A/N: Soooo, yeah. No excuse except that I'm a procrastinator. But not a quitter. :)
Big thanks to my three great friends who helped with this chapter and who keep me mostly sane when I freak: Littlecat358, whose help and advice is always invaluable; Michelle0526, who is a great friend and one of the best people I know; and tennesseelamb, who makes me laugh even when she's cranky. I love, love all of you.
I also want to thank Windgirl810 for all her help. :)
Thanks for reading!
I look around, surrounded by the sounds of the cramped, crowded restaurant; soft accordion music, silverware scraping against porcelain plates, corks quietly popping as they're eased from the necks of wine bottles. My eyes land on the couple sitting at a table near us, and I smile when I see her laugh at something her date says. Then I hear the fingers tapping impatiently on the linen-covered table. When my eyes meet the curious gaze across the booth from me, I groan inwardly.
"So, the movie was pretty predictable, don't you think?" I ask, hoping to divert her attention. Judging by the look in her eyes, it's not working.
"I said,you're holding out on me," she pronounces, one eyebrow raised inquisitively. "No one smiles the way you have for the last two days without a reason."
"Alice," I hiss, opening my menu in front of my face to hide my embarrassment… or hide from her. "You know I can't talk about this stuff."
"Sex? You can't talk about sex?" she asks, grinning evilly when I lower my menu and shush her. "You talked about it after the night you danced for him."
"That's because we were drinking," I whisper loudly. "I was on my third martini when I told you about it."
"Well, I'm driving you back to Edward's, so drink up, B," she laughs, nudging my full glass of red wine closer. "I want to hear all about your hot sex life."
I gulp half the glass, knowing she won't let me off the hook. She gives me a reprieve until after we've ordered, but then she's on me again. Swearing her to secrecy, I tell her about Wednesday – the paella, the sex… and the later sex.
"Oh, my God," she gushes, leaning across the table. "Isn't that the best – when they wake you up? There's something so romantic, and yet so primal, about that kind of desire."
"Alice, I can't keep having this conversation in the middle of Mario's," I whine.
"Okay, okay," she allows, holding up her hands. "What about the other thing? The L word. Did you ever tell him that he said it on New Year's?"
"No! I don't think he remembers. Maybe he didn't even mean it."
"Drunks don't lie," she laughs, picking up a piece of bread from the basket on the table. "He meant it. He's probably just not ready to say it sober. You know, it took Jasper like seven months. I knew he loved me. He knew he loved me. But he wouldn't admit it." As she's talking, she tears off a bite of the bread and dips it in the small bowl of olive oil and balsamic vinegar between us. "Maybe you should say it first, B."
"I don't think I could," I respond, pausing to look away before I meet her gaze again. "What if he doesn't say it back?"
"What if he does?"
My heart starts to race. "But what if he doesn't?"
"Would it change your feelings for him?"
"Of course not."
"Then you should have another glass of wine and tell him," she offers quietly, smiling at me. "Tonight. When he gets home from poker."
"I might," I hedge, but I can already feel the emotion filling my chest. I want to tell him, whether he's ready to say it back or not.
While we eat, Alice chatters nonstop, never landing for too long on any one subject. It's Jasper for a few minutes. Then Edward's big opening tomorrow night, which inexplicably segues into a short conversation about her cat. But my second glass of wine relaxes me, and I enjoy trying to follow her stream of consciousness.
An hour later, we walk out the door of the restaurant, laughing as we wind our way to the back of the crowded strip mall parking lot. I keep my head down, shielding my face from the falling mist. Once we're in the car, Alice starts the engine, and the windshield wipers squeak across the glass, clearing the drops of water away.
And that's when I see it.
"That looks like Edward's car," Alice remarks, squinting at the car parked on the row in front of us. Its red taillights blink twice. "Of course, there are a million black Mustangs in Seattle." She laughs, sitting back and lowering her visor. She opens the mirror cover, illuminating her reflection, and grabs a tube of lipstick from the cup holder between us.
I'm still studying the Mustang, wishing I didn't recognize the license plate number. But I do. I've had it memorized for a long time. In fact, I knew it before I knew him. But what is it doing here? What is Edward doing here?
The flashing taillights mean Edward's either locking or unlocking it with the keyless remote from wherever he is. I'm sure he wasn't in Mario's. The restaurant isn't big, and Alice and I were seated in the rear section. We would have seen him as we left. Silently, I scan the names of the other businesses in the strip center. The tailor shop is closed. So is the dentist office. The lights are still on in the nail salon, but I'm fairly certain he's not in there. That leaves the ice cream shop and Gallagher's Bar and Grille.
Placing a hand over my suddenly-queasy stomach, I take a deep breath to calm myself. I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation for why Edward is here instead of at Josh's house for poker. Maybe he's picking up food. Maybe the whole poker group is here. There's no reason for me to be this apprehensive.
