Huge thanks to sapphirescribe and cocoalvin for betaing this chapter for me and putting up with all my questions! : )

I know it's been a bit since I've updated, between RL and writer's block it's been difficult but I won't bore you with the details.

Thanks to everyone who nominated me for the Sunflower Awards and Slash Awards! And thanks to those on Twitter who sent me birthday wishes (and lovely pics of nerdward!).

Okay, I'm probably forgetting something, but on with the show…


Chapter Nine: Kabourophobia

I straightened my tie for the umpteenth time and watched as the elevator rose from floor to floor. For once, my anxiety didn't originate from the dangerous cube of death, nope, not at all. It came from the fact that today I would be seeing Jasper after we expressed our…Feelings? Desires? Intentions? Okay, I'll go with that…our intentions toward each other, and we would be meeting after for dinner and then...something. I wouldn't think about what it was. I had a slim idea what would occur, but I refused to let my brain think of anything more than necessary at the moment if I was going to get through the day.

I may or may not have thought about it quite a lot the previous day, which led me to call in to take the rest of the day off in order to dodge all contact from my family. I shouldn't have been surprised, after my seemingly out-of-character departure from our family dinner, that my family had tried to contact me numerous times, no doubt "to check on me." However, I hadn't thought about the ramifications of my actions at all. My mind seemed to be fixated on one thing and one thing only: Jasper Whitlock.

Yesterday, Angela informed me that she would cover for my absence and, as she put it, run "interference" from any and all things. I grew suspicious of her tone and when she stated that she "hoped all things went well," it made me wonder if she knew more than she letting on. Nevertheless, I did believe that she deserved a raise very soon.

I successfully made it to my office without running into anyone, especially my family. Of course, I arrived one hour before anyone was set to arrive so I could avoid them as though my life depended on it. I was overwhelmingly relieved when I stepped into my office. It's funny how such a room—despite being an excessive number of stories off the ground—could feel so comforting. Maybe it was due to the amount of time I spent in this particular place. Maybe it was the memories. Like when I helped with my first big account, when Jasper kissed me, when I found out I was going to be an expecting boss, and then there was the time when Jasper kissed me.

I shook my head. I really needed to get my mind straight. Setting down my briefcase, I headed to the corner and sat wedged between the filing cabinet and wall.

As I said, everyone needs a thinking space.

O . o . O . o . O

I figured I would have been up by the time Angela arrived. However, when I heard her distinct light knock, I knew I was caught red-handed. Standing in front of me with her hands on her hips, I knew I had to rectify the situation. I stood up quickly, not giving her the chance to try and sit down on the floor again—there was no need to add to my stress and worrying about the baby would do just that.

It only took me approximately seven minutes and forty-three seconds to relay to her what had occurred since I saw her last. Of course, I didn't tell her any real names or such. I casually, and oh-so-subtly, talked about my friend "Edmund" and his co-worker/crush "Jasmine." I knew that she knew who I really was referring to, however, this way just made it so much easier for me to relay the events to her. Who knew, maybe I would be able to say our actual names soon; if there was anyone that I could talk to about this it would be Angela. After I concluded my epic story about their impending rendezvous that evening, she emitted a very high-pitched squeal and clapped her hands together. I removed my hands from my ears once I knew the sound had stopped.

Certain high-pitched noises could cause a person's eardrums to burst, causing a multitude of inner damage that could lead to death if not properly protected against. This wasn't always on my list of fears, but one day I unknowingly stumbled across a show called "1000 Ways to Die." One thing was for sure, if someone already had a vast amount of things that they were afraid of, then watching this show didn't help...it would actually do the complete opposite.

After watching that dreadful show I took my vacation early—that week—and stayed inside for the whole time. You live, you learn. Well...not according to all the people on that particular show.

Angela gave me a huge smile and proceeded to leave, stating that she would help me in any way she could. I just needed to get through the day and then I could worry about everything else this evening. I only had one meeting to attend this afternoon. It wasn't a big deal though. No, not at all. Just my father, brother, and all the heads of the department would be attending, including Jasper. So, there was no need to worry.

What was I thinking coming into work today?

The end of the day was approaching. Not that I would know, it wasn't like I was watching the clock or anything.

Three minutes and twenty-two seconds before I needed to leave for my meeting, Angela peeked in.

"Mr. Cullen?"

"Yes, Angela?"

She walked in, shutting the door behind her as she approached my desk. "Here are the documents you need for your meeting today."

"Oh, yes. Thank you, Angela."

"Anything else?" I inquired. She seemed to be lingering, while I pretended to have temporary amnesia.

"Just wanted to let you know, your father stopped by twice and your brother once."

My head snapped up at that. "Oh?"

She nodded, looking sheepish. "I told them you were in the middle of important phone calls at the time. I hope I was correct in doing so."

I smiled briefly and let it fall, clearing my throat. "Well, yes. Thank you, Angela."

"Oh, and Mr. Cullen, about your...meeting later. Just remember to be yourself. Everything will be fine." The way she smiled at me, it was almost as if she wasn't talking about the meeting at all.

