Esme Cullen

Over the past month, Bella has improved by leaps and bounds. Her health has improved, even though she remains very thin. But she seems to be eating just fine, so we don't say anything about it. Bella has developed a strong friendship with my son, and I can't say that I'm upset about it. She is good for him, he never had a female friend who wasn't solely interested in getting into his pants and wallet before, and I can tell that he cares for Bella deeply too. I peek into his room, where interestingly enough, she is sitting on his bed, and he is attempting to paint his room. I had previously offered to do it for him, but he had said that he was more than capable of painting a wall in his room. "Mom, I'm a doctor, for goodness sakes, of course I can paint a wall."

I wonder how it'll go. My son has never had to lift a finger in his entire privileged life – painting a wall? Should be an interesting outcome.

Bella Swan

Edward Cullen is attempting to paint his bedroom walls. No, correction, he's figuring out how to paint a wall in his bedroom. Just last week, he had decided to paint a particular section of his room a dark blue to replace the white washed drywall board. Too proud to consult Esme, he is currently brooding over the instructions on the bucket of paint, and I'm sitting on his bed, chuckling inwardly at his ineptness. Honestly, you just open the bucket, and paint. How complicated can it be? When Edward enlisted my help, I readily agreed to help him paint the wall, but I never thought he would have so much trouble with it. After what seemed like 15 minutes had passed and he hadn't started painting, I decide to ease his troubles and help him get started.

I get up from his extremely comfortable bed, and grab a roll of masking tape. Taping off the windows and edges of the other walls so we won't paint it accidentally, I glance back at him. He's staring at me, mouth agape.

"Bella? Why are you taping the windows?"

This time, I burst into silent laughter. My throat has never really gone back to its previous health yet, and I wasn't sure if my voice box was still usable after …But back to the situation at hand. For all the genius Edward Cullen is, he is woefully horrible at doing manual labor. Of course, his privileged upbringing with Esme and Carlisle didn't help. I, however, had to paint the house often for Renee. I suppress a shudder at the thought of Renee making me strip the old paint of the house and repaint it again, working through the night. She took great joy and pride in making me do manual labor for extended period of times to simply watch me suffer.

I never thought I'd want to paint ever again after that incident, but here I am, helping Edward Cullen to paint his room.

"Bella? Why are you laughing?" Edward asks, worry etching his handsome features.

I stifle my laughter, and reach out for his phone to type in. He makes no move to pass it to me, so I reach into his pocket to get it myself. I fish out his phone, and he stiffens against my movement. I look up at him, but he seems to have no obvious problem with me probing into his pockets. Ah, well.

"You need to tape off the corners of the things you don't want to paint so you don't paint them. Duh." I type, and hold it out for him to read.

"Oh, I see! How smart of you, Bella!" He grins, a crooked grin that seems so ridiculously good for such an unsymmetrical feature. How interesting, I thought. Symmetrical features were supposed to look better than unsymmetrical ones, according to scientific journals. But his crooked features only serve to highlight his good looks.

I tear myself away from his face, and grab a couple of newspapers to lay over the hardwood near the wall to be painted.

"To avoid getting paint on your floor." I type.

He grins, and opens the can of paint. Then, to my utmost surprise, he removes his shirt. I balk, what the hell? In the back of my mind, I think of how Renee's boyfriends used to strip when they wanted to do that to me too, but somehow I cannot see Edward doing that, and I surprisingly do not feel afraid of his nakedness. Rather, I'm intrigued.

"To avoid getting paint on my shirt, Bella." He smirks at me.

I feel myself blush, looking at his chiseled chests and sculpted arms. Seriously, Edward Cullen belongs in the pictures of my book on Greek Statues and Architecture.

I tear my eyes away from his abs, and start to grab a paint brush myself. However, Edward stops me. He grabs my wrists lightly, and tells me, "No, Bella, you don't paint. Just sit there and watch me paint. You're just supposed to tell me whether I'm painting it right, or not."

How would I be much help that way? I cannot imagine, so I move to grab the paint brush still. But Edward is stubborn.

"No, Bella, please, just sit there and watch me paint. I don't want you to overwork yourself."

"I won't overwork myself." I type, stubbornly.

"No, you sit and watch me paint. Just tell me if I miss a spot." He pushes me lightly onto his bed, and drops a light kiss onto my forehead, effectively shutting me up.

So I sit, and watch him paint. The way his muscles move amaze me to no end, and I cannot help staring at him more than at the wall that I'm supposed to be monitoring for missed spots. Well, he was the one who told me to sit and watch him paint after all.