I take my phone from my pocket, but I don't have any missed calls or texts. He didn't know Alice and I were eating dinner at Mario's anyway. I don't think he's here looking for me.
Ahead of me, the taillights flash again, drawing my attention back to the Mustang. I lean forward slightly to look through the windshield, blinking rapidly when I finally see him. Beside me, Alice is applying lipstick while she talks, meaning I can only understand every third word… but I'm not really listening anyway. She puts the cap on the lipstick tube and drops it back into the cup holder, then snaps the mirror shut and pushes the visor up.
She gasps when she sees what I'm watching: My boyfriend is coming out of Gallagher's with his arms around a woman. The tall, light-haired woman is pressed up against his side, clutching the front of his leather jacket. Her face is downcast, but I see enough of it to recognize her. Kate.
"Bella," Alice says softly, reaching over to grasp my arm.
"Just go," I whisper, feeling sick as jealousy and disbelief collide inside. "I don't want to do this here."
"I'm sure it's nothing," she soothes quietly, moving her hand down to squeeze mine. "He's crazy about you. He would never…"
She doesn't have to finish that sentence. Honestly, I never thought he would either, but it's hard to argue with what I see. I watch in nauseated silence as they stop on the passenger side of the car and Kate turns toward him, lifting one hand to touch his face. He's talking – I can see his mouth moving – but he doesn't pull her hand away until she tries to slide it into his hair. Even in the rain, he's picky about his damn hair.
Wishing I could make myself close my eyes, I watch her loop her other arm around his shoulders, hugging him… pressing her face into his neck… leaning into him. It seems like it takes forever for him to gently nudge her back and open the car door. After he helps her inside, he shuts the door and walks around the rear of the car toward his side, never even glancing in our direction.
"Do you want to follow them?" she asks quietly as he backs out of the parking space.
"No," I reply, my voice so hushed that I'm surprised she can hear me. I watch as he drives toward the parking lot exit. If he was heading toward the Full Moon… his condo… my apartment…anyplace in our life, he'd turn right. With a sinking heart, I see the blinker come on; the progressive blip, blip, blip of the three small, red lights pointing the direction he's turning – left.
"Are you still going to his place?" she asks.
"Yes," I say quietly. I'm trying not to overreact. I'm trying to imagine that he'll have an explanation.
I'm trying to believe that my whole world isn't about to collapse.
When we get to Edward's building, I insist that I want to go in alone, promising to text Alice later. She looks at me skeptically, but I assure her that I'm fine.
Upstairs, I unlock the door and walk inside, flipping on the living room lights and tossing my keys into the copper bowl on the console table as usual. I stop walking and turn around, then move back to the table and pick them up again. With a lump in my throat, I remove the condo key, and drop the rest of my keys into my open purse.
Looking down at the silver key in my hand, I remember how he smiled the night he slid it onto my keychain. Even though he's never divulged the entire story of what happened with, as he called her, the bitch he dated in college, I know she hurt him badly. And I know that it was a big deal for him to take a step forward with me. Slowly blowing out a deep breath, I set it down on the table, hoping that I don't have to give it back.
After laying my coat and purse on the couch, I go to the bedroom and get the duffle bag I brought over this afternoon. I set it on the bed and unzip it, and then walk around, picking up the things I've left here over the weeks. There's not that much – some makeup, an extra hair dryer, the dance clothes I taught class in earlier this week. I cram everything inside, and then carry the bag to the living room, dropping it beside my purse.
The buzz I had earlier is gone, leaving behind a faint ache across my forehead. I head into the dark kitchen and open the fridge to get a bottled water, but my eyes focus on the almost-empty bottle of white wine instead.
As another wave of nausea rolls through me, I grip the door handle to steady myself. Was it only two nights ago that he cooked dinner and poured me several glasses of this wine? It seems like much longer. Flashes of that evening race through my memory – the time spent talking on the couch, the hours spent pleasuring each other in his bed, the way he wrapped himself around me when we finally went to sleep.
And now I have no idea where I stand with him. I don't want to believe that he would cheat on me, but it's been forty-five minutes since I saw him leave Gallagher's. Where the hell is he?
Even though I know it will only make my head worse, I grab the bottle and a wineglass, and then walk through the dark kitchen to sit down at the table. After pouring what's left of the bottle into my glass, I take a drink and reluctantly relive the scene in the parking lot again and again: Kate clutching him; the way they stood next to the car talking… and hugging. Was he hugging her back? I can't remember. But I know that he didn't push her away. And what the fuck was he doing with her in the first place?
My head has started to throb by the time the door opens half an hour later. I hear the clink of Edward's keys when he drops them into the copper bowl. I listen to his footsteps as he walks down the hallway toward the bedroom… maybe looking for me since my truck is parked in the garage.
"Bella? You here?" he calls, coming back toward the living room.
"In the kitchen," I answer flatly.
"Why are you sitting in the dark, ballerina?" he asks softly.
