationship" with a man I barely know. I'm insane – is it any surprise I have no love life?
Actually, even I know that was an oversimplification. It wasn't like I was completely lacking in offers or opportunities. But there were always…complications. At work, I was surrounded by smart, successful men. Getting involved with a coworker was tricky, though – Rose and I had worked so hard to be taken seriously, both at MIT and at Boeing. We were young and female in an industry that was very much an "old boys' club." Outside of work, it seemed that every guy I met was just an overgrown frat boy. As a result, it had been a while since I had really dated anyone.
Growing up in the military, with a dad who was a pilot, I had seen with my own eyes the way some women threw themselves at pilots. My mom had been surprisingly sanguine about it. She trusted my dad, and knew that she was the love of his life. She was never threatened by the random, nameless women, and my dad had never expressed any interest in them. My dad had been a pretty handsome guy, in my opinion, but Major Masen was undeniably the most beautiful man I had ever laid eyes on.
Anyone that good looking was undoubtedly used to being on the receiving end of a lot of female attention. The fact that he was a pilot probably made him even more attractive to many women, but his looks alone were sure to lure them in large numbers. For all I knew he was a complete manwhore.
I realized that I was trying to talk myself out of liking him, but my rationalizations were ultimately for the best. On the remote, outside chance that he would even be interested in me, a relationship between us would be difficult. Even if we managed to navigate the potential minefields of a workplace relationship, he was a career military pilot who would eventually be reassigned. While I didn't regret anything about my childhood, I also didn't want to live at the beck and call of military personnel assignments anymore.
Better to just get any romantic notions of him out of your head, Bella. You can work together, just don't get too friendly. Keep it professional, not personal. Be pragmatic, it's always been one of your strengths.
A loud knock on Rose's office door pulled me out of my thoughts. I glanced at the others to see Rose and Angela staring at Kate, who had her hands out in front of her, mimicking squeezing something. Meanwhile Rose and Angela were obviously trying not to laugh. There was another knock at the door, but the three of them just stood there, frozen.
"I'll just get the door then, shall I?" I asked as I stood and moved across the room.
When I opened the door, I found Bear standing there with his hand poised to knock again. Jasper and Edward – Major Masen, keep it professional – stood behind him with curious looks on their faces. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Kate rapidly withdraw her hands and put them behind her back when she noticed who was at the door.
Bear peered past me and asked, "What the heck are you all doing in there? It's taco time, and I'm starving!"
At that, Rose and Angela both let loose the laughter they'd been holding in, and Kate actually snorted. Bear looked at me with an eyebrow raised in question, but I just shook my head and ushered the three men back into the reception area near Angela's desk.
"So, you're introducing Major Masen to taco night?" I asked Bear as I smiled politely, but not too warmly, at Major Masen.
"Of course! What kind of a friend would I be if I didn't share all of my favorite things with him?"
I noticed Major Masen grimace slightly when he heard Bear's words, but he quickly rearranged his face into a polite, noncommittal smile.
That was…odd. They seemed to be getting along just fine. Although, Major Masen does seem a bit reserved – Bear's boisterous nature can take some getting used to.
"Jasper, is Alice going to meet us there?" I asked.
"No, she has teacher-parent conferences tonight, so I'm just going to pick something up and take it to her."
"Aw, you're such a good husband," Kate said as she finally came out of Rose's office.
"She has me trained well," Jasper replied with a smile.
"Bella, move your ass and get your stuff – I'm hungry," Rose called as she and Angela emerged from her office.
I quickly gave her the finger, then retrieved my purse from my office and joined the others as they walked toward the building exit. As we passed through the main reception area, I noticed Jessica leaning up against Lauren's desk.
Seriously, do they ever do any actual work? It's like they're permanently joined at the hip, and all they do is gossip and talk about the men in the area.
"Hi Major Masen!" they chimed in unison. As Major Masen gave them a small nod and wave, Rose glanced over at me and rolled her eyes.
We all piled into our respective cars, and a short while later entered the Mexican restaurant that was the home of our weekly taco night. The manager, Carmen, greeted us all and Bear introduced her to Major Masen.
