So... yeah.

Hi.

I know it has been forever and a day since I've updated, but unfortunately some tough things in my real life have prevented me from writing as much as I'd really like to.

I have not abandoned this story; I love it too much to do that. However, the damn hockey lockout isn't exactly helping me with inspiration!

Enough talking, lets get down to it.

I do not own Twilight, but hot hockey players are all mine. ALL OF THEM =)

Playlist: Obsolete by Mute Math


Edward didn't have to wait for his alarm to go off Tuesday morning; he'd been awake since just before the sun had come up. After having another one of his usual dreams, and without Bella curled into his side the way she had been the last few nights, he simply couldn't shake the nagging feeling that her entire visit had been a figment of his imagination. After a while of his brain running at warp speed, he finally grabbed his phone and reread the email she had sent him.

She'd really been there. She really loved him. I was all true.

He let out an exhausted sigh and sank back into the bed that still smelled of her skin. It wasn't until he heard his neighbors outside scraping the ice from their cars to go to work that he realized that he'd just been lying there, barely dozing, with his phone still gripped tightly in his hand as if it were his only connection to her.

Get a grip, he thought to himself as he pulled on his sweats to get ready for practice. She didn't forget you in eight years; she's not going to forget you in a day.

Edward normally considered himself an intelligent, rational guy, but Bella, and his fixation on her, made him crazy and sometimes question his sanity.

He figured he might have felt differently if he'd been able to talk to her after she'd gotten back home. He had barely arrived back home himself before his phone chirped with a new email notification. While sitting in the driveway of his condo, he read her confession; that she loved him and that she really wanted to be with him, and the words on the tiny, little screen made him feel like he was on top of the world. But a short while later, after he'd sent her a text asking if she'd made it home safely, his only reply had been a clipped 'yes', followed by a hurried explanation that she apparently had a mountain of work waiting for her that she had to get a start on that night before going into the office the next morning. Feeling slightly deflated, Edward tried not to take her response personally; he knew she was dealing with a lot and he knew that she had the daunting task of coming clean about their relationship to her boss ahead of her. Of course she would be on edge.

An hour or so later, his phone buzzed again.

I'm sorry if I came across as rude before. I wasn't expecting to come back to such a mess. I'm really going to have to hunker down and get through as much of this stuff as I can tonight. And as much as I know you and I should probably talk, since I'm SURE you've checked your email by now, I know I won't be able to focus if we do. Rain check? Love you.

Placated for the moment, Edward grabbed a beer and headed upstairs to shower before heading to bed.

Now, with a bright sunny morning laid out in front of him as he drove to the practice rink, he tried as best he could to be thankful for the time that he'd had with her and the promise of more time in the future. He took a deep breath as he crossed the bridge over the Monongahela River and made a conscious decision that he wouldn't have any more nightmares, and he would focus on the positives that had come about in the last several weeks. He was no longer some poor, wayward, love-sick soul; in the end he'd gotten the girl and all that stood between them was a few hundred, manageable, miles.

As he drove, he let his mind wander to off-seasons spent in Chicago, Bella being welcomed by his parents with open arms, surprising her at the office for an impromptu lunch date, and various other scenarios he'd never allowed himself to fantasize about before.

When he walked through the doors at South Pointe, Emmett was the first to notice his demeanor.

"Still christmas-treeing, huh Cullsy?" he asked with his trademark wide smile. "I thought you'd be a moody bitch today. Guess some residual of your girl's visit is still hanging around. It's a good thing, if you ask me; I don't want to deal with your whining all the way to Phoenix"

.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.

Eighteen.

The number of stories Bella had to complete in just over 24 hours. How such a backlog of work had managed to pile up in her very brief absence was beyond her.

I guess it's a good thing I slept well while I was at Edward's because I won't be sleeping again anytime soon, she thought derisively. Nevertheless, she fact-checked, made phone calls, watched archived video footage, and typed away in her best effort to reach her deadline on time. I'll be damned if I let whatever Riley's playing at put a black mark on my reputation.