I look over and see him standing in the doorway, backlit by the lights from the living room. Picking up my wineglass and the empty bottle, I get up and walk through the kitchen. As I pass the recycling bin against the wall, I toss the bottle inside, wincing when it clanks loudly against the bottle we drank two days ago.
"You're back early. It's not even midnight." I stand at the sink with my back to him, draining the last bit of wine from my glass.
"Uh, yeah," he says, pausing to clear his throat. "I was having shitty luck."
"Where were you again?" I ask as I rinse my glass. When I turn the water off, I shut my eyes tightly. Please, please tell me the truth.
"Um, Josh's," he answers. The quick burst of pain that flashes through my chest has me gripping the edge of the countertop to keep my balance. "But I left early. He was being an asshole and I wasn't in the fucking mood to deal with it. It was a shitty goddamn night."
Fighting back tears, I don't reply, so he continues talking, nervously filling the silence by bitching about his friends. Not normal Edward behavior. I'm hardly listening while he complains, but after a minute I can't take the irritated chatter… the lies. I just want to get away from him.
I turn around, but I can't really see more than his silhouette – I can't see the expression on his face or the look in his eyes. Still struggling not to cry, I lower my eyes and walk toward the doorway. When I turn sideways to scoot past him, he reaches for my arm.
"Don't," I snap, glaring at him. I yank my arm away and keep going.
"You're pissed at me? Jesus Christ," he mutters. "Are you gonna tell me why I'm in trouble or am I supposed to fucking guess?"
Stopping, I turn around slowly. He has the nerve to look like he's mad at me – eyes slightly narrowed, hands stuffed in his front pockets.
"I saw you, Edward," I whisper harshly, hoping to mask the tears still clogging my throat. "Alice and I ate dinner at Mario's. We saw you coming out of Gallagher's. With her."
His expression changes in a millisecond. His mouth drops open and he shakes his head quickly. "Baby, it's not what you think. We didn't… I just drove her home."
"Why didn't you tell me, then?"
"What was I supposed to say? 'Hey, Bella, my ex-fuck buddy got dumped and was a fucking mess and asked me to come get her'?" he asks, raising his voice slightly. His blunt words cut through me, making me bend forward a little and cross my arms over my stomach in an attempt to dull the pain. "I don't think that would have gone over very well." He finishes with a humorless chuckle as he lifts his hands to scrub across his face.
"So you chose to lie instead," I accuse. "After you totally disregarded my feelings – our relationship – to go to her, then you lied about it to cover it up."
"I wasn't disregarding anything about us, Bella," he insists, taking a couple of steps toward me. "I was just trying to be a nice guy. She had no fucking one else to call."
"Except a cab," I point out. "Or you could have called me and let me know what was going on instead of sneaking around with her." I bow my head to hide the tears that have begun to leak from the corners of my eyes.
"You're right," he says softly, moving to stand right in front of me. "But it was all innocent. Nothing happened."
"You didn't push her away when she was all over you." Unsure if I'm more angry at him or at my quivering voice, I raise one hand and roughly wipe my tears.
"She was upset. It wasn't like she was coming on to me or anything."
"How would you feel, Edward?" I ask, raising my head back up to look at him. "If you saw me hugging some ex, meeting up with him secretly, and then lying about it?"
"I'd fucking hate it," he admits with a sigh. "I'm sorry, ballerina. I should have told you. But nothing happened. Please believe me."
Even though I don't feel like telling him right now, I do believe him. I don't think he would screw her, and then come here like nothing had happened. But I don't know where to go from here. How do I stop feeling like this? When he reaches for me, I step away, running into the back of the couch. His eyes drop to the cushion where my things are.
"Are you leaving?" he asks without looking at me.
"I don't know," I mumble.
"I don't want you to go." His bloodshot green gaze meets mine again. I wonder for an instant if it's from the alcohol I can smell on him or if he's tired… or if he's upset, too. "Please stay."
We stare at each other for what feels like a long time, but I'm sure it's only a minute or so. Finally, I nod slightly and step toward him. This time, when he tries to put his arms around me, I let him.
Exhausted from all the emotion and wine, I'm out as soon as I burrow down in the bed. I never sleep deeply though, waking up often during the night. And after four o'clock, I don't sleep at all. Every time I close my eyes, I see Edward with Kate. I guess I sort of understand why he picked her up, but other troubling things keep running through my head. What else isn't he telling me? Has he done this before and not been caught? Does he ever miss her? Did she do things with him – to him – that I don't? Seeing him with her has unearthed every insecurity I have about our relationship.
Finally, a little before seven, I'm too restless to lie still any longer and decide to go to the studio. Since Edward said he wasn't going to the bar until about ten, I try to be quiet as I get dressed. Walking through the living room, I spot my duffle on the couch and remember that there are dance clothes in it. I pick it up and take it with me so I won't have to stop at my apartment on the way.
