There has been some interest in publishing this little tale, therefore it has been taken down to facilitate massive rewrites. I know that will make some of you happy and infuriate others. C'est la vie.
If you'd like to follow the progress of DD, there are links on my profile for my new author website and Facebook.
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Much love to you all,
Grauman Theatre rehearsal room, New York City
My open hand connects with the side of his face with a satisfying 'whack'. He rubs his cheek as his expression morphs from shock, to hurt, to an awed smile.
"It's wrong that I've missed you hitting me, isn't it?" he asks, his voice low. "But you have to admit, that was one hell of a kiss."
"You're an asshole," I snap, my hand itching to slap the other side of his irritatingly handsome face. "Why was I stupid enough to think this could possibly work?"
I hate that my voice hitches when I say it, and it only makes me glare harder.
"Isabella? Is there a problem?" Our director, Aro, comes over as I attempt to incinerate the smirking asshole in front of me into a pile of dust using only the force of my gaze.
"Yes, Aro, as a matter of fact there is a problem," I say, surprisingly calm considering I want to beat a man to death with the large script I'm holding. "Apparently Mr. Cullen doesn't know the difference between a stage-kiss and giving me a tonsillectomy with his tongue."
The asshole levels me with a serious gaze, all fake-hurt and furrowed brows. "Methinks the lady doth protest too much."
"How about I protest even further by shoving my foot up your ass? How would that be?"
He chuckles and gives me a look that I've seen way too many times before: he's getting turned on by this.
I glare at him as fury blasts through me.
I should have known this is where we'd end up. In all the years I've known him he's never failed to know exactly how to push all of my buttons. Why would he stop now?
"All right," Aro says, trying to diffuse the situation, "how about we take a short break, and when we come back we'll run the scene again from the top? And Mr. Cullen? I would suggest you keep your tongue in your mouth. I'm trying to direct a love story here, and that really won't work if my leading lady continues to assault her leading man, okay?"
"I'll try," the jack-ass answers, his smile faltering. "But I'm afraid my overwhelming attraction to Miss Swan might make that kind of difficult."
"Dick," I mutter under my breath as I storm out of the rehearsal room, feeling his eyes on me the entire way.
I push violently through the exit doors into the alley behind the theater and light up a cigarette, sucking down a lungful of smoke and pacing back and forth as I try to calm myself down.
I knew I couldn't work with him. I knew it and I let this ridiculous situation happen anyway because deep down, in the deluded depths of my psyche, I'd hoped against hope that he'd changed. That I could be in the same room with him without wanting to either fuck him or punch him. Or both.
I haven't seen the man for three years, and yet, here we are after only two days back together – fighting like cats and dogs and irritating the hell out of each other. Nothing has changed. After everything we've been through together, I thought ...
I don't know what I thought.
That he'd drop to his knees and beg for forgiveness?
Well, that'd be a start.
Instead, he's kissing me like that's the only apology I'm going to get. Well, he's in for a rude awakening. I'm no longer the pandering, bewildered doormat I was when we were in drama school. I'm not going to take his crap any more, no matter how violently my body reacts to him.
I stop in my tracks as I remember exactly how violently my body reacted to him during the kiss.
I tried to be unaffected, I really did. But as soon as his lips met mine, my long-suppressed lust roared to life, just as potent as ever. He smelled amazing. So familiar and masculine. Unfortunately, he tasted even better, and as I involuntarily opened my mouth to find his tongue, the force of my reaction transported me back to the first night that we ...
I stop the thought before it can go any further.
I've managed to not think about him in that way for months. It's easier to maintain my emotional distance if I don't think about him making love to me, because every time those thoughts struggle to the surface, they remind me that he gave me a brief glimpse of perfection, only to cruelly snatch it away.
The first night we made love, everything I thought I knew changed, and he acted like it was nothing. Like he'd made a mistake.
For twelve months after that, we stayed away from each other. Well, as much as we could when we were in the same drama course. It didn't solve our attraction. In fact, it only made it worse.
