Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns everything Twilight related. No copyright infringement is intended and there is no financial gain by myself in this story. The original characters, plot, and setting are the property of the author, NTJB. Please do not reproduce this story without the express permission of the author.

A/N: Hi :)


Chapter 28- Tolerance

August 11, 2010

"Ben, I'd like you to meet Bella. Bella. Ben." Edward pointed at his friend and me at the appropriate intervals, although it wasn't necessary. I had been alone in the kitchen when Edward walked in, steamy with sweat, Ben in tow.

He was nothing like I remembered him. The makeup team for Hamlet did a great job in creating Horatio, who had wavy shoulder-length brown hair and pale white skin. Ben was blond (bottle) with a spray tan. His eyebrows were perfectly arched and bleached. His skinny jeans and t-shirt reminded me of Erik.

I turned off the stand alone mixer—a recent gift from Edward—and shook Ben's hand. Chocolate batter was on my finger and got onto his hand.

"Oh no! I'm sorry." I grabbed a hand towel (another gift) and began wiping his hands with it without thinking how awkward it was.

"I can clean my own hands." Ben smirked, glancing at Edward. Then, he smiled at me. "What ya makin'?"

"Chocolate cake for me," Edward answered. He stood behind me, kissing my ear. It tickled, and I giggled.

"You can have some, too, when I'm done," I promised a little too quickly. I hated how hot I felt. I felt like I could bake the cake on my face.

"Relax," Edward murmured in my ear. He kissed my ear again as I took a deep breath.

Ben shook his head with the same smirk. "Did you make it from scratch?"

With a curt nod, I scraped the edges of the metallic bowl with a spatula.

"Cool. Do you use vegetable oil or butter?"

"Umm..." I raised my eyebrows. He knew how to bake?

"Ben's father's one of those Food Network celebrities. Gregory Cheney?" Edward whispered in my ear. I nodded. The name was vaguely familiar, but I never had cable. So, I shrugged. This delighted Ben for some reason. He wriggled his eyebrows and laughed like the Pillsbury Doughboy.

"He sounds-"

"Don't say it," Edward murmured. "He'll do it all afternoon if you say it." Then, he kissed my neck and squeezed my hips. "We'll get out of your way. I know you like to work alone." He pulled away. "Ben?"

"I don't mind the company." I turned to look at Edward. His cheeks were as flushed as mine, and he smelled like paint. They both did. "I missed you this morning."

His eyes were light, a hint of mischief brewing in his depths. Right now wasn't a good time for that look.

A sudden two-note whistle interrupted us, and we both stared at a bemused Ben Cheney.

"You two aren't gonna fuck on the counter, are you?"

"No!"

"Jesus Christ, man!"

Edward and I said this in unison, my exclamation much squeakier. Edward couldn't be friends with a quiet nerd, could he?

"I'm just sayin'. Anyway, oil or butter?"

Edward rolled his eyes. "I'm gonna shower now. Try not to be a shithead to my girl, man." He turned and headed down the hallway. He even had a spring in his step.

"Never saw that before." Ben pointed at Edward's legs which quickly disappeared as he ran upstairs. "What do you put in this cake that makes him so giddy? Crack?" He wiped his index finger on the inner edge of the bowl, then sucked on it.

"No! No!" I reached for the eggs, turning on the mixer again and wishing I could bury my face in the bowl. He was too forward with me. I felt like if he looked long enough, he would find out everything that I had been trying to keep from Edward.

"You don't have to be nervous. I'm just an honest guy. It's what us New Yorkers have in our blood."

"Oh."

"What's next? A grunt? You can speak English. I know it. I heard it not five minutes ago. Come on. Let's hear it."

"Okay. Um... Fuck you." I picked up the remaining sifted flour/cocoa powder mix and slowly shook it into the bowl while the wide plastic beater went round and round.

"That's more like it. So, yeah, Edward's been... strange the last few weeks. Hasn't gotten one audition. He's usually an unbearable son of a bitch when he doesn't get his parts."

I knew this first hand, recalling how condescending he was after he lost the role of Macbeth. I hadn't seen that side of him in a while, though, not since the day we moved in.