When she'd arrived home Monday evening, Bella had been less than surprised to see several new assignments sitting expectantly in her email inbox. What she hadn't expected was for the assignments to just keep coming as the night went on. Just when she thought she'd finished one, another would pop up to replace it. The sheer volume of the tasks in front of her was so overwhelming that she thought very seriously about just throwing in the towel altogether, but soon thought better of giving in to what she was sure was some ploy by Riley to break her down. Instead she redoubled her focus on her work and only turned out a product that met her own impossibly high standards. She couldn't even spare a moment to talk to Edward when he'd texted her to ask if she'd made it home safely. Without even realizing she'd done it, she had completely blown off her new boyfriend, fresh on the heels of the biggest declaration of her life. By the time it dawned on her what she'd done, she immediately tried to explain and make Edward see that she wasn't intentionally ignoring him but that he was just too good at distracting her and she needed all the focus she could get. He seemed to understand, though she was sure her explanation didn't exactly make him happy, not that she could really blame him.

When she arrived at the office the next morning, after a night of very little sleep, she kept her nose to the grindstone and continued to work diligently at her tasks, even as more came in.

"Hey Bella, welcome back!" Jessica said brightly as she practically skipped into Bella's office carrying Bella's usual cup of English tea. "How was your trip?"

"The trip was great," she replied with a sigh. "It's the coming back the fucking sucks. Pardon my language."

Jessica smiled knowingly. "I'd have told you it was coming if I'd had any advanced notice myself. I didn't know what Mr. St. James was up to until late last night. And by then I figured you probably already knew."

"So it was him? You're sure?"

"Of course, who else would it be? I'm not sure how he did it though. I mean, the only way I can think of is that he put some sort of delay on the system that divvies out the assignments. I know that can be done because I had to do it when Mike had his knee surgery last fall and he didn't want to be assigned anything while he was out recovering. When I saw how many you got hit with all at once, I checked the system and sure enough, Riley authorized them. But somehow he managed to change the 'assigned on' dates, so from an outsider's perspective, it just looks like you've gotten really far behind," the bubbly blonde explained.

"Well great. This is just perfect," Bella fumed. "If I can't get all of this done in time, it'll look like I'm in over my head."

"Listen," Jessica said in a hushed tone, "I know you can do this. Riley St. James is an ass but don't you let his bruised ego go and ruin the good thing you've got going here and in Pittsburgh, okay? Karma's a bitch; what goes around comes around."

Bella pushed her glasses on top of her head and pinched the bridge of her nose before sighing in resignation.

"You're right Jessica, I can do this. I'm going to do this."

"'Atta girl. I'll keep the caffeine coming," she said with a wink before gliding out of the office and shutting the door behind her.

The hours wore on and eventually new assignments stopped coming in to replace the ones she'd completed. Finally seeing the list start to get shorter was the best motivation she could imagine. As promised, Jessica kept Bella fresh with tea and sodas, even depositing a chicken salad sandwich from her favorite deli down the block on her desk midway through the day. I really need to do something nice for that girl, she thought with an appreciative smile.

What seemed like only moments later, Bella heard some of the others in the office bidding each other good night, but she just continued to work, pounding away at the keys of her computer until her fingers were sore. And still she worked until all the lights on the floor were out but her own.

At 11pm, one hour shy of her deadline, after having barely eaten or slept since she'd returned to Chicago, Bella slumped back in her desk chair, exhausted but finished.

.~.~.~.~.~.~.

After her initial return, weeks went by and Bella couldn't help but notice how the number of assignments being thrown at her were steadily increasing over what she was used to, pre Riley debacle. Her time had become so consumed with just keeping her head above water that her initial intention of telling Mike about her relationship with Edward kept getting postponed time and time again. Things around the office in general had changed as well; Riley no longer paid friendly visits to her office (not that she was really missing them), and there was just a general air of tension amongst everyone on the floor. Even Mike noticed the general feeling of unrest that seemed to have fallen over everyone and called a staff meeting late Wednesday afternoon before dismissing the staff for the long Thanksgiving weekend.

"Listen team, something's not right around here and it hasn't been right for a little while now. I want you all to use this time off to visit with your families, relax, and regroup. When we report back Monday, I want this office to be humming along like a well-oiled machine; like we were a few weeks ago. Now, I don't know what changed for everybody, but it doesn't matter. What matters is that we focus on the fact that we all have a job to do, regardless of what's going on in your personal life. And if we don't do our jobs to the standard the higher-ups expect, there is always someone who will. Now, I'm not threatening anything; everyone's job is secure. I just want you all to know that I've noticed things slipping. And if I've noticed, then I'm sure other, more important people have too. I really hate to be such a downer before a holiday, but please take what I'm saying to heart. Times are tough out there, and none of us can afford to get complacent, okay?"