The sun is just coming up as I drive into the parking lot and pull into my regular spot near the side door. With my purse and duffle hanging from my right shoulder, I struggle to unlock and open the door without dropping my phone and the coffee I stopped to get. I dump everything on the desk in my office, change clothes in the bathroom, and walk into the chilly studio in just booty shorts and a tank top. It won't take me long to warm up.
I start with songs from my slow, lyrical playlist, thinking the sad lyrics will fit my mood. They don't; I'm too agitated. Once I'm warmed up, I put on faster, jazzy music and spend two songs turning. Today, though, even fast turns don't pull me out of my funk.
With a heavy sigh, I walk back to the stereo and scroll down to my hip hop list. I'm not sure I'm in the mood for it, and I've never danced to hip hop to relieve emotional tension, but I'm out of other options.
Twenty minutes later, I'm even more frustrated as I try to kick-up like Seth showed me months ago. I lie flat on my back, roll onto my shoulders, pulling my knees up for momentum, then spring forward. I should pop onto my feet; I end up falling on my ass. Again and again. But I'm determined to get it.
After almost an hour of trying, my shoulders are raw from rubbing the floor and my tailbone is pretty sore. Deflated, I turn to face the mirror, sitting cross-legged and staring at my reflection.
"I can do this," I mutter, tilting my neck from side-to-side to stretch it out. "And then I'm going next door and telling my boyfriend that I love him, and I want him to stop fucking hiding things from me."
Taking a deep breath, I lie down once more. I roll back, spring forward, and land on my feet, looking at myself in the mirror, shocked. Grinning excitedly, I drop to the floor to make sure it wasn't a fluke. It wasn't – I'm able to do it again, not resisting the urge to clap triumphantly this time when I pop up. After practicing it several more times, I walk to the stereo and start the playlist over, turning the volume up louder.
For several songs, I let my body move to the heavy bass beat. I circle my hips, practice my footwork, do body rolls. I drop backward, catching myself on one arm, and then switching to balance on my other arm. Swinging my legs side-to-side in the Spongebob, I laugh lightly, thinking how my young hip hop class sings along when we do this step to the cartoon's theme song.
Dripping with sweat, but feeling so much better, I bend forward, flipping my ponytail back as I stand again. I let my eyes slide closed and raise my linked arms above my head, grinding my hips to the right in time with the music.
"Well, this certainly is a stimulating view."
I jump and open my eyes, startled. Gasping, I hold a hand over my heaving chest as I whirl around to face the uninvited visitor standing just inside the doorway.
"Oh, my God, Aro! You scared me to death."
"Isabella," he says, shutting the door, "you know I would never intentionally frighten you."
"What are you doing here?" I puff, trying to catch my breath. Looking nervously around the room, I realize I didn't bring anything in here with me – no sweat towel, nothing to cover up with, no cell phone. To hide my concern, I walk to the stereo and turn the volume down.
"I came to bring these papers to Cullen, but no one's next door yet. When I saw your truck here, I decided to stop in and have a last look around the place before I sell it."
Surprised, I snap my head around to look at him. "You're selling the buildings to him?"
"No. I'm selling this building to him," he corrects. "He didn't tell you?"
"Huh uh," I breathe. I use one forearm to wipe sweat from my forehead as I walk back toward the center of the room. I'm not letting him corner me against a wall today.
"I let him choose which one of the buildings he wanted to buy," Aro says, smirking at me. "He opted for yours."
My anger at Edward flares, but I push it down for the moment. It's not a good idea for me to be distracted by my fury at Edward while Aro's here. I'll deal with him later.
"Why won't you just sell both of them?"
"Where's the fun in that?" he laughs. Then, holding my gaze with his dark, beady eyes, he moves toward me. The hair on the back of my neck prickles and my heart thumps erratically in my chest. "Although you might be able to persuade me to change my mind. The offer I made you last fall still stands. I would be willing to give you almost anything if you just give me… what… I… want."
"You know I have a boyfriend," I say quietly, struggling not to be intimidated by him as he stops right in front of me.
"He wouldn't have to know. I'm very discreet. And I've been exceedingly patient," he answers. He reaches up to tuck some of my hair behind my ear. "It's not like Cullen's faithful anyway. Everyone knows it, but nobody wants to tell you."
"Stop it, Aro," I reply angrily, jerking my head away. I know he's making this stuff up, but it still rattles me. I feel like throwing up all over his $600 loafers.
Arching an eyebrow at me, he lets his gaze slide down my body, and then slowly back up. "I usually prefer my women a little more docile, but there is something intriguing about your fiery temperament, Isabella. It does strange things to me."
"I think you'd better go," I say, putting more force into the words than I really feel. Although I went to self-defense classes several years ago, I've never actually had to use any of the techniques I learned. And I'm not sure if my strength would be a match for Aro's if he decided to get physical.
"Bella?" Edward's voice in the hallway is the best sound I've ever heard.