"So, what is it? Ecstasy?" He leaned over the bowl, which I stopped mixing immediately. Crossing my arms, I sized him up as he stood up again to face me. He was a couple inches taller than I was and much bulkier than Edward's lean frame, but not as big as Jake. I also noticed a gold ring on his middle finger. It said "Yale" above a sapphire stone.

"I don't do drugs." Scraping the sides again, I asked him to move to the side so that I could get to the two pans near the sink across the kitchen. He gave me a once over with a bemused look on his face as if he didn't believe me. Then, he backed off with his hands up in surrender when I lifted the mixing arm and retrieved the bowl. From my periphery, I saw him press the button to release the beater from the mixer.

"That's good. Drugs are bad. So, why do you think he's so happy all of a sudden?" I heard him sniffing the beater behind me. What a weirdo.

I shrugged when I reached the sink and poured the batter into the pan on the left.

"You're not gonna take credit, hunh? If I were you, I'd take it."

I stopped pouring to face him. He wanted me to talk? I'd talk alright.

"Do you wish you were me?" I had my suspicions in May that "Horatio" satisfied "Hamlet" in a way "Ophelia" never could because I was trying to prepare myself for Edward's rejection. There was no way a guy that hot could be straight in New York. That was my buffer for the embarrassing rejection that never came. Edward was straighter than a diving board, but "Horatio" clearly wasn't. And after Jasper, seeing Ben like this in person was enough to drive a girl like me into a girl as mad as Ophelia.

"Everyone at The New School wishes they were you. You got a real prize." He was cleaning the beater with the spatula. Hunh, maybe he had manners after all. Hopefully it was enough to keep his hands off Edward.

I twisted away from him to yank open the door to the stove, heating up again.

"But I've got a honey at home. You have nothing to worry about."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence." I slid the pans into the stove at the same time. Then, I turned the timer on for twenty-five minutes. They were heating up. I was cooling down.

"You are aware that Edward's a straight, All-American boy?"

I pushed the stove door closed but didn't face him when I said, "I do."

"You also know he loves you." I heard him take a step towards me, which is when I turned my head his way. I crossed my forearms on the stove door, resting my cheek on them. He was licking my spatula. I stifled my laughter.

"Mmm hmm."

"I'm shocked you're still with him, if I may be blunt." He tossed the licked-clean spatula in the sink.

"Blunt? You? Please!"

"Sarcasm. I like it." He scratched his temple. "Anyway, he told me you were really understanding, considering his past..."

"No one's perfect. And what happened didn't make me change my mind about him."

"Really..."

"You're asking so many questions..." I stood up, thumbing the belt loops on my jeans. I shook my head. Then again, of course he would. He must've been ill at ease because of my spying a couple months back. "If this is about my spying on you two..."

"Spying?" He cocked his eyebrow. Folding his arms across his chest, he asked, "You spied on us? When?"

Edward didn't tell him...

"Long time ago. Um-"

"I've been blond longer than you've known Edward so not that long ago. What'd you hear?"

"I- nothing." I grabbed a clean towel to dry my sweaty hands. "I can't even remember what you spoke about."

He looked me up and down, a little glint in his eye. Then, he chewed the inside of his cheek.

"You know, another one of Edward's girlfriends ran interference with this play." He pulled his class ring off his middle finger, then put it back on. Back and forth it went.

"I'm not interfering with anything, I swear."

"This play means a lot not only to Edward but to me. I've wanted to play Big Daddy since I was in high school. I would sacrifice kittens to put it on."

"I'm not your enemy. I..." I tried to interrupt him, but he continued.

"I've tolerated a lot since collaborating with Edward. He's a good guy, only a few left in New York. I won't hesitate to make sure there won't be another fuck up."

"I'm just a normal girl who likes to bake chocolate cake, okay?" My voice shook as I walked down the hallway to the living room with Ben's footsteps thudding behind me.

"You're also the girl who took my best friend away from Jane Volturi. That's no small feat."

"I didn't. Edward made a choice. He chose me. I had no tricks up my sleeve."

"So, why the spying?"

"I..." I looked up the stairs, checking to see if Edward was on his way down. He could hear every word of this if he were out of the shower by now. But it was fine. I wanted him to hear this.

