Disclaimer: All things Twilight belong to Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended.
So sorry this took so long. It took me a long while before I was happy with it and even now, well, I'm not sure.
Big, enormous thank you's to:
Melanie for betaing :)
ltlerthqak for Chicago info (in upcoming chapters)
icrodriguez - you know why :)
And huge thanks Jadalulu for recommending this story in her author notes :) Her story, Fold Your Wings, is a beautifully crafted piece of writing.
Now, lets see what's happening...
Edward stayed the whole night cocooned in cashmere, his face dipped deep in the soft folds as he immersed himself in Bella and the memories of their afternoon together.
He relived every moment of their walk...and every second of later on, when he'd stood, dripping wet, in the entry hall of her building.
His fingers tangled in the soft fringe of the blanket as he remembered the way Bella so carefully wrapped it around his shoulders - her cherished touch, the warmth in her eyes.
It had been the most intimate moment of Edward's life.
He burrowed deeper into the blanket and he had never felt so warm.
And as night faded into pale, pearly daylight, Edward realised that he wasn't just hopeful about where things were going with Bella...
...he was optimistic.
It was Saturday. Bella would be working.
And Edward's furniture order had arrived, two days ahead of schedule. A mistake on a consignment note was to blame.
So, in Bella's absence Edward busied himself with assembling shelves and entertainment units and a bed.
He installed the flatscreen TV and wired in the Bang and Olufsen sound system.
He arranged the L-shaped leather sofa, the armchair and coffee table. And then, when he was done, he stood back and looked around.
It wasn't your typical student accommodation. There was no mix of mis-matched second hand tables and chairs and makeshift shelves.
No, this room was elegant and understated. The modern furniture contrasted well with the original features like the open fireplace and the ornate cornices and architraves.
Edward wondered what Bella would think when she saw it. Because he hoped that one day she would.
And then his thoughts wandered, and turned to his parents and what they would think if they could see the house now...if they could see him. But the thought troubled him and he pushed it away quickly.
He distracted himself by picking up the four stools and carrying them into the kitchen.
As he set them down either side of the counter his phone vibrated in his pocket. He assumed it was Alice and was surprised when it was Rosalie.
"Do we have to go through this all over again, Edward?"
Her voice came slicing through the line and Edward felt like he'd just been doused with ice cold water.
He grimaced and braced himself for the onslaught. Rosalie had obviously been in contact with the family.
"It's good to talk to you too, Rose. How's the honeymoon?" He pulled out a stool and sat down. He was determined that she wasn't going to ruin his good mood.
"I didn't call to chat, Edward, just tell me what's going on."
"What do you want to know?" As if he had to ask.
"You know what! Are you planning to do something really stupid this time? Are you seriously going to tell this girl..."
"Bella." Edward bristled.
"Are you seriously going to tell Bella what you are? What we are? I thought we'd been through all this before..." She began to mimic his voice. "I have to leave, I can't be near her, I'm too dangerous, I'm a monster...but what - it's okay now? You've changed your mind and it's all okay? How can you even contemplate this, Edward? What if it ends badly? It's not just you that will be implicated, you know. I can't believe we have to go through all this again!" Her words were machine gun fire and her tone was acid.
Edward gritted his teeth. Inside him a slow ire was beginning to burn, but he held his tongue. He knew Rosalie's concerns were justified even if her manner wasn't. He closed his eyes and breathed in and out, slowly.
"Why can't you just be happy for me, Rose?"
"Be happy about what, exactly? That you're probably going to expose us all? That we'll have to pack up and move again because of you?"
Her voice was becoming more shrill and Edward moved the phone away from his ear and set it down on the counter. He would still hear her and she would still hear him. Then he slumped forward wearily and let his cheek rest against the cool surface. He just wanted this conversation to end.
But Rosalie didn't.
"Seriously, Edward, do you have any idea what this could do to us? Any idea at all?"
He began grinding his teeth. "No-one else is worried."
"They're just too scared to say anything in case precious Edward has a another tantrum and runs off to a cave again for six months!"
Edward winced. He took another slow, patient breath, wondering how he could make her understand.
But she cut him off.
"And you know we rely on your gift. Did you ever think how vulnerable the family was while you were gone before? Or how vulnerable they are right now while you're in Chicago doing goodness knows what? Playing house?"
His fists clenched on his knees. His patience was stretching thin..
"Rose, just listen..."
"NO! You listen to me, Edward, because unlike you I actually care about this family, and if you're too selfish..."