"In here," I call, stepping away from Aro. When the door opens, Edward's panicked eyes meet mine. Exhaling in relief, I nod slightly, trying to let him know I'm okay.
"Well, I should be going," Aro says, winking at me before he turns to face Edward. "Cullen, I brought the contract for the sale of the building. I set the closing date for two weeks. Hope you can raise the cash by then."
"It won't be a problem," Edward says tersely, taking the folder Aro holds toward him.
"Isabella, think about what I said," he says as he walks out.
Neither Edward nor I speak until the heavy, metal side door bangs shut behind Aro.
"What did he say?"
Turning away from Edward, I walk to the window and twist the blinds open. "That you're cheating on me," I reply flatly. "And that he'll sell you both buildings if I screw him."
"Jesus Christ! You have to quit working for him."
"Maybe instead of telling me what to do you should be telling me what the hell you've been doing," I seethe, turning to face him. "You're buying this building when you had the chance to buy yours?"
"It just happened Thursday," he explains. "I wanted to get through the weekend first. I promise I was gonna tell you after the Super Bowl party."
"Right," I scoff. "What else haven't you told me?"
"Fucking nothing, ballerina. I swear," he insists. "Why did you let him in the door?"
"I didn't," I admit, knowing Edward's going to freak about this part. He's on my case all the time about not locking up when I'm here alone. "It was unlocked."
"Goddammit, Bella!" he yells. "Do you know what it did to me when I drove in and saw his fucking car parked next to yours? And the door was locked when I tried it. I had to get Rose's keys to get in here. He could have… fuck, baby. You have to be more careful."
"I know," I whisper shakily, looking down at the ground. I'm trying to hold it together, but I wish we weren't pissed at each other because I really want nothing more than for him to hold me close and comfort me. Needing to do something with my hands, I clasp them in front of me.
I hear him blow out a breath. "How come you took all your stuff this morning and gave your key back?"
Realizing that he must think I'm breaking up with him, I look up at him again quickly. "I just forgot to pick up my key. And I brought my bag because it had dance clothes in it."
His face relaxes and he smiles slightly. "You're not pissed off about last night anymore?"
"Oh, I'm still pissed about that," I answer sharply, unleashing the anger I suppressed when Aro was here. Edward's face settles into a scowl when he hears the tone of my voice. "But, honestly, that's taking a backseat right now to my anger about the building. How am I supposed to trust you when you're always hiding things from me?"
"Are you joking? I'm the one always hiding things?" he asks, green eyes darkening with anger. "Jesus Christ, you don't even realize what a hypocrite you sound like, do you? You stand there lecturing me about not telling you shit while you've got a giant-ass trust fund that you've never fucking mentioned."
Gasping, I take a step back. "You snooped through my stuff?"
"No, I didn't fucking snoop through your stuff," he protests, insulted. "I saw the statement by accident."
"It's my dad… his life insurance," I whisper as tears sting my eyes. "I don't even want the money."
"I assumed it was something like that," he nods. "And I guess that's the difference between us, Bella. I always assume the best about you. And you always assume the worst about me."
"No, I don't," I argue, sniffling. "But the last two days, you've kept big stuff – huge stuff – from me."
"And you've had the trust fund since before I met you," he spits, scrubbing his free hand across his face. "You're not the only one that gets hurt by this shit, Bella." We're quiet for a few seconds before he lowers his hand, glancing at his watch. "Christ. I don't have time to do this right now. I have a fuckload of stuff to do at the bar. I'll see you tonight."
"I'm not coming." The words are out of my mouth before I even have time to think about the implications of what I'm saying.
His mouth drops open, but he recovers quickly and glares at me. "Perfect," he fumes. "At least lock the fucking door behind me."
He turns and stomps out of the room as I raise my hands to cover my mouth. I hold the sobs in, though, until I hear the door slam shut. Crying, I rush to my office and pull on my yoga pants. I grab my jacket, bag and keys, and then rush out the side door. After locking up, I get in my truck, grateful that I don't see anyone from next door as I go.
Eyes still burning with tears, I drive home on auto-pilot and drop my stuff right inside the door. Refusing to think about him, about what just happened, I grab an ice pack from the freezer and head for the couch. My tailbone is killing me. Hoping to distract myself, I turn on the television and lie down, adjusting the ice pack, and then covering up with my dad's afghan. After a while, I doze off, sleeping soundly until a sharp knock at the door wakes me.
"Isabella Swan, I'm using my key if you don't open this door in three seconds," Alice yells from outside. "One. Two."
Just as I'm sitting up on the couch, the door flies open. "Three?" I ask sarcastically. "I was sleeping, and you didn't even give me a chance to get to the door."
"Well, you said you'd text me last night," she insists, walking in and kicking the door shut with her foot. "It's almost three o'clock, and not only have you not gotten in touch with me, I can tell from texting you nine million times that your damn phone is either turned off or dead. I came to make sure you were still alive."