"I'm not forging a scheme, if that's what you think. The spying was a one-time mistake. I'm not gonna take the play away from either of you."

"You swear?"

"I do, on those kittens you'd sacrifice," I replied with a grin.

He leaned against the wall and crossed his ankles. Looking up at the ceiling, he mused, "Jane's a conniving bitch." Slowly, he lowered his head to look down at me. "I'd watch out for her if I were you."

"I'm not gonna concern myself with her." I picked at a hangnail and bit into it. "Besides, I trust Edward to throw her to the wolves if she tries anything."

"The bull... She put us through so much bullshit, Bella." His tone held enough bitterness for the both of us.

"If Jane wants to come at me, she can. But look where she ended up the first time. She isn't a threat, never was." I plopped down on the couch.

"You just don't know her. She's Fatal Attraction on a good day."

I shrugged as he sat down much more carefully next to me. The scent of paint rose up along with the leather.

"What were you guys doing this morning? Why do you smell like paint?"

"We're building the sets for the show, Nancy Drew." He smiled, playful, which made me smile.

"Building sets?"

"Yup. We got the walls just right. You should come down to our storage unit to check it out."

I nodded. Edward would love that idea.

"I thought you could hire people to do that for you?"

Ben scratched his nose with a chipped fingernail. It was shiny with clear polish, though, as were the rest of his fingernails. They had been filed into a perfect shape once but were all cracked, now.

"I wish we did. I had to haul a metal headboard up a flight of stairs yesterday, and I've got the sore muscles to prove it. We can't afford a crew, and none of our friends are in town or are too busy. So, it's up to us. Edward didn't tell you?"

I shook my head, glanced up the stairs, then looked back at Ben.

All I needed was a number, and Alice would give me the money. And maybe Edward wouldn't even have to know that the money was from me...

"Looks like he's been keeping stuff from the both of us. That bastard," Ben sighed. "I'm gonna have to have a talk with him."

I shook my head again. Then, I picked up my phone, tapping through menus to contacts.

"What's your number?" I asked him.

"Why?"

I shrugged, typing in a text. I showed it to Ben.

Me:I may know someone who can help.

"Why not tell Edward? Why tell me?"

So many "why" questions from the most blunt man I had ever met. And he wouldn't keep his voice down. He was more skeptical of me than I was of him. Nevertheless, he could've written me off like Emmett did but didn't. He must've wanted to be friendly with me. I just needed to prove I was trustworthy and his trust would come.

I typed into my phone again.

Me: I don't want to let him down if it doesn't pan out.

With his eyebrows raised, he looked wary. Nonetheless, I typed his name into my phone: "Ben C."

"I'm not Jane." I handed him the phone. "I won't fuck you over."

He jabbed his huge thumbs onto the screen for his number. "Alright."

I didn't have to tell him everything. It was better if I didn't mention Alice. Edward kept some things from Ben but must've ranted about her a billion times.

When he handed the phone back to me, he finally got my intent to keep this quiet and whispered, "If you have a cousin who could sew or a friend who could donate storage space, it would help us-"

I put my index finger to my lips to hush him up. He cleared his throat with a nod.

"Anything you got, we'll take," he whispered. "And I'll never forget it. Ever."

As I hit "save," I heard Edward come down the steps.

"Is the cake ready?" He patted his flat stomach. "I'm starved!"

When I told Edward he'd have to wait hours for the cake, he winced, grabbed an invisible arrow in his chest, and fell back into the wall. Ben and I laughed at him, which sobered Edward from his recent near-death experience. His eyes were bright as he looked down on us, peaceful even.

Ten minutes later, Ben helped me get the pans out of the oven to the soundtrack of Edward's whining.

"Who needs frosting?" Edward asked, crossing his arms and eying the cake. I flipped them onto a cooling rack as Ben stood guard behind me.

"You do. You love my frosting. Now, go do... something. Isn't there a Giants game this afternoon?"

Edward shuffled off without another word. Nothing got him away like his beloved Giants.