Oh! She's not. Right.

Finally, I decided to face the music and leave for the meeting. I planned to enter right as it began so it wouldn't give my father a chance to speak with me before it started. I must not have been the only one with that particular plan because right as I was reaching for the conference room door, so was another very familiar looking hand.

Glancing up, I realized how close he was to me. There he was, in all his perfect glory: Jasper Whitlock.

He was the first to react. He pushed open the door, stepped back and gestured toward the open doorway.

"After you, Mr. Cullen."

O . o . O . o . O

I do believe the meeting went quite well. Of course, I was basing this solely on the fact that I hadn't vomited or blurted out anything inappropriate like I had been doing the past couple of days. Also, there was the fact that I didn't try to avoid Jasper at all times. I looked not only at him once during the meeting, but all of three times. The first time was easy; I just pretended to look at the clock, which conveniently was located above Jasper. After daring to stare for five seconds, I peeled my eyes away and quickly scanned the room, wondering if anyone deduced that I secretly longed for Jasper and had mental images of us horizontal on this very conference table based on my prolonged staring. Concluding that no eyes gazed upon mine, I must have been stealthy enough in my actions to avoid detection.

Suckers.

The second time I dared to look was only under the illusion of listening to him answer my father's question. I felt safe in my actions because everyone else looked his way as well.

My eyes narrowed. I hope this doesn't mean that one of my comrades secretly longs for Jasper and has mental images of them horizontal on this very conference table.

I quickly shook my head and pushed aside the thought. As my therapist said, just because I had a thought, it didn't necessarily mean that everyone else was having the same thought as I was, which seemed crazy to me at times.

How could others not find such things as swans, heights, sea creatures, that strangely dressing Lady GoGo, and solicitors as frightening as I do?

The third and final time that I glanced Jasper's way was because, well, I just felt like it. The only problem was the second my eyes traveled toward that perfectly shaped body; I found his eyes staring right back at mine!

Okay, that is enough looking for now.

When the meeting ended, I tried to make a dash for the door before my father spoke to me, without drawing too much attention to myself. If it wasn't for the imbecilic Michael Newton blocking my path by chatting about nonsensical things to the other staff members, I might have made it.

"Edward, before you go, I would like to speak to you." I turned to find my father staring right at me. I couldn't read his expression and I really didn't want to find out what it was. I glanced from him to the door and then back to him.

Jumping over the table is a little rash, isn't it? What would Angela say? I sighed. She would say yes.

I slowly made my way toward my father, just as I heard the rest of the group leave.

I couldn't help but roll my eyes. Sure, now Michael Newton moves.

"Emmett, you can leave as well."

Turning around, I noticed my brother standing there with a hesitant expression on his face. I don't know why but I gave him a reassuring nod. His shoulders slumped in defeat and then he left reluctantly.

"Edward."

"Yes, father."

He sighed and moved, leaning up against the table.

"Your actions the other day really worried your mother."

I decided to stay quiet. One way or another I was going to hear everything he had to say, so it would be best if he got it all out now.

"First, you left dinner suddenly. Second, you didn't answer your phone or respond to any of the messages that were left for you. Third, when I tried to find you yesterday, Angela told me you stepped out. Last, I didn't see you at all today until this meeting."

He paused to look at me, apparently expecting a response.

"Correct." I nodded.

"Your mother wanted me to call the police or, how did she put it? That 'Without a Trace' guy."

"I apologize for worrying...Mom."

"Well, it wasn't just her that was worried. There was your brother and your sister too," He stated, turning away from me and shuffling his papers into his briefcase.

"I'll apologize to them as well. I'll apologize to everyone."

He cleared his throat then and turned around. "Right, okay then." He paused for a moment, staring at me. I really hoped this wouldn't turn into another staring contest. I didn't think I would be able to win with all the extra things going on in my mind. For one, there was Jasper: what Jasper was doing, what he was thinking about, what would happen with Jasper tonight, where Jasper would want to eat, and if Jasper wore boxers, briefs or boxer briefs?

You know, all the important things.

"Is there anything I should know about, Edward?"

"Huh?"

"You have been acting strange. I want to make sure you are all right. If you need me to call Dr. Hunter, I will..."

He trailed off, or maybe I just blocked it out because I didn't want to hear about it again. Without looking at him I snatched up my paperwork and headed for the door.

"For the last time, I am fine," I mumbled under my breath.

Before he could respond I was already out of the conference. Thankfully, it was the end of the day and no one was around to see me storming through the office. When I got to my destination, I was able to shut the door without slamming it and I took deep breaths to calm myself.

Huh, it's actually working. I can feel my heart rate slowing down.

"Hello, Mr. Cullen."

My eyes snapped open. There, staring at me, was none other than Jasper Whitlock.

So much for my heart rate slowing down.

Had I gone into the wrong office? I glanced around. No, this was certainly my office that contained Jasper Whitlock, who happened to be standing in the very spot that he kissed me days prior.

He smiled and took a step closer.

"You ready to go?"