"You think I would kill myself?" I frown.
"Not on purpose, but showers can be slippery," she asserts. She takes her coat off and lays it over the back of the chair. "Although that clearly wasn't something I needed to worry about today."
Reaching for my hair, I feel it sticking up crazily. "Shut up," I order, trying to smile. "I think I left my phone at the studio."
She flops onto the other end of the couch, narrowly missing my feet. "How are you doing, honey?" I shrug, and then shake my head as tears fill my eyes again. "Tell me what's going on."
I relay as much as I remember about what happened last night and this morning, pausing to blow my nose after Alice brings the box of tissues from the bathroom. Uncharacteristically, she's mostly quiet until I've finished.
"He found out about the money before you got a chance to tell him?"
"I had plenty of chances," I admit. "I just didn't tell him. I hate the trust fund… I hate talking about it… I hate the reason I have it. It's blood money."
"It's love money. Your dad wanted you to be okay if anything ever happened to him," she says gently. "You should have told Edward."
"I know," I agree. "But I was afraid to. I dreaded having to explain why I won't use it."
"Oh, B. The things you're the most scared to tell him are the things you absolutely have to tell him," she advises, patting my foot. Her know-it-all relationship advice is starting to piss me off.
"I get that I should have told him, but really, Alice, this whole thing started because he lied. He screwed up."
"Yes, he screwed up. But he didn't screw Kate."
"But he was with her! And if we hadn't seen him, he never would have told me," I cry. "He also chose not to talk about Aro's ultimatum with me."
"Both of you made bad choices," she nods.
"Quit making this about me!" I insist, raising my voice. "It's like you're on his side or something."
"I'm so sorry," she says sympathetically, scooting over to hug me. "Of course I'm on your side. But you guys will work it all out."
"I don't know about that," I whisper.
"Sure you will," she contends, squeezing more tightly for a second before pulling back. "You go hit the shower while I pick out a hot outfit for you to wear tonight. You can ride with Jasper and me."
"I'm not going," I declare.
Her eyes widen, but she doesn't say anything. If I wasn't so upset, I would be amused by the surprised expression on her face. I can't remember the last time I saw her truly speechless.
"You have to… you can't just…," she stammers, blinking quickly at me. "This is, like, the biggest night for his business."
"I can't face him."
"Don't be a baby. You shouldn't need my prodding to get your ass there," she frowns. "But, Bella, this is me prodding. Get your ass there."
I look at her and shake my head.
"Please change your mind."
"Please quit trying to boss me around," I retort, annoyed.
"This is the man you love, honey. You show up to support him whether you're mad at him or not."
Pulling my knees to my chest, I lower my head, tired of looking into her judgmental eyes.
"God, B, he's going to be so hurt," she says sadly. Deep down, I know she's right, but my own pain and stubborn pride will not be swayed. She sighs. "Well, it's your choice. For the record, though, you're the one screwing up now."
I lie back down despondently while Alice hustles around my apartment. She brings me water and ibuprofen. She heats up a bowl of the soup I made Thursday night and refuses to leave me alone until I eat a few bites.
"Lift up. I brought a new ice pack for your bum," she smirks after I've eaten. "You know, you really should elevate the injured area. Maybe you should do that puppy pose we used to do in yoga. You remember. Head down, ass up."
"Ha ha. You're hilarious." I roll my eyes at her as we exchange cold packs.
"Can I borrow your shiny, black skirt for tonight?" she asks.
"You're still going?" She nods, raising a challenging eyebrow at me. Sighing, I wiggle around to get comfortable on the ice pack. "I guess. Sure."
She claps enthusiastically, and five minutes later, she's out the door with my skirt and a smile, leaving me feeling abandoned. Depressed, I curl into a ball on the couch and flip channels until I find an old movie to watch. Before it's over, I fall asleep again.
The room is getting dark when I wake up with a start. I'm disoriented… panicked. I feel like I'm forgetting something.
Oh, my God. Edward. The opening.
What am I doing?
Screwing up. That's what I'm doing. I love him and I want to work this out. My eyes dart to the clock on the wall. Six o'clock. Shit! I'm supposed to be there right now. Throwing back the afghan, I get up, rushing to get ready. I don't even balk at putting on the dark, skinny jeans and skimpy top Alice laid out on my bed. She must have hoped – or figured – that I would come to my senses eventually.
I pull on the motorcycle boots that are Edward's favorite, put on the hoodie he gave me that day so long ago, and bolt out the door. I just hope I'm not too late.
When I get to the Full Moon, there's nowhere to park in the lot. I end up parking on the street half a block up. As I walk toward the front door of the bar, I can hear the music – the band has already started. Inside, I stand still, scanning the crowd, but I don't see him. I hear Rosalie though.