I tried to deny what I felt for him, but I couldn't.
He couldn't either.
He didn't want to want me, and I think that was part of why he eventually left. He couldn't handle it, and instead of staying and working things through, he ran, like the pathetic coward he is.
Of course the result of him leaving was me being completely and utterly shattered, and as long as I live I'll never forgive him for that.
So, then why did I agree to do this play with him?
I guess I needed to see if there was anything left between us. If he's changed. If everything I remember about the good parts of us were just juvenile delusion.
Sometimes I think I imagined it all. That I made it all up as part of some romantic fantasy.
But I loved him. I know that for sure. All I wanted was for him to love me back.
I now wonder if he ever did.
Is it any wonder I'm bitter?
I turn around to see Aro walking towards me.
"Are you alright, my dear?"
I exhale a lungful of smoke and look down, unable to meet his gaze.
"Aro," I say carefully, "I know how important this project is to you, and I know you had your heart set on getting Edward and me together for this play, but I don't think this is going to work. I'm sorry."
He laughs quietly. "Isabella, you truly have no idea how remarkable the two of you are together, do you?"
I look up at him and frown. "What do you mean?"
He raises his eyebrow and looks at my cigarettes. I offer him one and light it quickly.
"I mean," he says as he exhales a puff of smoke, "that when you two are onstage, it's like watching an exploding star. You're so good together it honestly takes my breath away sometimes."
My brain struggles to comprehend what he's saying. "How can that be? I hate him. I can honestly say that there isn't a person on this planet who irritates me more. I want him to suffer, in a manner that hopefully involves genital clamps and electricity."
Aro chuckles again. "What do you want me to say, Isabella? That I can see your enmity in your scenes? Well, I can't. All I see is two people with staggering chemistry who make every scene come alive with incredible sexual tension and gut-wrenching longing. I see the kind of theatrical magic that will have the critics and the public screaming for more. I see Tony awards, my girl, and you know how much I love Tony awards."
He waggles his eyebrows at me and I can't help but laugh.
"So you're telling me that I'm a potentially award-winning actress because when I'm onstage with the world's largest jack-ass, you can't tell that I'm imagining all the ways I want to murder him?"
"That's exactly what I'm saying," he laughs as he leans over and kisses my cheek. "Now, finish your cigarette and come back inside. I obviously need to re-block the love scene to include some bondage so if lover-boy steps out of line you'll have a spanking paddle nice and handy."
I laugh as I watch him walk back to the stage-door. As he opens it, Cullen steps out. Aro glances back at me and makes an ass-slapping motion before guffawing loudly and disappearing inside.
"What was that about?" Cullen asks as he strides toward me.
"None of your business." My smile fades as he stops in front of me. As usual, the warmth of his body burns into me like a massive heat-lamp.
I hate myself for reacting like that. It's a major flaw in my plan to not give a shit about him.
If we're going to work together, I have to learn to resist him, because the parts of him I want, he's not willing to share, and whenever I'm stupid enough to admit that, he throws it back in my face and makes me feel foolish.
So now, as he stands in front of me, all tall and contrite, I try to temper my attraction to him with a solid dose of cold, hard reality: he's a toxic, abandoning bastard who must be avoided at all costs.
Of course, that's going to be kind of difficult while we're preparing to perform together in a steamy love-story that's going to run eight times a week, but I have faith that my all-encompassing bitterness will get me through.
He reaches over and snatches my cigarette before dropping it on the ground and crushing it with his boot.
"I thought you quit that filthy fucking habit," he grumbles as he frowns down at me. "You're poisoning yourself. Please don't."
"Oh, don't pretend to care," I say as I light up another cigarette. "We both know you can't pull that off. You're not that good an actor."
I blow a stream of smoke into his face and smile as he coughs and blinks.
He stands there in silence for a few seconds, staring at me and generally making me simultaneously furious and horny.