As he paint, I sit and can't help but think of how unafraid I had become since coming to the Cullen's. I used to take fright at the slightest provocation, and I used to shy away from fellow human beings. Touches, or even sudden movements used to send me reeling into panic attacks, but not anymore. Or was it just touches from the Cullen's that did not send me into an attack? I didn't know, but it didn't matter to me. Even better, I had found a companion in Edward – my only real friend in this lifetime. He was kind, funny, and sweet. He would find time to talk to me, even when he was on night shift at the hospital. He taught me things I never knew, and was always patient at it. Even after that embarrassing incident, he never shied away from me.

I really like Edward Cullen. I certainly consider him one of my best friends (well, he's my only one at the moment). As something more, I'm unsure. While I feel physically attracted to him, I am not sure what it all entails, and I don't think I'm quite ready to deal with such things yet.

Edward Cullen

I took off my shirt, and set to painting the wall. I saw Bella blush at my bare chest out of the corner of my eye, and it made me surprisingly proud and happy to have that effect on her. Bella has only become more and more beautiful each day- further tempting me to break my vows of keeping things platonic between us until she reaches her 18th birthday. Today, she is wearing a pair of shorts that shows of her gorgeous legs perfectly. So long, so creamy, so… perfect. I sigh and groan inwardly. The view of Bella sitting on my bed in a pair of shorts and t-shirt is enough to set the part of my anatomy that was once so dormant and quiet that my parents thought I was gay up and standing, literally. Not to mention the way she stuck her small hands into my pocket to get my phone just now -. I face the wall, and set about my task, trying to will the blood in my body to get away from that rather… upstanding anatomy. Really, it wasn't the best idea to have Bella see it in all its standing glory.

As I paint the wall blue, I made small conversation with Bella. Honestly, I didn't really need her help painting the wall. It wasn't as if I would actually let her lift a finger to paint the wall when I could do it myself just fine. I just wanted to spend time with her. Although she still doesn't talk, her mere presence is enough for me. The way she inclines her head when she agrees with something I say, the way she smiles, and god, the way her brown eyes light up when she finds something I say particularly interesting – it's enough for me. I never found a girl so interesting intelligent before, even though Bella doesn't speak.

Suddenly, I was brought out of my reverie by a small hand grabbing my arms. I turned, in shock. Bella was holding on to my arm, and it was fucking erotic, not helping my upstanding anatomy at all. Her hands were so small that they couldn't wrap around my biceps, and as she looked up at me, I found myself closing my eyes unwittingly. She shook my arm again, and I looked down at her. She gestured to a portion of the wall that I had missed completely. Sue me. In my Bella induced reverie, I had missed an entire spot of wall. I chuckled at the girl. She was actually taking my words seriously – that all she had to do was to sit and watch me paint.

I obligingly paint that portion that I had missed, and turn to her, smirking. "Perfect enough for you, Bella?"

She grins, and pulls that bottom lip of hers into her mouth. I groan inwardly. She has no idea what that action does to me.

Together, we stand back to observe my handiwork, and I must say, it looks pretty damn good. I call out for Esme, to show her that I could, in fact, paint a wall. Sure, I might be pampered, but I was Edward Cullen, how could painting a wall be anything above my unlimited abilities?

Esme walks in, and grins. She tells me that we must take a picture against the wall, and I pull bella into my side to take a picture together. She blushes, camera shy. I wrap my arms around her waist, and pull her close to me, as we smile for the camera. In that moment, I realized that Bella Swan fitted perfectly into my side, and I didn't want it anyway else, nor anyone else. Bella Swan was going to be mine, eventually, if she would have me.

Bella Swan

Once again, we're sitting at the dining table as a whole family. This happens every Friday, when Alice and Emmett come back from wherever they are to have dinner together as a family. The concept of family had always been very foreign to me, until I met the Cullen's. Here, I can see how the family functions as a 'social function unit', as they say in all the books. The warmth of everyone bantering happily, talking, chatting and eating overwhelms me sometimes, but I try to sit back and enjoy the care and happiness flowing so freely.

Alice is back from her last conquest – Milan. She is such an energetic person, I find it rather amusing. Or at least, I found it very amusing until she turned her attention on me.

"Bella! It's been quite a while, I should bring you shopping! Yes, shopping, tomorrow! Oh, I can see you looking really gorgeous if you'd dress up properly. Even without, you already look a site! Oh, anyway you need a dress for the charity gala the hospital holds every year, its coming soon, right, father? Yes, Bella, we need to go shopping, tomorrow!" Alice belts all this out in one breath, and I listened to her, shell-shocked. What? Shopping? What hospital gala? What dress?

Before I could respond to her, she launches off again. "Mother, we need to go shopping tomorrow! Oh, let's make it an all girl thing, you, me, Bella! We haven't done anything like that in ages!"

Esme responds this time, before I could say anything. "Bella, what do you think? Would you like to go shopping tomorrow? We do need to look for a dress after all, Alice just reminded me about the hospital gala. You're family now, and we would love if you could attend it."