"Bella Swan, it's about fucking time!" she yells, clamping my arm and pulling me behind her as she weaves her way toward the steps. "Edward's upstairs having a miserable time, which, honestly, was kind of funny at first, but everyone is in his line of fire now. Get your ass up there and fix him!"
"You're not coming with me?" I ask, twisting around as she pushes me until I move up two stairs.
"Nope. When I was in charge of your relationship, everything was fine. You two screwed this up by yourselves, and you can work it out by yourselves," she announces with a smirk. "I don't think he'll lie to you again. Just sayin'. So, if you don't really want to know if your ass looks big in a pair of jeans, don't ask him." She smacks my leg with a laugh, and then walks away.
Biting my lip, I hurry up the stairs, anxious to see him. Anxious to make up with him. I stop at the top, my eyes drawn to the two, not-miserable people sitting on top of the bar against the far wall – Edward and Victoria, the red-headed bitch. Architect. Whatever. They're smiling, posing for a picture in front of the Full Moon logo that's etched into the mirror on the back bar.
Dumbfounded, I watch as Victoria and her ridiculously short skirt scoot closer, angling her long, bare legs toward him. She rests her hand on his shoulder as Esme snaps a photo. Someone who looks suspiciously like Alice hands each of them a shot, and I feel the breath I was holding rush out in a gust as they tap glasses and drink. Esme's flash lights up several more times while I stare at him.
He finally shifts his gaze my way after he sets his glass down. We look at each other for less than a second before I turn and hurry back down the stairs. I hear him following, calling my name, but I don't stop. He's fast, though, and catches up just after I reach the main floor.
"Bella, hang the fuck on," he says, grasping my wrist. When I stop, he slides his hand down, wrapping his fingers around my palm. "Come with me."
I don't resist when he pulls me down the hallway toward his office. He unlocks the door and pushes it open, letting me walk in first. I toss my purse toward the couch, and then turn around just as he closes the door and leans back against it. Although I can still hear the muffled sounds of the bar, it's quiet in here since neither of us says anything for a minute. Finally, I can't stand the tense silence.
"You have a good crowd."
"Everybody showed up… except the one fucking person I wanted here the most," he says irritably.
"My absence didn't seem to slow you down," I answer snottily, folding my arms across my chest. "You looked pretty happy cozied up on the bar with what's-her-name."
"We were just taking a fucking picture," he defends, narrowing his eyes. "She's a bitch, but she did work hard to get the space the way I wanted it."
"That's not the only thing she's working hard at," I mutter. "And you just eat up the attention."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
I roll my eyes before I reply. "Oh, Edward, come on. She hasn't exactly been subtle in her pursuit of you."
"So? Have you been cheating on me?"
"What?" he asks, frowning at me. "No! Jesus, Bella. You seriously believe that shit Aro was spouting this morning? I wouldn't do that. I love–."
"No!" I spit through clenched teeth. "Don't you dare say that to me now just to get yourself out of trouble."
"If I was saying it just to get myself out of trouble, I would have said it last night," he grumbles.
"If it was true, you would have said it before now." I cringe when I hear my curt words, realizing that I'm being a hypocrite again; I haven't said it either.
"It's not fucking true if I don't say it out loud?" he asks, looking at me disbelievingly. Clearly aggravated, he pushes one hand into the top of his hair. "I never tried to hide the way I feel about you. Every fucking person who knows me can see it. And you know me better than anyone else."
"I thought I did."
Sliding his hand forward, he stretches his fingers wide across his forehead to shield his eyes. He rubs his thumb against one temple and his middle finger against the other, raising his voice when he speaks again. "It's not easy for me, okay? To say it. The last girl I said it to didn't feel the same about me."
"I'm the last girl you said it to." My words are hushed, spoken around the sudden lump in my throat.
Dropping his hand, he locks his shocked gaze on mine. Long seconds tick by, marked by the rapid beating of my heart, while he blinks at me in confusion. "What?"
"You said it to me once. On New Year's Eve."
"Shit." His shoulders slump and he leans his head against the door behind him, closing his eyes. He swallows a couple of times, lifts his hands to scrub across his face, and then finally lowers his head to look at me again. "I don't remember, ballerina. But it's fucking true. I love you."
The warmth that sweeps through me spurs me to take one step forward as I reply. "I love you, too."
The left side of his mouth twitches, curls slightly upward. "Then can we stop the fucking fighting and start the making up?"
As I walk toward him, nodding, he pushes off the door, pulling me in close when I reach him. I wrap my arms around his waist and hang on tightly, breathing easily for the first time in almost twenty-four hours.
"I'm so sorry," I whisper against his shirt.
Loosening his hold, he slides his hands up to cup both sides of my neck. With a sigh, he leans down to rest his forehead against mine. "I'm sorry, too, baby."
He shifts his head to kiss me, pressing his thumbs lightly against my jaw until I open my lips. We move our mouths together urgently, and I whimper as he pulls back briefly to switch angles, pausing to nip at my lower lip before diving in to kiss me again.