"What?" I snap impatiently. "What smartass comment do you have percolating in that cess-pool of fuckery you call a mind? Come on ... spit it out. I'm dying to know what crap is going to dribble from your mouth next."
"Jesus, Bella," he says and puts his hands on his hips in frustration, "I was considering apologizing to you, but I guess even my apologies piss you off."
"Hah!" I scoff. "I wouldn't know, You've never apologized to me in your whole life, but hell, I'm up for a new experience. Go ahead ... knock yourself out."
He shakes his head and exhales heavily.
"I'm trying really fucking hard to be different with you, " he says roughly, "but you have to let me try. I know you're angry, but ... you don't need to be so defensive."
"I am as you made me," I say, spite boiling in my chest. "You don't like it? Rewind three years and make some fucking different choices."
We stare at each other, neither one wanting to break away, but eventually he drops his gaze and I mentally punch the air in victory.
He looks down at his shoes, swallowing hard. "So, about this kissing scene ... obviously you have an issue with the character choice I made, even though it was exactly how my character would have reacted in that situation. So tell me, how would you like me to do it?"
I finish my cigarette and stub it out on the wall.
The truth is, I don't want him to kiss me. When he does, I can't think about all the reasons he sucks. All I can think about is how much I want him back, and how much of a doormat that makes me.
I throw my cigarette butt into the trash and sigh.
"Just ... do it, however. I don't care. Why are we even talking about this?"
"You know why."
"I really don't."
He shakes his head and exhales. "Okay, fine. Play it that way. Let's just put it down to me trying to get past all of our bullshit and be a professional."
"Oh, because it was so professional when you mouth-raped me back there."
His cheeks color, and I can tell he's angry. It gives me sick satisfaction.
"I kissed you how you should be kissed," he says, stepping forward. "How our characters would kiss at that point in the show. It's not my fault you let your feelings for me get in the way of you doing your damn job."
"It's not my job to let you treat me however you like, no matter what sort of excuse you wrap it up in. You did that to get a rise out of me – to get sick, perverted enjoyment out of my reaction - and as usual, like one of Pavlov's stupid dogs, I fell for it." I tighten my jaw, desperately pushing together old wounds that are threatening to burst wide open as he looks at me in shock. "Don't you fucking dare try to deny it!"
"I will deny it because that's not what happened!"
"Bullshit! You've been pulling crap like this on me for years-"
"How could that possibly be?" he demands. "I haven't seen you for years! I've hardly spoken to you! I've reached out to you time and again I've heard nothing in return!"
"Yeah, and this is why! You pull shit that you know will flip my bitch-switch and then you turn it around and make it's my fault! Well, that is not going to fly with me any more, Pony-Boy!"
He stops suddenly and stares at me, searching my face. "Pony-Boy?"
Dammit! Where the hell did that come from?
"You haven't called me Pony-Boy since ..."
"Yeah, it's been a while," I say, not really wanting to walk down excruciatingly-painful memory lane.
"I've missed you calling me that, Soda-Pop," he says softly, and suddenly he's the Cullen that melts my heart. The one I can't resist.
I cringe and look away, not wanting to remember the pet names we called each other in drama school. It began the first week we met, after we both lamented that we felt like 'outsiders' in the sea of fuckery that was our theater course.
That was back when we were friends. Best friends.
He inches forward, and I can almost feel how much he wants to touch me.
I want it, too, but I shouldn't.
"Jesus, Swan," he says softly, rubbing his eyes with his fingers. "I guess-... when I kissed you earlier ... I guess I got carried away. That happens sometimes when you're acting, right? Shit, let's face it, it always happens when I'm with you. I try to stop it but ... kissing you is ... " He shakes his head. "It's not something I can control."
"You didn't seem to have a problem controlling it when you left me."
His gaze turns hard. "You think that leaving you didn't destroy me as much as it did you? You don't think it would have been even worse if I'd stayed?"