"DON'T TELL ME I DON'T CARE!"
Edward slammed his hand down, hard, on the marble. He shoved away from the counter, sending the stool crashing across the floor as he snatched up the phone and snarled down the line. "And don't ever tell me I'm selfish!"
He stalked around the room, his free hand fisted in his hair as his anger finally let fly.
"I have done everything this family has ever asked of me!I have packed up and moved again and again at Carlisle's nod, because someone has slipped up...your husband included! And I did it for you too, back in Rochester, but only after I'd helped you clean up your mess first! Do you remember, Rosalie?"
Edward heard her shocked gasp. He knew he'd just struck a low blow but right now he didn't care.
And he hadn't finished yet.
"I took myself away for months when you and Emmett were first married, just to give you privacy! And you didn't seem to mind the absence of my gift then, did you? So forgive me if I had hoped for some sort of understanding in return!"
His chest was heaving with anger. His voice came through clenched teeth.
"I've been alone for almost a hundred years... think about that, Rosalie. Think about it! And now I have this one chance for happiness...one... and you would begrudge me that?"
"So, don't think I'm going to turn my back on this, because I'm not!"
There was silence now.
Long and heavy.
Edward tried to rein in his anger.
And his hurt.
His fingers were clenched around the phone. The plastic case began to creak.
He closed his eyes and forced his sharp angry breaths to slow.
Finally, Rosalie spoke, stumbling uncharacteristically over her words.
"I just...I shouldn't have...I'm sorry, Edward."
Her apology surprised him, the soft waver in her voice even more so. It took some time, but slowly, Edward's anger began to fade. He was standing by the back door now and he dropped his head into his hand and sighed heavily.
"Can you just...trust me, Rose? Please?" His voice was so weary now. "I'm not going to endanger the family. I won't tell Bella anything about us until I'm sure where this is going. And nothing will end badly," he added. "I won't hurt her."
"But what if she hurts you?"
Edward hadn't expected that. And he didn't know what to say. When he didn't respond Rosalie continued, her voice even smaller now. "I know what it will do to you if this doesn't work out."
"Is that what you're worried about, Rose?" he whispered, incredulous. "Me?"
Her silence told him everything and Edward let out a long breath.
He tried to gather his thoughts now as he picked up the discarded stool, set it back by the counter, and sat down.
"I know this might not work." He spoke slowly, his voice gentler now. " But I have to try, Rose."
His sister's sigh was rough. "I don't think any of us could watch you go through that again, Edward." There was the briefest hesitation. "I don't think I could watch you."
This was the trouble with Rosalie. Deep down she cared; she was loving and fiercely protective, but it was almost always hidden behind snark and cynicism. And in a phone call, where he couldn't get a handle on the thoughts behind her vitriol, Edward was lost.
He wondered how he could make her understand.
"What about when you found Emmett?"
"That was different. He was dying."
"But if you had just wanted to end his suffering you could have snapped his neck right there in the woods."
Rosalie made no response. In her silence Edward could hear realisation starting to dawn. "But you carried him for more than a hundred miles while he bled in your arms, and you begged Carlisle to save him. You must have seen something in him that gave you the strength to do what you did. You saw something that made you want to try."
"Yes, alright!" she snapped and her sudden outburst was followed by a heavy sigh. "I just thought he might break the monotony after two years of your company, that's all."
Now she was back to the snarky form Edward was used to. He gave a soft, weary laugh and heard the same from her end.
"I'm sorry about before," he said. "I didn't mean..."
"No, it was me. I was completely out of line." She cut him off quickly and Edward knew that subject was closed.
"So, how is the honeymoon? Maid of the Mist still running?" he joked. This wasn't the first honeymoon she and Emmett had started with Niagara Falls. Edward could hear her smile when she answered.
"You know it is. I'll bring you back a souvenir magnet if you like. You can stick it on your new fridge." Edward snorted and Rosalie laughed as the air cleared between them. "And if you're going to do this thing, make sure you get some food in the cupboards. Humans need to eat."
Edward smiled down at the counter top.
They talked about little things then - the new Porsche she had seen in the parking lot at the Falls and the classic 1966 motor bike he'd followed for a while on his way back from Vermont.
Vehicles were always common ground for Rosalie and Edward.
When the call ended Edward set his phone back on the counter. He reached out and gave it a sharp flick with his middle finger and sent it spinning across the counter, stopping exactly and precisely on the opposite edge.
Edward stared at it, thinking, for a long time.