Wanting to get closer to him, I shift my arms, sliding them up his chest to wind around his neck. At the same time, he grips my waist and lifts me up, never stopping the movement of his mouth as he turns us around. He presses me against the door, and then pulls my legs to wrap around him. Moaning quietly, I tilt my hips to meet his as he rocks against me several times.
When he thrusts against me more forcefully, pushing me into the door, I twist my head away, inhaling sharply through my teeth at the pain.
"What's wrong, ballerina? Did I hurt you?" he asks, holding still and looking intently at me. Breathing hard, I nod. "Where, baby?"
"My butt. I hurt my tailbone today when I was dancing," I pant.
His eyes shine with amusement when he speaks. "You broke your ass?"
"It's not funny," I declare, but I giggle when he chuckles.
"You bet your broken ass it's not," he answers. "Hang on."
I cling to him as he carries me to the couch. He sits down and helps me adjust my legs so I'm straddling his lap.
"Is this bet–"
I don't let him finish before I crash my lips to his, burying my hands in his hair. Immediately realizing what I'm doing, I drop my hands and pull my mouth away.
"Oops," I whisper. "Your hair."
"You can put your hands wherever you want," he answers hoarsely, reaching between us to unzip my jacket. I pull my arms out of the sleeves and let the hoodie drop to the floor behind me, then dig my hands into his hair again as he skims his lips down my neck.
Immediately, he slides his hands up my shirt to cup my breasts. He quickly realizes that I'm wearing a strapless bra and pushes it down, out of his way. I sigh as gentle fingers graze my ribs and hot breath fans my bare collarbone. Brushing his thumbs around my nipples, he leans his head back to look at me.
"It's kind of hot when you're jealous," he says, smirking.
"I was not jealous," I reply breathily. Lifting one eyebrow at me, he grasps my nipples, pinching lightly as I moan. "Okay, I was a little jealous."
"A little?" he laughs. Using my body as leverage, I lean sideways, pulling him with me, until he lies down. He settles on his back, dragging me on top of him.
"Are you trying to start another fight?" I tease.
"No," he groans as I move against him. "Fuck. Definitely not."
"Good," I smile, lowering my mouth to his.
He shifts his hands to my back, holding me close as I kiss him, pausing several times to bite his lower lip gently. Delighting in the way his hips buck underneath me, I slowly slide my lips to his cheek… his ear… his jaw… his neck. He groans and moves his hands, bringing one up to tangle in my hair and gripping my hips with the other.
I take my time working down his neck, reaching in between us to undo the first few buttons on his shirt and then slipping my hand inside. Under my hand, his heart beats wildly as I touch my tongue to the pulse point at the base of his throat.
When someone pounds on the door, I try to pull away, but Edward holds my head still. "Don't stop, ballerina," he pleads.
"Edward, Bella. I know you guys are in there," Rose yells, banging on the door again.
"Go away, Rose." His voice is strained as he calls out to her. Smiling against his skin, I let my lips glide down to the bare skin of his chest. He pushes himself against me roughly again.
"I can't. Jake and his parents are here looking for Bella."
"Crap," I whisper, arching up to look at Edward. "I didn't know they were coming tonight."
"We'll be out in a minute," he says loudly, sighing.
"You need to come now," she argues. "I've already stalled them for twenty minutes."
"Fuck," he mutters, sitting up after I push myself off him. I lift my shirt up and pull my bra back into place while he watches. "You're trying to kill me."
"I'm not," I say, smiling as I bend down to kiss him. "But I'm still in trouble for not going to Forks for Christmas, and now I'm caught screwing around with my boyfriend."
"Come home with me tonight?" he murmurs against my lips.
"I didn't bring clothes."
"You won't need them," he counters, gripping the backs of my thighs.
"Okay," I giggle, kissing him once more. "I gotta go see Sue and Billy. I love you."
"I love you, too," he answers. "I'll be out in a couple of minutes. Guess I'm meeting the family, huh?"
"They're nice, Edward," I reply, backing away. "I promise."
He nods, and then I turn to open the door, stepping into the hallway with Rose… who's looking at me suspiciously.
"You guys have been back here fooling around?" she asks, frowning as I pull the office door shut behind me. "I thought you were fighting."
"We were. And then we weren't," I shrug.
Shaking her head, but amused, she straightens my clothes and fixes my hair. "I can't do anything about the glazed eyes. Just pretend you've been drinking."
Looping her arm through mine, she starts up the hallway. "Edward has no clue what he's about to walk into, does he?" She smirks at me. "I thought Jake and Jared were big, but their dad is fucking huge. Hope he doesn't figure out that Edward's been pawing you in the back room."
"Maybe I was the one doing the pawing," I retort. She laughs and squeezes my arm.
"I'm glad you guys worked it out. My brother is an asshole sometimes, but he really does love you."
"I know," I answer softly, smiling first at the floor and then at her. "I know."
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