He looks down at me, and the honesty in his face almost knocks me on my ass. There's no pretense. No smirk. There's just him, and his version of the truth.
"Well, I guess we'll never know," I say, trying to stay strong. Desperate to keep him out of my heart again.
His expression is immensely sad when he says, "I guess not."
I can't deal with how he's looking at me. It's new. Vulnerable. It makes me feel vulnerable, too. Like I'm naked, even though I'm fully clothed.
"So," he says, stepping forward, "tell me how you want me to kiss you onstage. Tell me what will make you not want to kill me." He reaches out and cups my face, and the shock of his skin on mine almost makes me gasp. "For example, would this be acceptable?"
He bends down and lowers his lips to mine, pressing lightly, warm and soft. My reaction is anything but gentle. Neither is his. He inhales loudly, and my breath catches in my lungs as I'm transported back to a time when I lived for moments like this. For those brief, precious times he'd let me in. It affects me now the same way it did back then. Pulling me into him, even though I don't want it to.
He draws back and looks at me with dark eyes, his breathing heavy. "Well?"
"Uh ... yes," I say, ignoring my hammering heart. "That would be an ... acceptable stage kiss."
"Well, then," he says as he tangles his hands in my hair. "What about this?"
He kisses me more forcefully, his lips rougher and more demanding. He sucks lightly on my lips and I shudder as an involuntary groan oozes out of me. I'm falling, too far, too fast, gripping his shirt, pushing him away while I still can.
He pulls back, breathing rough and ragged, hands firm at the base of my neck.
"Verdict?" he asks, his voice cracking.
"Borderline." I'm panting as I try to step away from him. My self-preservation is screaming at me, but my hormones are screaming just as loudly.
Even if I had the strength to move, I couldn't. His arms hold me tight, and then he's looking at me like he's starving and I'm steak, and all I can do is stare back, because whatever he's feeling, I'm pretty sure I'm feeling it too, and I hate it and love it all at once.
"Well," he say. "If that was borderline, then this is probably going way too far." He kisses me hard, and, my God ... this is no stage kiss. This is waves and fire, and eruptions of lust I didn't think I was capable of any more. It's open mouths and stroking tongues, and too-loud moans that ring with both relief and frustration.
Oh, God, too much.
I grasp at him frantically as weeks ... months ... years of sexual frustration burst out of me.
I have to squeeze my eyes shut, because the full force of what he does to me lights up my entire body. I've forgotten how incredible he feels. How right. How I can never get enough.
I reach under his t-shirt and scrape my nails across his stomach as he wraps his arms around me, a combination of a sigh and a moan echoing in his chest as we get more desperate.
"Jesus, Bella," he pants as his mouth moves down to my neck, teeth nipping the delicate skin.
"Sarah," I moan as tug on his hair.
"My character's name is Sarah."
"You honestly still think this is about our characters?"
His hands and mouth are everywhere, and suddenly, it's all too much. I can't pretend that I don't want him, and I really need to. I can't do this with him again. It's been too long, and I'm too broken, and he's bringing up feelings in me that have been tragically absent in my life from the moment he left.
"Stop," I say, pushing his shoulders. "Edward, please."
He pulls back, stepping away from me and scrubbing his face with his hands, looking flushed and shocked. "Bella ... I just ... God, I didn't mean to. I'd forgotten-... too much ..."
We both stand there in shocked silence for a few seconds, our rough, heavy panting echoing off the hard brick walls, our eyes screaming desires to each other that our minds and bodies aren't willing to act upon.
"That was too far," I say breathlessly, trying to make it seem like we're still taking about stage kisses. "Way too far."
"That's what I figured," he pants, playing along as he shoves his hands in his pockets, subtly adjusting himself. "I just wanted to make sure."
"Thanks for clarifying that."
I swallow heavily. I can feel he wants to say something, but I'm pretty sure I'm not ready to hear it.
"We need to talk."
"No we don't."
