AN: This chapter was finished a little late, so an enormous, monster sized hug to KatieCav for being my sounding board and listening to my insanity at 3 in the morning. *mwah*
Huge thanks to LaMomo, Busymommy and SabLuvslogan for their awesomeness with Betaing and Pre-reading this sucker!
I hope FFn slows its roll and straightens out the errors soon. All of my alerts are still a few days behind, but worse case scenario, reviewers will just get their replies & teasers a day oo two late this week.
Oh, and I was also featured on a Spotlight Interview over at The Twilight Awards blog! Link is on my profile!
Chapter 6: Tighten Up
Living just to keep going
Going just to stay sane
All the while never knowing
It's such a shame
I don't need to get steady
I know just how I feel
I'm telling you to get ready
Tighten Up by The Black Keys
"What's that you've got there?" Edward asked as he peered over her shoulder.
Bella looked up and found her gaze trapped by his warm green eyes, inches from her face. She felt her breath hitch and her heart begin to pound. He smiled and nodded his head towards the picture in her hands.
"Is that your dad?"
She looked down at the black and white photo of Charlie playing a guitar and smiled softly, memories overtaking her once again.
"Yeah," she murmured. Her fingers gently caressed the glossy finish and sighed. "I remember he used to sit on the porch on summer nights and play the guitar while Mac played the harmonica. Em and I'd just sit and listen, enraptured. He's the reason I picked up a guitar in the first place, when my mom first moved us to L.A. I talked her into buying me one and taught myself how to play. Less than three months later, she had me entered in some contest, which I won. And thus began my illustrious career." She snorted derisively and shook her head.
"I'd give up anything - everything, just to have my dad back." She glanced up and was met with eyes filled with sympathy and understanding.
He squeezed her shoulder gently and smiled sadly in comfort. "I get it. From everything that I've heard, the Chief was an amazing guy."
"He really was," she whispered, gazing back at the photo once more, before setting it to the side and reaching inside the box of memories.
"So, friend," he started as he took a seat on the couch next to her. "Is there anyone back in the big city waiting for you?"
She looked up into his inquisitive eyes and cocked her head to the side in confusion. "Um, what do you mean? I'm sure there are quite a few people wondering where the hell I am at this point."
"No, I mean, erm, friends? Or a boyfriend maybe?"
Her heart soared as his cheeks pinkened. She'd never met a more sweetly shy man before Edward.
"I have just a few friends and I left both of them an explanation note when I left. Hopefully they'll be able to keep my disappearance on the down-low for a little while longer." She smiled and shook her head. "And no, I don't have a boyfriend."
She pulled her leg underneath her and leaned back against the couch. "How about you?"
He smiled playfully. "Well, you know most of my friends already and no girlfriend at the moment."
"What are your parents like?" she asked in curiosity. "Your father runs a clinic or something?"
He nodded. "My mom and dad both run a clinic in Port Angeles. He's one of the doctors and she's the office manager. They're both kind and good-hearted people. I was actually told the other night that I need to make sure that you're invited to dinner this Sunday."
"I am? They don't even know me!" she responded in surprise, causing him to smirk.
"True, but they're eager to meet their children's new friend. It's just a big family dinner, nothing to worry about. I'm pretty sure that Mom has already called to invite Mac and I'm going to extend the invite to Emmett and Rose when I see them in a little while."
She bit her lip in thought, before nodding. "Sure, okay. Dinner should be fine."
"Are you trying to convince me or yourself?" he chuckled at her indecisive tone.
Bella rolled her eyes and smacked him lightly on the shoulder. "Keep it up, Cullen."
He laughed and reached over her in order to pull something out of the cardboard box.
She peered over his arm and a smile quickly split her face. In his hands was a slightly beat up stuffed Scrappy Doo toy. Edward looked over at her and raised an eyebrow.
"Is this where your nickname came from?"