I glance at everyone. Alice looks at me, expectantly, her eyes large and puppy like, willing me to say yes. Esme looks happy at that idea of bringing me out to buy a dress too, and so does Carlisle. Emmett is too busy shoveling food into his mouth. I glance up at Edward. He looks down at me, and smiles softly. "You don't have to if you don't want to, you know, Bella. We'd never force you to do anything you don't want to."

Yes, I'm pretty sure that they won't force me to do anything I don't want to, but as much as I hate shopping, I just cannot say no to Alice and Esme, when they seem so happy at that idea. So I nod, shyly, at Alice and Esme.

Esme pushes her hand phone over to me, they have all learnt from Edward in using their hand phone's messaging function to communicate with me.

"I don't mind, if it's not troublesome for you guys." I type, and hand the phone back to Esme.

She grins, and Alice squeals. "Oh, Bella, it's not too much trouble at all! Take it as doing me a favor; I haven't got the opportunity to shop for someone since forever!"

Alright, when she puts it like that…

The next morning, Esme, Alice and I troop into Esme's Mercedes. Before we left, Edward had held me back and whispered in my ear to enjoy myself. His low voice and breathe so near to me had made me shiver involuntarily, in a good way. As we headed to the Seattle shopping district, I couldn't help staring out the window at the passing scenery. This was my first time going shopping, and while I certainly didn't like the idea of spending money on buying clothes, it was still a new experience for me, and I was eager to know what it entailed.

I never had the opportunity to go shopping, not even grocery shopping, with Renee before. She had kept me on a strict curfew. I was to come home straight after school to clean the house, do my homework, clean the house some more, and become her object of hitting if she so desired after a bad bought of drinking. Occasionally, at night, I had some peace and could read the newspapers lying around the house or play the harp. If her boyfriends were around though, I was subjected to a whole different situation at night.

I suppressed those thoughts using the techniques Jasper had thought me. Since our first meeting, I had 2 other counseling sessions, both of which ended fairly well. Jasper had made me share with him what Renee did, and while it wasn't easy, I managed to get it out. Somehow, it felt better telling someone how she tortured me.

I turned my attention to the large shopping complex Esme was pulling into. As we stepped out of the car, I suddenly realized that there were many people here, many people that I didn't know who could hurt me. What if someone like Renee was lurking around the shopping complex? Oh dear, oh dear. I was spiraling into a panic, but then I remembered that most sane people did not go round randomly torturing strangers they saw on the streets. And Renee was my mom, not just a random person. She had a reason to beat me, these people don't. As long as I don't provoke them, I should stay fairly safe. I pulled the jacket I was wearing closer around me, as if it could protect me from the many people here that I didn't know. Alice linked her arms with me, and fairly dragged me towards the shops, with Esme laughing. I swallowed my fear that had bubbled up at seeing so many people, and placed my blind trust in Esme and Alice to keep me safe.

Alice Cullen

I saw Bella standing wide-eyed as she saw the many people around the shopping centre, and quickly pulled her along before she could get frightened. While I understood that it would be very unnerving for her to venture into a place with so many people after a fellow human being had fairly attempted to torture her to death, it was still imperative that she had the experience of going shopping. Our goal was to help her integrate into society and live a life as normal as possible, and so going outside where there were other people around was an important step. We enter the shopping complex, and I pull her into shops after shops, perusing the clothing racks.

"Here, Bella, try this one on. It should be perfect on you!" I toss Bella a dark blue satin dress that should hit mid-knee. It was one of my original creations, that hadn't gotten round to mass production yet due to sizing issues. But Bella was very slim, and this dress would look good on her. We were shopping at one of my boutiques, the last stop for the day. At all the other shops, Bella hadn't seen a dress for the hospital gala that was suitable, and so we had ended up at my boutique, scouting for something suitable for Bella. Bella, the sweet girl, was so afraid of spending money. No matter how we tried to convince her that we had a lot of money, too much of it in fact, more than we could ever spend in this lifetime or the next, she was still so frugal with her purchases, refusing to buy anything. We ended up just pushing her into the dressing room, with Esme buying whatever she looked good in for her instead.

Bella stared at the dress in her hands, unmoving still. "Bella! Go try on this dress, now. I'll be offended if you didn't at least try it."

She grabbed my hand phone and typed: But I'm sure I'll look awful in it. It shows so much skin!

I chuckled at how conservative Bella was. "You're almost 17, Bella. And it's not too much skin, just enough to make Edward go crazy, eh?"

Bella blushed like mad, and hurried into the dressing room to try on the dress. I giggled, and Esme grinned at me from opposite the rack where she was perusing some dresses leisurely.