Despite ending on friendly terms, Rosalie's words had unsettled and disturbed him - as they had no doubt been meant to do.
Now there was a too-familiar, nagging voice at the back of his mind, trying to pull him back to where he used to be.
Back into the darkness of doubt and self-loathing.
Thoughts ricocheted in his head, tormenting him. He began to question himself, and wondered if Rose had been right.
He knew he was right to try, but did he really think this was going to work? Did he really think Bella would want someone like him?
He thought she liked him, but what if he'd got it all wrong?
He slumped forward onto the counter again, dropping his head onto folded arms.
What if she ran away, screaming? He would be left, empty and alone, living on the memory of a walk in the park. And a purple blanket.
A purple blanket.
And suddenly that memory of the night before was shining like a beacon, leading him out of the dark.
It banished the doubt. It cast out the self-loathing.
The nagging voice was wrong.
And Edward had the memory of the look in Bella's eyes to prove it.
So he squared his shoulders, grabbed his phone and his car keys, and went to buy groceries.
Edward was unloading his shopping from the car when Bella arrived home.
He smiled broadly as he watched her pull up, but as he strode across the road to greet her his smile faltered a little.
Seeing her now, for the first time since last night, he felt...shy?
Edward's new confidence began to shake.
But when Bella looked up and saw him her face broke into a brilliant smile that would have stopped his heart, if it had been beating.
And then Edward was beaming. His body relaxed, he thought his knees might collapse, and suddenly he was grinning like an idiot.
Bella had completely disarmed him. And he was at her mercy - perfectly, totally, utterly.
He ran his hands into his hair as he stopped in front of her, locking his fingers in place on top of his head. He wished he had something interesting or clever to say.
What he managed was hi.
"Good timing," he added and Bella smiled back.
"You've been shopping?" She glanced at the bags sitting on the pavement opposite.
"Oh, um, yeah. Groceries."
Just like yesterday, Edward could feel himself falling, hard and heavy, all over again. He wondered if it would always be like this.
"How are you feeling?" Bella asked suddenly, bringing him back. "You didn't get sick from the rain yesterday?"
"No," he answered quickly. "No, I'm good. Thank you."
He unlocked his fingers and brought his hands down to shove in his pockets. He leant casually against Bella's car and she did the same.
Now Edward settled easily into conversation.
"How was work?"
Bella rolled her eyes.
"Really busy. It felt like it went on forever. And then I stopped by my friend's baseball game on the way home."
"Do you like basbeall?"
"Not really. But I'd promised I'd go. Mandy's team doesn't play well..." Bella grimaced a little. "So I go sometimes and, you know, offer support."
"Go team," Edward grinned.
"Yeah, something like that."
"Did they win?"
"Oh, too bad."
Bella shrugged. "I think they're used to it. Do you play baseball?"
"I do. But not for a while."
Bella nodded. "But you like sports?"
"Some. I run quite often. Is there anything you do play?"
"No. Sports and me..." Bella wrinkled her nose and shook her head. "I always end up hurting myself, or someone else. Or I do something horribly embarrassing."
"You make it sound so traumatic."
"Oh, believe me, it is." She waved a hand to emphasise her point. "It started back when I was thirteen and it's been downhill ever since."
Now Edward was intrigued.
"What happened when you were thirteen?"
She sighed. "Promise you won't laugh?"
Edward held up two fingers in a boy scout salute.
"Okay. They put me on the school softball team. My very first game and I kept dropping the ball and then I slid into second base too hard and I knocked Lisa Schuster over and... and, um, .I split my pants so everyone could see my underwear." She shook her head. "They had bumble bees on them and the kids called me bumble-butt for weeks afterwards."
As soon as she'd said it, Bella's eyes widened as a look of horror crossed her face. Her hand flew to her mouth.
"I do not believe I just told you that last part," she gasped and then buried her head in her hands when Edward bit his lip against a smile. "Don't laugh! You promised!"
"I'm not!" he said.
But he was. Just a little bit. They both were. Bella's shoulders were shaking as she shook her head, but her face was still buried in her hands.
But Edward didn't want her to feel self-conscious.
Gently, he tugged her hands away from her face. Her cheeks were crimson.
"Don't be embarrassed," he whispered, and dropped his knees so they were eye to eye.
He quickly searched his human past, struggling to grasp the memory that he knew was there.