"No, it was actually the other way around," she giggled. "I started calling Em 'Shaggy' because he was tall and thin, with hair just like Shaggy's. In return, he started calling me 'Scrappy' because I was little and annoying. By no means did they start off as affectionate nicknames, they just evolved over time."
They held each other's gaze for a few intimate moments until they were startled by Edward's cell phone ringing.
I want your love
And I want your revenge
You and me could write a bad romance
I want your love and
All your lover's revenge
You and me could write a bad romance
She blinked and arched a brow. "Lady Gaga, Edward?"
His cheeks flushed in embarrassment and he hastily flipped the phone open, cursing under his breath.
"Em, I am going to kick your ass," he hissed.
Bella heard Emmett's raucous laughter echoing from the receiver and she struggled to contain her own giggles.
"When the hell did you change my ringtone, Asshat?"
Edward looked over at her and rolled his eyes. "Uh huh, okay. Not a problem, I can run over to Morton's in Port Angeles to grab the part. Sure, see you then."
He closed his phone and sighed. "Sorry to cut our afternoon short, Princess. Duty calls."
She rolled her eyes. "Now I'm a princess?"
He smiled softly. "You always have been," he replied quietly, causing warmth to flood her chest.
She swallowed and turned away to close up the box. "It's okay, I'll just go back to Mac's for a nap before tonight's shift."
When she looked up again, he was standing a few feet away from the couch, playing nervously with his keys. His brow was crinkled in thought and she wondered what was on his mind. His gaze met hers and a look of determination crossed his face.
"You know, you could come for the ride with me. If you'd like," he added the last part on nervously.
"Why? Do you want the company?" she replied jokingly.
He nodded, his face completely serious. "I like spending time with you, Bella," he replied in a sincere tone.
Her heart melted and she couldn't think of a single thing that she'd enjoy more than an hour long car ride with Edward Cullen.
"Okay, let's roll." She smiled and held out her hand so that he could grasp it and pull her up her playfully.
He laughed and motioned towards the front door. "You chariot awaits, Princess."
Bella flipped her hair and held her head high. "Why thank you, kind sir," she replied as she walked by him looking haughty, before leaning against the wall in a fit of giggles.
"Okay, okay," he laughed, opening the door and ushering them towards his truck. "Enough playing around or we'll never get the part that Em needs."
Just over an hour later, Bella found herself wandering through the aisles of Morton's Hardware while Edward talked with the clerk about the part he needed. Coming across a school supply section, she picked up a few notebooks and some pens, figuring that they'd come in handy if the urge to write hit her. She froze in place as she heard a familiar chuckle.
"You know, Bella, you don't strike me as the Hardware store type," Jacob said as he shot her a playful grin.
She laughed and shook her head. "Not usually. What about you? Don't you have criminals to catch?" she replied jokingly.
He sighed sarcastically. "Yeah, I'm sure you've noticed how many delinquents reside in Forks." He looked over her shoulder and grinned. "Why, look. There's one now."
She turned her head and watched Edward continue his conversation with the small, balding man. He smiled when his gaze caught hers, but then dropped slightly when he noticed Jacob.
"Really? Edward's a nice guy."
Jacob laughed. "Yeah, he's a sweetheart," he replied sarcastically.
Bella glared at him, causing him to throw up his hands in surrender. "I'm kidding, I'm kidding. Ed's a great guy. I have a lot of respect for him and his family. We have a little tri-county softball league and we're on opposing teams, so we like to give each other crap on occasion. It's a guy thing."
He shrugged and Bella rolled her eyes. He leaned against one of the walls and eyed her speculatively.
"You know, when I was ten, I wanted to marry you."
Her mouth popped open in surprise. "Come again?"
"That's what she said," he giggled.
She rolled her eyes again and sighed. "What are you, twelve? That sounds like something Emmett would come back with."
Jacob wiped his eyes and gasped for breath. "Sorry, sorry. Couldn't help myself."
She bit her lip to hide her own amusement and folded her arms across her chest. "So, tell me more about this imaginary wedding?"