When I pulled out the carton of angel hair pasta, Ben clapped gleefully. I felt like I had a chef from the Food Network give me pointers for free. He gave me unrequested tips on how to make it al dente, next. His infectious energy was hard to resist. I loved it instantly. Aside from his potty mouth, he wasn't a bad guy.

When he promised to take me to the Farmer's Market for "the freshest tomatoes in the city," I was intrigued. The sauce in the jar was like tar to him.

"Are you free Saturday?" he asked as I prepped the serving bowls.

"Yeah, I'm free every day," I told him.

"But not every night," Edward called from the living room. He was on his laptop working on something.

I blushed. Ben's brazen mouth rubbed off on Edward in a way that I liked. I didn't like it from Ben; I didn't know him. But I knew Edward, and everything he said tickled me. It was much preferred to his silence.

"It's a date. Union Square. Saturday at ten." Ben said.

"Did I hear 'date'? I don't think the Food Network existed the last time Ben went out with a girl." Edward called out again.

Ben went ahead and made a sailor blush with his comeback while I attempted to pour the sauce from pot to bowl. Some of it splashed onto the counter thanks to his string of colorful adjectives for Edward.

"Okay..." I wiped the counter with a deep deep blush. "I didn't know New Yorkers were so nice to strangers." I stared at him bent over, rummaging through our refrigerator.

"You don't know New York. I'll show you Saturday. And you don't have to probe me with those eyes of yours. If you're gonna do a probe, make sure it's anal." He shut the door and pivoted on his heels to face me. He had a sprig of parsley in his hands and winked at me.

"Ugh!" My mouth was bitter with bile. I wiped my lips with the back of my hand. "Do you have to be so crass all the time?"

"I don't have to. I want to. I like making young girls from out west turn green. It's an honor, Miss Swan." He hurried over to me, ripping the parsley leaves apart into tiny pieces.

"You don't have to listen to him, babe. Whack him across his head," Edward yelled. All three of us laughed at that. I could never hit Ben.

"So, free everyday, huh?" Ben asked when we had calmed. It was in a much lower voice. "Why?" He sprinkled the tomato sauce with the leaves.

"Just, um, wanted to take time off this summer. I graduate next year, so I needed it." I walked over to the sink to rinse the pot.

"Hmmm." Ben sighed behind me. "You're at Tisch, right?"

"Yeah. Love it there." My breath was short. I turned on the water, wishing this conversation to end, but then Ben came to stand next to me... again.

"I have a few friends who went there for undergrad but not for English. All actors. They made it sound like a party. Yale was a factory in China, but it's my fam's alma mater. Can't go messin' with tradition, right?"

"You wear your ring like you're proud enough." I jutted my chin out at his middle finger.

"Hell yeah. They put us through the ringer down there, and I'm damn proud of it. I wouldn't be able to do what I love without that training. I'd probably die if I couldn't do this well."

"I know Edward feels the same." I shut off the water.

His eyes stayed on me as our conversation stalled. I felt like I was a rat running a maze in a lab surrounded by the prying eyes of dozens of scientists.

"What about you? That's how you feel about your writing, isn't it? Edward told me your non-fiction essays are fantastic."

I was gonna answer when Edward ran in. His shirt half-off and his hair a mess atop his head, he dropped to his knees and wailed "Bella!" like Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire.

Thank God we were on the top floor. No one could hear him when he did that. And he had been doing it over the last month. It was his dramatic call for food, whether it was breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

I rolled my eyes, picking up the bowl of sauce. "Coming, Stan. Grab the spaghetti, Ben."

I was also thankful that Edward interrupted us at all. Ben would die without his craft, but I could manage just fine. I didn't need to write. I could chuck my why girl costume in a second without a tear.

I was numb to my entire experience at The New Yorker: Ms. Evanson, Kate, even Jessica. It all seemed like it belonged to someone else's life. My life, from right now to the day Cat on a Hot Tin Roof hit the Public Theater stage, belonged to Edward. And maybe even after then.

Ben and Edward traded barbs throughout lunch. I was thankful to Ben for not bringing up my offer or Edward's secrets. There were only laughs and mockeries of the tomato sauce, although Edward praised the "dark green leaves his mom used to put on everything when he was younger." Ben did his Pillsbury Doughboy laugh, and I stared at him, holding Edward's hand.