"When I was fifteen I was playing baseball," he began. Bella lifted her eyes, fascinated, as she listened carefully. "And I really threw myself into the game...literally. I'd hit a home run, and I went tearing around the bases, and I slid into home, hard. I was so excited, and I jumped up, but I couldn't work out why everyone was laughing instead of cheering."
"Oh no..." Bella bit her lip. Apparently she could see where this was going.
"And then I felt the breeze," Edward went on, still holding her hands. "And the sting of the gravel rash."
She choked back a giggle and Edward smiled.
"I'd torn right through the backside of my baseball pants. And believe me, at that moment, I would have welcomed bumble-bee underwear."
Bella was laughing out loud now and so was Edward.
Reluctantly, he let go of her hands and pushed his hair out of his eyes where it had flopped.
"Did you get teased after that?" Bella asked through her giggles.
"What did they say?"
He leant down and whispered in her ear.
"I'll never tell."
She laughed all over again and it warmed Edward, inside and out. He had made her laugh. He was entranced as he watched her hair bounce over her shoulders, and her eyes crinkle with amusement.
"Maybe we should change the subject," she said breathlessly. "Enough embarrassing stories. Tell me what you did today."
"My furniture arrived."
Edward leant back against the car again, marvelling at how he'd just shared one of the most embarrassing moments of his existence and yet he'd never felt so comfortable.
He would have rather died before he'd retold that story to anyone else.
"How does it look?" Bella was asking.
"Oh, er, good...I think."
He cocked his head and wondered if it was too soon to ask Bella into his house.
A second later he was smiling and offering his hand.
"Come and see?"
Edward was experiencing a surreal moment.
A week ago he had arrived in Chicago to do a cursory landlord's inspection of his property.
By Monday morning he would have been back in Vermont, sitting in his physics lecture, drawing the beautiful eyes of a girl he loved so deeply it hurt. And who he never anticipated seeing again.
But somehow now, a week later, he was still in Chicago and that girl with the eyes was in his kitchen, sitting across the counter from him, sipping a coke he had poured for her while she told him about her day and he put away the groceries.
He had already given her a tour of the house, and he had been excited and anxious for her to like it.
And she did like it.
They'd looked through every room, upstairs and down.
He'd even stood back shyly and opened his bedroom door for her to see inside. And suddenly her being there had felt terribly intimate.
His duffle bag had lain sprawled and open in the corner, clothes and books tumbling haphazardly onto the floor, giving her a peek into his life.
And her purple blanket was folded neatly across the foot of the large, dark timber bed with its quilt of black and cream.
Edward had moved forward, a little self-consciously, to pick it up and hold it out.
"Here, you should probably..."
"Oh, um, okay."
"Thank you for the loan."
"Did it keep you warm?"
"Very warm. Thank you."
A soft silence had fallen and Edward had watched the way Bella hugged the blanket to her chest.
He had wondered if he would ever get to be there...hugged tight against Bella's chest.
He wanted to be.
And then a second later he was quickly pointing out the ornate ceiling cornices, the elaborately carved newel post and offering her something to drink as he smoothly escorted her downstairs.
Now she took a sip of her coke as Edward put away the last of the tins and pulled up a stool opposite her.
"It sounds like you enjoy your work," he said.
"Mostly I do. It's hard sometimes though."
She considered a moment. "Sometimes it's just...very sad."
Then she shook herself and smiled.
"But Mr McInerney is always good for a laugh. No matter what's going on. He's ninety six and says whatever he thinks, good or bad. It's actually kind of refreshing."
Edward smiled too. "Refreshing until you end up alienating everyone you know," he said.
Bella laughed. "I think at ninety six he doesn't care who he alienates."
She began drawing invisible patterns on the marble counter top.
"Sometimes, though," she said quietly. "I think it would be refreshing to just say what you thought."
Edward leant forward,
"What would you say?"
Bella lifted her gaze and looked at him. Her eyes were deep, he couldn't fathom the mysteries there.
Then, to his disappointment, she just shrugged.
And she shifted uncomfortably on her seat.
"Maybe another day you'll share a secret with me," he winked and Bella gave a soft gasp. Then she smiled.
"Only if you share one of yours."
Her words caught him off guard, but he recovered quickly.
"Sounds like a deal," he said casually.
Bella tilted her head, eyeing Edward speculatively.
"I'm trying to imagine what one of your secrets might be."
Now Edward shifted uncomfortably on his seat.
"All in good time," he smiled and changed the subject. "Do you want to listen to some music? I've wired in the new sound system?"
So they moved into the living room.