Jacob shook his head in amusement. "My memory's kind of hazy, but I remember all of us at a big barbecue. I think it was at First Beach down on the Rez. You said something about growing up to be rich and famous and then I said that I'd marry you and protect you. You agreed and we shook hands. I still have the 'document' we signed."
Something resonated inside of her and she just knew that he was telling the truth. She didn't really recall the same memory, but it felt familiar. The part about being rich and famous gave her chills, though.
"Not gonna lie, but the fact that you still have that is a little creepy, dude."
He shrugged once again. "My dad kept it actually. It was in a box of stuff I found when I moved out a few years back."
She uncrossed her arms and slid her hands into her jeans pockets. "Yeah, I heard that you guys have been on the outs. I'm sorry."
He smiled sadly. "Yeah, well, he's a stubborn old man. You'd think with all of the loss that he'd been through, he'd learn to hold what he still has closer. It's gotten better, though. I'm actually on an errand for him right now."
Bella nodded slowly. "Speaking as someone who has no blood relatives left in the world, I know how you feel."
A sympathetic look crossed Jacob's face. "Oh, shit. Your mom passed away?"
"Yeah, her and my step-dad were killed in a car accident a few years back. I, uh, finally found the time to take time off work and come back home."
He eyed her contemplatively for a moment. "What took you so long? Not trying to get all up in your business, but you were definitely loved and missed by a lot of people here."
She swallowed and concentrated on a scuff mark on her shoe.
"Renee, um, she wasn't a nice person. She led me to think that I was with her because no one wanted me here. I was still grieving for my dad, so I believed her and just tried to make the best of it. I only recently gathered the courage to find out for myself."
She looked up and blinked back the sting of tears that his warm smile brought about. She had a feeling that if she'd have stayed in Forks, Jacob Black would've become a good friend, not just a residual memory from her past.
A noise behind her made her turn, seeing Edward make his way toward them, carrying a small box. When he reached their spot, he held out his hand and shook Jacob's.
"Jake, how's it going, man?" he asked in a friendly voice.
Jacob grinned and shrugged. "Not bad. Just stopping by for some paint for my Dad."
Edward glanced between the two of them. "So, I guess you've met Bella?"
"You could say that. We used to make mud pies together when she was little."
It only lasted a second, but Bella could have sworn that a look of annoyance flashed across Edward's face.
"Huh, cute," he replied, his tone belying his statement. "Well, sorry to cut your visit short, but we've got to get this part back to Mac's."
Jacob smirked and shot Edward a knowing look. "Sure, sure. It was nice seeing you again, Bella."
She waved as she began to follow Edward out of the store. "Bye!"
They were three feet from the truck when the store's door jingled open.
"Hey, Bella, wait a sec!"
Both she and Edward turned to see Jacob jogging over to them.
"Yeah?" she replied.
"Do you have any plans for tomorrow night?"
Bella felt Edward stiffen beside her. "Not really, why?" she replied.
"Oh, well it's New Year's Eve and I thought maybe we could hang out," he responded hopefully.
"Shit, is it really?" She was surprised at how quickly a week had flown by since she left California. Edward was still tense and standing there awkwardly, so she tried to hurry this along. "I'm working at the bar with the guys, but maybe you could stop by if you'd like."
He nodded and cut his eyes to Edward briefly, before settling his gaze back on her. "Okay, then. I'll probably see you tomorrow then. Later, guys," he responded before smiling and heading back inside of the store.
She turned and noticed that Edward was still staring in the direction that Jacob had gone in. She snapped her fingers in front of his face, causing him to jump slightly and shake his head.
"Right, sorry," he muttered, turning quickly and unlocking his truck.
"Coming through, BB."
Bella took an instinctive step forward, as Jasper slipped past her with two drinks. The blonde seated at the bar looked directly into Bella's eyes and smiled.
"You guys are cute. Like, you're so in sync and must've been working together for years."
Jasper shook his head and laughed. "Lauren, honey, I think you've had enough tonight. You know Bella-Bee has only worked here a few days."