"What happened ... what I did-"
"It doesn't matter. It's over. Talking about it won't change things."
"It won't. And we have work to do. Just ... let's not do this again. Please. I can't."
He hesitates, and for a moment I think he's going to force the issue, but just when my anxiety levels are reaching uncomfortable levels, he steps back and sighs.
"Okay. Sure. For now."
I nod, relieved. Working with him is going to be tricky. Keeping my distance from him is going to be even harder.
"Look, just for the record, we were both acting then, right?" I ask. I need to detach. I really hope he lets me.
He looks at me for several seconds, and I swear I see a flicker of hurt in his eyes. He swallows and looks down before whispering, "Absolutely. Just two actors ... acting. Nothing more to it than that."
He exhales and when he looks back at me, there's mischief in his eyes, but I get the feeling that he's showing me the face he knows I need to see.
"I mean, " he says, putting one hand against the wall and leaning forward a little, "I think it's a testament to my incredible acting ability that even though you're a ball-breaking shrew, I still get massive wood when I'm pretending to be attracted to you."
A wave of relief floods me.
Thank you, Edward.
I know how to deal with him like this. It's annoying, but comfortable. Risk-free.
"Yeah, I know what you mean," I reply, nodding. "And I obviously deserve an Oscar for acting like I still want you, despite everything you did to me."
He stares at me for a few moments, and swallows a couple of times. "Right."
He looks into my eyes and I see something there. Something new. I get a low flutter in my stomach, warning me to look away, but I can't. Whatever it is, it's simultaneously terrifying and thrilling, but before I can try to make sense of it, he blinks and it's gone.
"We'd better get back to work," he says softly, leaning away from me and running a hand through his hair.
I exhale, trying to clear my head of him. "Yeah. Aro will be wondering where we are."
We walk towards the stage-door and he looks at me and smiles.
"Well, I'll just let him know that you were rubbing yourself against me in a back alley, shall I?"
"Sure," I say lightly. "Right after I tell him you tried to wall-fuck me."
He chuckles. "Swan, if I'd tried to wall-fuck you, then you'd be screaming my name right about now and praising Jesus for my pretty cock. Don't even try to deny it."
I don't. He'd know I was lying. Not that I'd give him the satisfaction of confirming it either.
"Oh, God, please stop talking about your man-parts," I say, pretending to gag. "You're making me throw up in my mouth."
"Oh," he says dryly, "I wondered why you tasted so fucking horrible. I thought it was the cigarettes."
"Bite me," I say and he chuckles.
Part of me is glad we're back in a familiar rhythm. Familiar and safe, and free of any chance of him breaking my heart again.
Another part sighs and wonders if this is all there is. All there'll ever be for us.
We walk into the rehearsal room and Aro raises his eyebrows. "Have you two sorted out your differences? Figured out your boundaries?"
"Well," Edward says, "I've established that Bella will accept me sucking on her lips but draws the line at large amounts of tongue, and in return, she can do pretty much anything to me except grab my junk. Oh, who am I kidding? She can totally grab my junk. My junk welcomes her hands at any opportunity. In fact, if you could choreograph a few double-handed junk-gropes into this scene, I'd be most grateful."
I surprise myself by laughing loudly, and Aro stares at us for a few seconds, blinking.
"Well... that's just... peachy," he says with a confused smile. "Hard to believe you're the same couple who looked ready to kill each other fifteen minutes ago. Still, thank God for small mercies. Let's take it from the top of the scene and I'll see what I can do."
Edward and I take up our starting positions, and he winks at me and gestures to his crotch, smiling suggestively.
I flip him the bird and try not to laugh.
See, this is the Cullen I remember. The one that I loved. But this is also the Cullen who left and broke me into a million pieces.
I want him to go back to being the arrogant asshole I hate, because at least then I can protect myself against him.
This guy with the breath-taking smile who makes me want to wrap my arms around him and never let go?
Him I have no idea how to deal with.