He eyed me, rolling his spaghetti onto his fork. Throughout dinner, I'd catch him watching me but never asked him why. It was obvious. He didn't trust me yet. I was certain that once I told him about the money, though, his eyes wouldn't be so skeptical.

Despite this, it was a good time, but what I wanted the most was to be alone with Edward. Sue me. I was an only child. I didn't like to share.

Eventually, Ben got a message from his "honey," and left us. Edward asked me to walked him out so that he could wash the dishes. He had insisted on doing them every time I cooked for him, which was essentially every time he ate.

"Save a slice of cake for me, will you?" Ben asked over his shoulder as he headed for the elevator.

"You'd have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands," Edward yelled from the table.

"I might as well bake another cake." I waved as the doors slid open. "See you Saturday."

The moment the doors slid closed, I sent him the text.

Me:How much did that bitch take from you?

7:34 p.m.

*Tolerance*

"I liked Ben," I told Edward half an hour later. I lay on his stomach as he stroked my hair, as relaxed as a sleepy newborn.

We were waiting for the cake to cool. Well, I was waiting. Edward was whining up until a few minutes ago when I promised only twenty more minutes. He liked when I said anything took twenty more minutes. It was like Xanax for his inner child.

"He liked you, too."

"You think so?"

"He'd be outta here the second I went up to shower if he didn't."

"Oh." I sighed. "Good."

"I heard you talking down here, about Jane." He furrowed his eyebrows together.

"I-" I cleared my throat, hiding my face in his chest. He laughed.

"You can't let Ben influence you. He'll never get that she's never coming back."

"What if he's right?"

"Ben's a certifiable neurotic freak. He questions everyone and everything and he's never right about any of it."

"Oh..." Jumping the gun with that text wasn't a good idea at all. Now there was no way I could take it back.

"You look so worried. Relax, Bella. Stop mulling over what other people think." He pressed his fingers into the creases on my forehead to flatten them.

"They're not just other people." I frowned. "They're your friends and family. They mean a lot to you so I have to impress them."

"No, you don't." He turned my frown upside down with his thumbs. "None of them matter. I'm the one who has to live with you," he grumbled. I pinched him, which he loved. That was when he picked me up and lowered me down on my back. Those mischievous eyes came back.

"Baby, we can't tonight."

"Bella..."

"Mother nature dictates these cycles, not me."

Still, he dug his knee into the couch, forcing my legs open.

"There's a way around it, you know..."

"Around it? I only have one pussy, babe. There's nothing to go..." I drew a circle in the air with my finger. "...around."

"There are other options..." He kissed my chin, then my neck.

"You're not asking what I think you are."

"Just try it," he murmured into my neck.

He was!

I pushed him onto his backside and scurried up and off the couch.

"No way! No!"

Edward rubbed his right cheek, a sleepy smile crossing his face. "Relax, it was just a suggestion. No fun in your bum, alright?"

"It's gross." I shuddered.

"You haven't done it." He hopped off the couch and came to me. His grin was lopsided as he pulled me in his arms. "It's not gross."

"You have?" Oh God! Was it with Jasper? They were more than friends. Or was this the sex Alice was talking about?

When he pulled away, I looked up to see him nod. "Back in L.A. I thought it was questionable, but she changed my mind."

"She?" So... not Jasper. Which left... Hell!

"Yeah, an old girlfriend." He looked me straight in the eye. "My first girlfriend, actually. Maria."

"Oh." Oh fuck yes!

"You look relieved. Who did you think it was?" He was still smiling, but he broke our gaze.

I didn't answer, but my cheeks heated, and I was sure I resembled the tomato sauce we had for dinner. Edward stroked my cheeks, kissing them.

"Liking anal is another nail in the coffin for you, hunh?"

I shrugged, rolling my eyes downward. "Well..."

"It really feels so good. Girls like it as much as guys. I promise." He took my hands, intertwining our fingers.

"You're just saying that."

"You're so stubborn. What's it gonna take to convince you?"

"Nothing. It's never happening."

"Yeah? That's what Ben said the night we tried it."

I nearly twisted his fingers off.

"What?"


A/N:

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Bye :)