Lauren blinked her big blue eyes owlishly before taking another sip of her Cosmo. "Oh, okay."
Bella shot Jasper an incredulous look. He shrugged and gave her a wink. "Everyone has their own little quirks when they drink. You get used to them. Lauren here spaces out." He pointed towards the opposite end of the bar. "Tyler down there gets ornery and Newton gets flirty, which pisses off his wife to no end."
The bar was crowded for New Year's Eve and music filled the barely existent spaces between bodies. Emmett had gone out of his way to make sure that the DJ he'd hired stayed away from any Izzy Dwyer songs tonight, something that she was extremely grateful for.
Rosalie bustled up and leaned over the bar to shout in Bella's direction. "I need four Corona's with lime."
Bella nodded and made quick work of Rose's order. She and Alice were waitressing and taking orders from the tables in the back of the bar. She reached out and gently touched Bella's hand when she placed the bottles on the bar top. Bella gave her a curious look and leaned closer.
The Amazon smiled. "How are you doing? Okay?"
Bella replied with a nod and shooed her friend away. "I'm fine," she laughed.
She returned to filling drafts and basic drinks, working seamlessly with Jasper. Her eyes caught Edward's a few times from across the room, never failing to fill her belly with butterflies.
Bella looked up and was met with Jacob Black's warm, dark eyes.
"Hey, Jake!" she called across the bar. "How's it going?"
He settled on one the wooden stools and grinned. "Not much, Bells. Been a long day."
She laughed and nodded. "I can imagine. What can I get for you?"
"Just a Coke, please. I'm off tonight, but you never know when you'll be needed."
She filled a clean glass with ice and soda, placing it down in front of him. He slid a piece of folded paper across the bar top towards her.
"What's this?" She glanced at him curiously, before picking it up.
I, Jacob Ephraim Black, promise to marry Bella Swan when I grow up.
Underneath of the sentence, Jacob had signed it, in addition with her own childish chicken scratch. She had written her name in barely legible red crayon. Bella smiled softly and looked up at Jacob, folding the paper and handing it back to him.
"Thanks, that was cute."
He picked it up and slid it back into his jacket pocket. "Not a problem. I just didn't want you to think that I was lying and turning into a creepy stalker type." His playful smile fell when he noticed her eyes widen and a fearful look cross her face.
"What? What did I say?" he asked in a mild panic.
She swallowed the lump in her throat and shook her head. "It's nothing, just a bad memory."
A thoughtful look crossed his face. "Anyone that you need taken care of? I am a cop, you know. I have connections." He shot her a wink, trying to lighten the tension.
She smiled and shook her head, thankful for his injection of humor. "I'm okay for now, but I'll let you know if I need it."
He smiled widely and his gaze moved to her left briefly, before taking a sip and looking away.
She felt a hand touch her hip and looked over, startled. Edward's green eyes were dark and the skin around them taut.
"Hey, Edward, what's up?" she asked in confusion.
"The crowd's gotten pretty big, so Em asked me to hop in and help you guys out."
She arched a brow and put her hand on her hip, playfully shooting him an incredulous look. "You?"
He placed a hand on his chest in mock-offense. "Really, Bella? Such little faith you have."
He leaned his hand against the bar and turned to a woman with dark, red hair. "What can I get for you, sweetheart?"
The woman smiled and her eyes roamed down his body. "Well, you, if you're on the menu."
Edward laughed. "Sorry, not tonight, ma'am. But I can get you a drink."
The woman laughed simperingly and batted her eyelashes. "I'll take a Sex on the Beach then."
Edward turned away from her and rolled his eyes in Bella's directions, causing her to stifle a laugh. She handed off a couple more beers, watching him expertly mix the drink from the corner of her eye. She stopped mid-reach when she saw him flip one of the liquor bottles ala Tom Cruise in the movie, Cocktail. She was close enough to hear the redhead mumble about how hot that was. Bella couldn't help but find herself agreeing.