Edward had brought some favourite cd's with him from Vermont, and he'd ordered some others on line with his furniture, so while he perused his shelves looking for something suitable, Bella stood admiring the fireplace.
"This is great," she said. "They've bricked up the one in my apartment." She ran her hands gently over the mahogany mantle as Edward selected a disc and put it on.
"Claire de Lune?"
Edward nodded. "You said yesterday that you liked it."
They shared another smile and then Bella's gaze shifted to the hearth.
"These look original." She crouched down and gingerly touched the elaborate mosaic tiles.
"They are original." Edward walked across the room and crouched down opposite her. "The house was built in 1884."
"See this one?" He pointed to a large, glossy blue tile in the back row and his words came eagerly. "It's been fixed now, but it used to be loose. You could press the corner and lift it up. There was a little hollow underneath and when I was very young I used to hide things in there."
Now Edward felt a little overwhelmed, having Bella here, talking like this, offering her more of himself to her. More of his history, more of Edward Masen.
"What did you hide?" She spoke in a conspiratorial whisper that made Edward smile.
"Stupid things, really. But they seemed special at the time. A marble, a piece of coloured glass...shiny pebbles." He shrugged and Bella grinned.
"I would have loved something like this when I was a kid," she shared. "I just had a shoe box under my bed to hide my treasures."
This small piece of information thrilled Edward, though he couldn't understand why. Was it because he'd also had a treasures box under his bed?
"Oh, I had one of those too," he smiled. "But I guess the loose tile seemed a bit more exotic and mysterious - probably because no-one ever knew about it except me. But my mom knew all about the box under my bed."
Bella laughed again.
"My mom knew too. She used to add things to it for me! Things she thought I'd like."
Edward's eyebrows shot up.
"No!" he laughed.
"Yes!" She shook her head at the memory. "She really didn't grasp the idea of a secret treasure box."
"So, what was in yours?" Edward whispered now.
"Sea shells, a couple of feathers, and, um, some shiny pebbles," she whispered back.
Edward could hear Bella's heart beating faster. Unconsciously they had both leaned in, closer to each other. Edward was almost close enough to kiss her.
He wanted to.
But before he could think any more about it Bella spoke.
"You liked living here," she said, more to herself than him it seemed. She stood and Edward followed. "How old were you when ..."
Edward stiffened slightly as he anticipated the rest of her question. Bella noticed and cut herself off immediately.
"I'm so sorry ..."
"No, it's alright." He was unsure what to say next, because he didn't want to lie to her. He swallowed. "It's not that I don't...I'd like to tell you about...me, but..."
"It's okay, I shouldn't have brought it up. And what I said before about secrets, I was just joking around, I don't expect..."
"I know," he said quickly. "Then he cocked his head as he tried to figure out what to say. "If I said...one day?"
"Only if you want to."
"I do want to...just..."
"Not now," Bella smiled and she reached out to touch his hand. Just a simple, gentle caress, like she'd done the day before in the park. "One day is fine."
Then she changed the subject.
"I'd better go," she said. "I have an assignment that needs attention."
"Oh...sure." Edward pulled his hand through his hair as Bella moved to the door, picked up her bag and fished out her keys. This seemed to be happening too fast, she'd be gone in a moment and no more plans had been made. He tried to gather his thoughts.
They both stopped, then grinned.
"Ladies first." With a graceful sweep of his hand Edward motioned for Bella to continue.
She adjusted her bag over her shoulder and fiddled with her keys while he waited for her to begin.
"Um...I'm supposed to be going to see a movie tonight with some friends. That new spy film?"
Edward nodded. He didn't realise it, but now he was holding his breath.
"And if you're not busy...I thought, maybe you'd like to come. With me."
He watched her throat as she swallowed nervously and he tried to get his head around the fact that Bella had just asked him out.
"I'd like that," he said softly and Bella's face lit up.
"Great," she beamed. And suddenly she didn't know what to do with her hands. She tucked her hair behind her ears. Twice.
"Okay, um, well, the movie starts at seven thirty, so..."
She dropped her keys. Swiftly, Edward's hand shot out and caught them, mid-fall.
"I'll pick you up at seven," he said as he set them back in the palm of her hand. Her eyes were wide.
"Fast reflexes," she murmured.
"Is seven alright?" Edward tried to bring her back on track, cursing himself for his slip-up.
"Um, seven's good." Bella answered.
She turned to the door and Edward opened it for her. She moved onto the top step and Edward was smiling and internally high-fiving himself, but then she stilled.