As we walked to our usual table, Carmen asked him, "Edward, are you going to become one of our weekly regulars, along with this crowd?"
"Of course he is!" Bear announced.
Carmen put a hand on her hip and stared Bear down.
"Was I speaking to you?" she asked him.
"No ma'am," Bear replied sheepishly.
"And is it nice manners to interrupt your friends?"
"Do you have something you'd like to say to Edward?"
"Sorry I interrupted you, Edward," Bear mumbled.
"Okay, now that we've settled that, Edward, what would you like to drink?" asked Carmen.
"A Pacifico please. Ma'am."
As Carmen walked away, Bear leaned over to Edward and said, "She has three boys, and no problem telling you when she thinks you're being rude. So mind your p's and q's."
"I will, definitely," Edward replied.
Once our drinks were delivered and we had ordered approximately half our total body weight in tacos, the conversation shifted as we all began to ask Edward questions about himself and his experiences flying.
Bear was particularly interested in Edward's time flying as a Thunderbird, the Air Force's demonstration team that regularly performed at airshows. Bear really loved fighter planes, but as big as he was, there was no way he would ever fit in the cockpit of one. He loved flying the C-17, but I suspected there was a part of him that wished he'd had the chance to try flying fighters.
I wondered why Ed- Major Masen – had switched from flying F-16 fighters to flying a cargo transport aircraft like the C-17. It wasn't unheard of for pilots to switch to flying a different airplane at some point in their careers, but switching from flying fighters to flying cargo aircraft was unusual. When it did happen, it was generally because there was a performance reason why the pilot could no longer fly the faster, more maneuverable fighter. That seemed unlikely given Major Masen's history as a Thunderbird – obviously his skills as a pilot were excellent. The Thunderbirds were widely considered to be the best pilots in the Air Force.
I was curious about the switch, but I wasn't going to ask. I didn't want to bring up a sensitive subject if the switch hadn't been his choice.
Another issue was that Major Masen seemed…reticent with me. He was unfailingly polite, but seemed hesitant to make eye contact. Whenever I directed my attention toward him, he would immediately look away. It was as if he was determined to keep some space between us.
Well, it's for the best. Just leave it alone, Bella.
As we finished dinner, Rose brought up the briefing we were giving Major Masen tomorrow.
"Everyone has put their slides together for your briefing, Edward. Just remember that you're the sole audience, so if you have any questions or concerns at all, just shout them right out. Don't worry about interrupting."
"Okay, Rose – thanks," he replied.
He smiled at her and looked her right in the eye.
Maybe it's just me he doesn't want to engage in conversation – he's fine with Rose. Well, whatever. It's for the best anyway. Keep it professional, remember?
My rational brain kept reminding me that it was better this way – it was a good thing that there was some emotional distance between us, if we only related to each other as a pilot and an engineer, not as a man and a woman. Still, my rational brain couldn't keep me from feeling a bit melancholy as Edward quietly bid me goodnight with barely a glance in my direction.
Author's Note #2: SM may own Twilight, but my fabulous beta laraisawkward coined the phrase "office whores" to refer to Jessica and Lauren. She cracks me the fuck up on a regular basis.
Kate's story about the meeting where she was asked how long someone can go without pooping? That happened to me. Trufax.
I am so very sorry it took me more than a month to get you this chapter. I never intended for so much time to pass between updates, but real life has been crazy lately. New job, travel, family stuff, volunteer commitments, etc. I am attempting to carve an hour out of each day to write, so hopefully the next chapter will come more quickly. I have every intention of finishing this story – I have an outline and everything. The good news is that the new job is giving me lots of ideas for the story – I spent the last week in the flight simulator with two very hot coworkers.
Thanks to everyone who has read and/or reviewed. I am utter fail at replying to reviews, but I promise to try and do better!
Story/author rec: "So Be It" by SophiaAnne
www (dot) fanfiction (dot) net/s/4843214/1/So_Be_It
This one is funny and angsty and sexy and complete. Yep, complete – hallelujah. It's a quick read with just a few chapters, but Edward has a nice dirty mouth on him and Bella writes poetry and…well, just read it.