"Alice, my daughter, your skills and creations really surprises me. It's all so nice!" My mother grins, as she looks through the dresses I designed.

I laughed. My clothing line was a big hit with people, to my great joy. It was my pride and joy, this company which I had set up shortly after graduating from fashion school in Milan.

As I laughed with Esme over some of my creations, Bella emerged from the dressing room, and made a small sound with the back of her throat to catch our attention. While her vocal chords were still out of function, she was slowly gaining back the use of her voice, and we were glad for that. I turned around, and the sight before me left me stunned. Bella looked absolutely wonderful.

"OH MY GOSH! BELLA, We MUST get that dress for you. You look absolutely beautiful and wonderful and delightful!"

Bella blushed crimson, and shook her head, disagreeing with my compliments. I was just about to chastise her for that, but Esme cut in. "Bella, you really do look wonderful in it, look at yourself in the mirror, darling."

Bella Swan

I turned to look at myself in the mirror, one hand still draped across my chest. I was sure the dress was too low cut, as it was I didn't have any boobs already, no need to flaunt my lack of it!

Surprisingly, the image of myself shocked me. I looked… almost decent. The dress was a deep midnight blue, a halter top that left much of my back bare. It hit slightly above my knees, not as short as some of the other dresses Alice had made me try. I had to admit I kind of liked it. Despite the low cut and revealing back, it was surprisingly comfortable, and not too flashy.

"See, Bella, you look awesome in it. We're getting it, ok." Alice said, with finality, but Esme cut in. "We should let Bella choose her dress for herself. If she doesn't want it, we shouldn't force her into buying it, Alice."

I quickly nodded my head, and took Alice's phone. It's alright, I typed. I'll take this one.

Alice squealed. Literally, like a chipmunk. "Oh, Bella! I'm so happy! You've just made my day!"The hyper pixie, as I liked to think of her as, jumped around. I went to change back into my clothes and held out the dress to be rung up at the cashier. To my immense horror and surprise, Alice simply put it into a dress hanger and walked out the door.

I gasped, and pulled Alice. Surely we had to pay for it, what sort of shop was this?

"Oh, Bella, this is one of my boutiques, why should I pay for my creations? Furthermore, you can't pay for this dress, because it's not in stock. It isn't a production dress, it's a one of a kind that I designed but didn't send for mass production to sell as not many people have the figure to pull it off." Alice shrugged, walking ahead. As if it was not big deal that she owned a boutique. As if it was not a big deal that she designed that dress.

I gaped at her, until Esme lightly pulled my by the elbow. "Alice is telling the truth, Bella. Let's go, okay? Don't worry about the dress."

I let Esme walk me to the car as I tried to process everything. That was Alice's shop? How many did she own? She said it was one of her boutiques, so how many others were there? I felt overwhelmed. And how genius of her to design dresses! I was starting to feel rather insignificant in this family, where there was a designer, 2 doctors, and a fabulous interior designer. Not to mention a top detective apparently, that Emmett was. Edward had told me that his brother was the top detective of the entire Washington State police force, and other police forces had apparently got him to help them in investigating particularly difficult cases. Even the CIA had wanted him, but Emmett didn't want to join them, because he wanted to work with his girlfriend on the Washington Police team. In this family of overachievers, I was starting to feel very insignificant and useless.

Before I could wallow in my inadequacies though, Alice was pulling out of the car park at an inhumane speed, chattering at an equally inhumane speed. "So, Bella, did you enjoy our shopping trip? We must come out more often like that! Did you like the purchases? Did you enjoy yourself?"

I nodded my head in quick succession, answering all of her questions. Surprisingly, I did enjoy the time with Alice and Esme, even if all I did was to try on clothes at their will and watch them pick out clothes for themselves. The sense of normalcy was very welcoming, and I almost felt like an average teenage girl shopping with her friend and mother.

We arrived at the house, and Edward came out to the porch to meet us. He helped carry all the bags of purchases in. When I walked pass him, he leant in close, putting a hand on my shoulder. "Did you enjoy yourself, Bella?"

The close proximity of his lips to my ear had me stifling a shudder – a pleasant shudder. I nodded mutely, too stunned to do anything.

"Bought anything you like? Did you find something for the gala?"

I blushed at the thought of that dress, and what Alice had said, and nodded, shrugging.

Finally, he seemed satisfied to let me go.

"Good, Bella. I can't wait to see you in it." He whispered once again, before letting me go.

I blushed even further as I climbed the stairs to my room. Oh dear. What was Edward implying? I didn't want to think about it, but undeniably, it made me happy to think that he might like me… in that way.


A/N: Hey thanks guys for the reviews! I know I'm kind of late in updating this story, so sorry, but things are hectic here...

Well, hope you enjoy this update! Next update shouldn't be too long, sometime next week:)