I opened my mouth to respond. However nothing came out, unless you count a few incoherent sounds. I snapped my mouth shut, trying not to embarrass myself further and nodded.

Well, at least it's better than blurting out the first thing that came to my mind. I think.

O . o . O . o . O

Jasper had brought me to some restaurant that I couldn't remember the name of for the life of me. Why should I? There were more important things going on!

Okay, I'll admit it. I'm a little more than panicking now.

As we waited to be seated, I made a mental checklist of things to remember. Starting off, if this was really a date and Jasper wanted to continue dating me, then I absolutely could not allow him to be aware of my quirks. If he even got a glimpse of the magnitude that was my fears and anxiety he would go running off in the other direction. The plan was simple: pretend I was normal. Not that I hadn't done that for years, but now I needed to be even more normal. He would never know something was wrong.

Sure, my last boyfriend was well aware of my faults, but that was different. We were childhood friends before we started to date so he had already accepted the fact that I just wasn't quite right.

Another thing I had to remember, was to restrain myself from blurting out the first thing that came to my mind, which usually ended up being inappropriate.

"Edward? You coming? Our table is ready."

"What? Oh, yes."

Okay, it's time for me to get my game together. Mission: "Date with Jasper" has officially started. What is the expression Emmett would say, "Buck up, or you'll fuck up"? Very inappropriate if you ask me.

I followed the hostess and we took our seats. I didn't know what to immediately do so I picked up my menu and put my eyes there. With Jasper sitting across from me, there was no way I could avoid his stare.

Why isn't he saying anything? Should I say something? He's the one who invited me, so it's only fair that he speak first.

"I hope you like the restaurant I choose. It's one of my favorites."

Yes, he spoke first! Now, act cool.

"No, I have never been here before."

Sure, I saw the restaurant when we pulled up, but since entering I hadn't looked anywhere but at my feet or my menu. I raised my glance and assessed the area.

"They specialize in seafood. Best lobster I've ever had."

As he finished his statement I turned toward my right, landing on a tank. A seafood tank to be exact. A seafood tank that currently was holding an abundance of lobsters to be even more exact.

I jumped up in my seat. Bad idea. They can sense my fear!

Jasper, unaware of my dislike of all things of the sea, continued to talk as if we weren't in the presence of certain doom.

"Isn't it great? If you choose to get a lobster, you just pick which one you want to have."

Sure, it would be great if you were Evil Knievel or had a death wish.

I couldn't tear my eyes away from the evil water creatures. What was with those antennas they had? They were touching everything and they were looking right at me! Moving those antennas and such, thinking God only knew what.

Wait, I need to pull myself together. Jasper is most likely waiting for a response. Plus, I can't forgo my plan of normalcy so close to the beginning.

Very slowly, I turned my head towards Jasper, who was looking at me with a befuddled expression. Could I blame him? No.

"That does sound good. However, I don't think I have the stomach for lobster tonight." I smiled. Seeing Jasper made me almost forget what lay a few feet away. Almost being the key word.

I could do this. All I had to do was focus on Jasper. Per usual, everything else tended to go by the wayside when Jasper was concerned. Why couldn't it be my quirks as well?

Jasper smiled in return. "Well, there is plenty else to choose from."

Just then our waitress Wendy came to supply bread and take our orders.

I, being too frazzled to have really viewed the menu, picked the first thing that I saw that didn't involve anything terrifying. After she left, I prepared myself for what I would assume would be the "talking" portion of the date. It went rather smoothly. He talked about his half-sister Charlotte who lived nearby; I, in turn, spoke of my siblings and parents—not in much detail though, wouldn't want to scare him off that quick.

He ordered wine. I, of course, drank it. That was what the average adult does right? So I sipped at it, hoping not to offend him. Honestly, I couldn't tell you what I hated more: wine or beer.

The wine must have been doing something, because not too long after I started to ingest the substance, my brain went against the plan I came up with earlier.

"This is a date, right?"

Jasper froze mid sip. Then his mouth turned into a large grin, he placed his glass down and reached slowly across the table. It was almost as if he wasn't completely sure of his next move. It wasn't until I felt the pressure that I realized that he had placed his hand on top of mine.

"I hoped it was. I know there are a few...obstacles that we need to figure out, but if you're willing, I'm in."

I gulped. Obstacles? What is he referring to? Does he mean me and my not-so-normal brain? How does he know?

"Um, obstacles?"

"Well, yeah. You technically being my boss. I assumed that would go against company policy and if not, it would at least be frowned upon."

"Oh, right, right. No, I think we will be fine. As long as we keep it low-key then I guess… What I mean to say is, I'm in too."

Being the bold individual that I was, I took that as an opportunity to grasp his hand back. Hell, maybe I'd never let go. No, he might think that strange. Nevertheless, for the first time in a long time, I felt afraid, but I wasn't afraid of being afraid. It actually felt kind of good—in a way.

That's if I don't think about the vast amount of crustaceans in the immediate vicinity.


Poor Edward and his overthinking, much anxiety-ridden brain…but fear not! The date continues…