Her face was serious now.
Edward stopped with the high-fives.
Bella took a deep breath. She fixed her eyes on him and though her cheeks were crimson she spoke with a confidence that Edward hadn't heard from her before.
"Yesterday, when you met Richard, he talked about a concert next Saturday..."
Edward remembered only too well. He wondered where on earth this was going. He was holding his breath again. "Well, it's actually a group of us going. It's a benefit for the hospital where his mom works and we're going along as a favour."
"Oh. I see."
There had been none of that in Richard's thoughts. But that was probably because Richard was too busy wondering who the hell Edward was.
"I just thought...he might have made it sound like it was something else." Her gaze didn't waver. "I just wanted you to know it isn't something else. He's not my boyfriend. He never has been."
Edward felt like all the air had been knocked out of him. He understood what Bella was telling him, and he understood why.
And it was the why that counted.
He didn't think he could trust himself to speak. So he just smiled, and Bella smiled back.
"See you at seven," she said again and Edward watched her square her shoulders as she walked across the road to her building.
It was then that it hit him...
Despite her blushes and shyness, Isabella Swan wasn't seventeen any more.
Edward whistled as he got ready for his date with Bella.
It didn't matter that there would be others joining them at the movies, the important thing was Bella had invited him out. And that she wanted him to meet her friends.
That was significant, he thought...meeting the friends.
And now that he thought more about it, he was a little nervous.
Bella was unique, she seemed to lack the normal human instinct to shy away from him, and he couldn't describe the joy he felt at that.
But what about her friends?
Would they feel wary and uneasy around him?
It could make for an awkward evening.
He decided he would call Alice and ask if she could see anything about tonight. He even had his hand on his phone to call, but as his thumb hovered over the call button, he stopped himself.
"No," he whispered.
He would do this himself.
Without the benefit of Bella's thoughts, or Alice's visions close at hand, Edward knew he was truly on his own.
His actions and decisions were all his.
And he decided he liked it that way.
He started whistling again and his phone beeped.
A text from Alice.
He opened it and grinned when he saw the smiley face staring up at him.
Edward opened the passenger door of his car and helped Bella into the leather seat. As Edward took his own Bella asked what had happened to his Volvo.
Edward almost crunched the gears.
"You remember my car?" He knew he sounded incredulous and was staring at her rudely. Bella was clearly taken aback.
Edward shook his head. "I'm sorry," he said quickly. "I just…I'm surprised you remember that."
She'd seen him in the school parking lot once, two years before, when she'd been concentrating so hard on reversing her own vehicle out of the lot…and yet she remembered his?
"I guess it's like you remembering that I don't like the cold." She smiled softly and Edward smiled back.
She turned to the front and settled into the seat.
"So what's this one?"
"And the Volvo?"
He shrugged. "It was time for a change."
"But it looked new."
Edward added observant to the list of Bella's qualities.
"I, er, generally change cars every couple of years." He wondered if this made him sound pretentious. He hoped not.
"What about your truck?" he asked.
Bella giggled. "You remember my truck?"
"Who could forget that thing," he smirked and Bella nodded.
"You probably have a point there. It was pretty distinctive."
He waited but she didn't say anything more.
"So?" he prompted. "What happened?"
Edward felt the mood in the car shift. It was slight, but suddenly Bella seemed so far away from him, though she hadn't moved an inch.
She began biting on her thumb nail. "It was wrecked in an accident."
Edward's stomach clenched.
"How? Were you hurt?"
"No, not really." She seemed distracted and Edward wasn't sure if he should probe. His hands were tightening around the steering wheel. What did not really, mean?
"What happened?" His voice was tight.
Then Bella blew out a long breath.
"It was just after you left. The day after, actually. I was standing at the back of my truck in the school parking lot and I was watching the entrance." As she said this her skin coloured a deep pink and she looked out the window. Edward wondered why.
"Anyway, Tyler Crowley's van came through the gates and there was ice on the blacktop and he lost control." She shrugged and looked back at the road now. "I saw it coming and I sort of froze, and everything went into slow motion…like in a movie. The van was coming right for me and it took a while for my brain to actually register what was happening and tell my body to get out of the way. But finally the message got through, and I started to run but I fell on the first step. I scratched my hand on the truck's tail light."
"And the van?"
"It smashed into the truck, but it just missed me." She held up her thumb and forefinger, indicating a hair's breadth. "I think it was only because I'd been watching the entrance and saw Tyler arrive. If I'd been looking across the lot…I don't know, things might have gone differently."