Edward placed the drink down in front of the woman and shot a smirk at Bella.
"How did-" she stuttered out. "How did you do that?"
He laughed. "I bartended with Em during college for extra cash."
"Can I have everyone's attention?" the DJ announced over the loud speakers. "Can I get Bella, Rosalie and Alice to come up here?"
Bella stopped and froze. Surely he meant another Bella?
Edward nudged her forward. "Go on, he's waiting for you."
She turned her deer-caught-in-the-headlights look on him, her eyes narrowing at the way he was smirking.
"You're in on this, aren't you? That's why you really came over, right?"
He shrugged and smiled innocently.
"Come on, ladies, we don't have all night," the DJ called again.
She pulled off the black apron she was wearing and flung at Edward with a growl, causing Jasper to cackle like a witch.
"Shut up, Whit, or you're next on the list."
Jasper quieted immediately and turned back to the other side of the bar. Bella ducked under the divider and made her way through the crowd, towards the DJ. It was brighter out here that behind the bar and her nerves started to get the best of her. She pulled the hair tie out of her hair, letting it flow around her face, hoping to obscure it as much as possible. She reached Rosalie and Alice momentarily, who were as equally surprised as Bella.
"Okay, ladies. This is pretty old school, but we have a special dedication for the three of these lovely ladies from Emmett, since they're his favorite girls."
The song's beat started and Rose let out a huge squeal. Alice and Bella exchanged confused looks until the words began to play.
She's my favorite girl
Ooooh, she's my favorite girl
(Don't you know)
She's my favorite girl
Ooooh, she's my favorite girl
Rosalie grabbed both of her friends and began to dance around them, bringing forth more squeals of laughter as the other two joined Rose in her dancing. When the song was over, Emmett appeared grinning and all three threw themselves into his arms.
"Now, that is one lucky man!" the DJ announced. "It's quarter 'til twelve, folks! Just fifteen minutes to line up your New Year's kiss."
He switched up the music and Bella kissed Emmett's cheek, before making her back to the bar while Bruno Mars' Grenade played over the speakers. She was almost to her goal, when her eyes connected with Edwards, causing her heart to do a backflip. She may have been unsure where her feelings were for him, but she knew that she didn't want a kiss tonight from anyone else but him. Assuming that he'd already had someone lined up, she was content with being kiss-less this evening.
She was surprised when Edward stayed behind the bar to continue helping them out. His nudges and playful banter made her feel more at ease than she'd felt in years. 11:55, Jasper made his way out into the crowd to find Alice and Bella sighed.
She turned to Edward and waved him out into the crowd. "Go ahead, it's cool. I can deal by myself for a little bit."
He cocked his head to the side and gave her a curious look. "What do you mean?"
"Um, your New Year's kiss?"
He rubbed the back of his neck and bit his lip slightly. "I'm right where I want to be."
Her brow furrowed in confusion. "I don't understand."
He went to say something, but the crowd suddenly drowned him out.
His eyes locked onto hers, causing heat to sear her belly.
He stepped forward and reached for her hand in one of his and cupped her cheek in his other.
Happy New Year!
His lips gently brushed her cheek, barely touching, but searing her skin by the contact. He pulled away and kissed her forehead just the same, whispering a soft, "Happy New Year," in her ear. She closed her eyes briefly and breathed deeply, before returning the sentiment softly.
In that place, at that moment, she knew without a doubt that it was where she belonged. Where her life had been full of ennui and gray skies just a few weeks before, her future was now bright and she was looking forward to the changes that this new year would bring.
AN: Chapter song: Tighten Up by The Black Keys
All of the music is up on the Rabbit Heart Blog, as well as bunches of fan art that people have sent me! I think it's incredibly awesome and I make sure that every piece goes up on the blog, credited to the artist. I'm so appreciative at how much you guys love this story!
One other quick thing, I posted my little o/s from the Iron Pen Challenge the other day. Check it out if you can, it's under 1K and I'm proud of it.
I'll see you guys next week!