Her body tensed and she hugged herself now. Without thinking Edward held out his hand, palm up, and Bella immediately took hold. Her body relaxed and Edward could feel her warmth flow through him. He gave her hand a squeeze.
Edward thought he knew now where her seize the day attitude had come from.
"You never know what's going to happen," he murmured, looking at her. Bella stared into his eyes.
"No," she whispered back. "You don't."
The movie was sold out.
Bella and Edward stood, very close together, in the lobby of the theatre while her friends discussed what to do next.
So far, meeting the friends had gone well. Edward had shaken hands and smiled politely and Bella twined her fingers with his, seemingly sensing his nervousness even though he hid it beneath a well-practiced veneer of cool.
There were the usual speculations - questioning thoughts about Edward's eyes, his unnatural good looks, the coldness of his skin, the way there was something about him that you couldn't put your finger on, but the general consensus seemed to be that any friend of Bella's was a friend of theirs.
And they were an interesting bunch.
Mandy and Tom were nice, Edward decided. And they were very much in love with each other.
Nicola was serious and cynical, rolled her eyes a lot and found fault with everything. Except Edward's ass, it seemed. Her thoughts, and eyes, strayed in that direction more than once, but it was with more of a cool appreciation of his form than the usual fantasies he was so familiar with. But her negativity was such that Edward wondered how she had any friends at all.
Charlotte was quiet and gentle. She was someone who could be passed over easily, but her thoughts showed Edward she also had a brilliant mind. And she was observant. Nothing got past her. Except the fact that Rex was in love with her. Which was a shame, because she loved him too.
Rex had come with a warning.
Edward had been surprised when Bella pulled him into a whispered conversation by the popcorn stand.
"Rex is here. Whatever you do, don't stare."
"Why would I stare?"
"He's here, quick, just don't stare."
A second later Edward was staring.
And a second after that he was glad of Bella's warning because he knew his first, on-sight instinct would have been to plant himself firmly in front of Bella, drop into a fighting crouch and growl.
Rex was as big as Emmett, with a Mohawk and a tattoo of a bloodied dagger on one side of his neck and a skull on the other. A chain linked the ring in his lip with the one in his ear. His physical appearance screamed danger, and heads turned and people scattered as he walked through the lobbey.
But a quick look at Rex's thoughts set Edward straight.
Rex was the classic gentle giant. And his pure, desperate love for Charlotte was almost painful. It seemed they would tiptoe around each other, both too scared to admit how they felt.
Edward could relate.
Richard, it seemed, had decided not to come.
"So...what are we going to do?" Tom was demanding a decision be made.
There was a suggestion from Nicola to give up and go to a nightclub she knew which wasn't quite as foul as the others that she knew.
Charlotte thought they could just grab pizza and come back for the nine-thirty session.
Tom suggested they could just see something else instead.
Pizza and the nine-thirty session won.
So Edward took Bella's hand as if it was the most natural thing in the world and they left the theatre and walked around the corner to the Supreme-O Pizza Bar.
As he walked Edward wondered how he was going to do this.
Some foods were easier to fake eating than others.
Pizza wasn't easy.
And he didn't want to raise any suspicions.
He decided he'd have to eat.
Just once slice.
For appearance sake.
He sat opposite Bella at a long table, complete with candles in Chianti bottles, a slice of classic cheese and tomato in front of him. It had been his selection from the menu. It had the least amount of toppings.
As he chewed his first bite he tried to focus on anything else apart from the taste in his mouth.
He watched how Bella interacted with her friends.
The girl he'd met briefly in Forks had walked with her head down. She'd seemed uncomfortable talking with others, she'd hidden behind her long veil of hair.
But now, here, she was bright and laughing. He wouldn't say she was outgoing, he knew she never wanted to be the centre of attention, but there was a quiet confidence about her now that hadn't been there before.
And it was that same quiet confidence that had let her joke with him in his kitchen, then ask him out, and had left him in no doubt about Richard, and her relationship status.
He watched her lovingly as she talked and laughed and licked tomato sauce from her fingers. He smiled at her horror when she mistakenly took a bite of the anchovy surprise.
Obviously it was a surprise and nchovy's clearly weren't her thing.
And every now and then she would look across and give him a smile he hadn't seen her give anyone else.
It was different, and he realised, with a jolt of satisfaction and delight, that it was his smile.
Just for him.
He didn't think life could get any better.
Edward knew his adoration was written all over his face - he read as much in the minds of the others at the table.
He wondered if Bella could see it, too.
And he wondered if it was too soon to tell her the truth.
The thought knotted in his stomach.
Was it all too soon?
He had loved her for more than two years, but she'd really only known him for a week.
Less than a week, given he'd only approached her on Wednesday and now it was Saturday.
This was only their second date.
They'd spent only a handful of hours together.
Yet the connection was there, the pull was undeniable, and with a quiet confidence of his own, Edward thought that connection pulled both ways.
He wondered if maybe she had thought of him since that biology lesson more than two years before. From little things she'd said here and there, he was beginning to think she might have.
For the first time he considered the possibility that Bella might have felt the connection back then, too.
The idea was a revelation.
She looked at him again now, and smiled.
"You okay?" she mouthed and he nodded. He stretched out a leg under the table and nudged her foot gently. Her eyes widened a little. And then she nudged back.
"You can't be serious, Charlotte! Congress has to pass that bill!"
At the other end of the table Tom and Charlotte were involved in a political debate and Tom was currently in full voice, waving a slice of Spicy Italian to emphasise his point.
Rex offered Charlotte his silent support by resting his arm casually on the back of her chair, and Charlotte shifted back further in her seat, as though leaning into his embrace.
Edward was called on for his opinion, which he politely declined to offer.
Nicola declared herself bored and asked why the conversation always took this direction when they got together.
"I could have just stayed home and cleaned under the sofa cushions," she drawled. "It would have been more fun."
"Why? What's under your sofa cushions?" Bella joked dryly. And Nicola actually cracked a smile.
So did Edward.
The debate quieted as Mandy chastised her boyfriend and then changed the subject.
Rex refilled Charlotte's glass from the water jug and she blushed as she thanked him.
And Bella was struggling with a piece of her veggie supreme.
It seemed that stringy cheese could be a problem and he watched, fascinated, as Bella wound a particularly long string around her finger, then sucked it into her mouth.
It suddenly seemed to Edward that the restaurant had become very warm.
When the meal was over, and Edward had insisted on paying for Bella, they headed back to the theatre.
Bella's hand was in Edward's and as the entered the lobby she gave it a tug.
"Actually, I'm kind of tired. Would you mind if we gave the movie a miss?"
"Oh." A small spark of disappointment flared in Edward. He'd rather liked the thought of sitting with her in the movie, holding her hand or even putting his arm around her shoulder. But her comfort would always come first and if she was tired then he would take her home.
They said goodnight to her friends and Edward tucked her arm through his as they walked back to the car.
The journey home was silent. It seemed natural and normal now for them to hold hands and their fingers were linked on the console between them as Edward drove. They moved together each time he changed gears.
He escorted her to her door of course. Her apartment door, not just the main entrance door downstairs. As Bella fumbled with the key in the lock Edward pulled his hand nervously through his hair. His body felt alive and warm.
Bella turned to face him.
"I had a great time," she said.
"Me too. I liked your friends."
"Hope you don't mind too much about the movie."
"I don't mind," Edward smiled.
Bella bit her lip and Edward's body tightened. He took a step closer.
Should he kiss her?
He wanted to.
But he was conflicted.
Was it too soon?
Would it be right to kiss her without her knowing what he was? Would that be taking advantage?
He decided it was.
So maybe he could just ...
Edward leant in, just a little.
Bella closed her eyes and tilted her face and Edward pressed his lips, very gently, against her cheek.
So soft, so warm.
He had never felt anything like this...Bella's skin beneath his lips.
She leant into him, and his lips lifted and pressed again...a second kiss, lower now, closer to the corner of her mouth.
Then he pulled back slowly, nudging her cheek gently with his nose as he exhaled softly.
Bella's eyes fluttered open. They were wide and warm and Edward's body, already strung tight, tightened even more.
His fingers caressed her cheek, lightly, tenderly.
And he wondered what should happen now.
He supposed he should say goodnight. He took a step back in preparation, letting his hand fall by his side - his fingers still holding the heat of her touch.
"Would you like to come in?"
Bella's whispered question threw him, he hadn't been expecting...he wasn't sure...
"Yes," he said. "Yes I would."
A/N: Thank you to everyone who is reading, and thank you for all the lovely reviews. I'm trying to answer them all but if I've not responded to yours, I'm sorry, but please know I read them all and appreciate each one.
I know I said this story was only going to be one more chapter, but it looks like being a couple more now. I'll get chapter four up as soon as I can :)