A general mumble of agreement could be heard around the conference room.

"Alright, have a happy and safe holiday everyone," he said, with the most convincing smile he could muster. "Oh and Bella, would you mind sticking around for a minute? There was something I wanted to talk to you about privately."

She swallowed thickly and nodded.

After everyone else had filed out of the conference room, Mike motioned for Bella to follow him down the hall back to her office.

"Bella, you know I consider you a friend, right?" he said after shutting the door behind them with a soft click.

"And I consider you a friend as well," she replied back with a smile that she hoped didn't convey how apprehensive she felt on the inside.

"Good, I'm really glad to hear you say that. And I hope that we're good enough friends that you could come to me and tell me if something was bothering you or if there was something going on outside of the office that I should know about." His ice blue eyes looked back at her from his handsome, boyish face and seemed to penetrate right through her.

She leaned against the corner of her desk and sighed.

"There is something I've been meaning to talk to you about, actually. There just hasn't been a good time to bring it up; things have been so crazy around here lately I never knew how or when to even bring it up because it has to do with something personal."

"Look Bella, you don't have to say anything else. I'm not taking sides here, and frankly, I'm really not one to talk given my own situation that is bordering on inappropriate, but I want you to know that I won't ask any questions. The particulars aren't any of my business, but whatever drama is going on between you two needs to stay at home. I'm not saying that what's going on is the source of the tension around here, but I'm sure it hasn't helped alleviate it either. I just want everyone to get along and do the caliber of work that I know we're capable of. Okay?"

Bella stared back at him in complete and utter confusion, her brain trying desperately to wrap itself around what he'd just said. She opened and closed her mouth several times before finally rediscovering her ability to form words. "What in the hell are you talking about? Drama between me and who needs to stay at home?"

"You and Riley," he said in a tone that sounded just as confused as she felt.

"What drama between me and Riley? I've barely said two sentences to him since my vacation!"

"You two aren't… dating? Err… seeing each other… romantically?"

"No! Why on Earth would you think we were?"

"He told me a while back that he had asked you out on a date and that you'd said yes. Tempers started running high right around the same time so I just assumed that maybe things had soured between you. So, is that not what happened?" he asked, the lines on his forehead growing deeper by the second.

"Yes, he asked me to have dinner with him. And yes, I initially agreed. However I told him the next day that I didn't think it was appropriate plus I'd just recently started seeing someone. That is what I wanted to talk to you about."

She pushed her glasses up on top of her head and raked her hands down her face in exasperation.

"I'm sorry, I just assumed that… well, you know. Maybe things hadn't worked out the way you'd wanted them to and now you were avoiding each other or something."

"I never wanted it to work out any way. Riley was a nice guy but 'no' is apparently not an answer he hears very often. He's been acting like a child ever since."

"Bella, I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have assumed. But thing have been a little off, between you two lately, right?"

"Yes, they have. I certainly won't deny that. Ever since I pretty much unacceptedhis offer, I feel like he's been doing everything he can to sabotage me. I'm just about to my wit's end, Mike. I don't know how much more of this shit I can take. I used to absolutely love to come to work but now… now I dread walking through those doors because I have no idea how much crap is going to get tossed my way on any given day."

"I really don't want you to feel that way. You know how much we depend on you around here; how much I depend on you. Do you want me to talk to Riley?"

"No…yes…no… I don't know," she sighed. "I just want things to be like they were when we were all friends and we just got along. And if I'm being completely honest, I want to stop getting the raw end of the deal when it comes to new assignments."

"What do you mean?"

"You can't tell me you haven't noticed how many story assignments I've been getting. I have literally dozens to take care of each week; at least three times as much work as I had before I went out of town. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not at all opposed to working hard but it has been really getting out of hand. I just want things to be fair, that's all."

"I'm sorry, that's my fault. If I had been paying closer attention to the system, I'd have seen what was going on a long time ago. And I should have known something was up when Riley asked me for access a while back. I was too caught up in my own personal situation to really notice."

"Jessica?" Bella asked, the tiniest hint of a smile curling at the edges of her lips.

"Yeah…" Mike's cheeks flamed red. "She said she'd told you that we were uhh… slightly more the just coworkers."

"She did, and if you want that to just stay between us then that's where it will stay. Just please know that the same cannot be said about myself and Riley."

"Understood completely. So what is it that you'd been meaning to talk to me about?"

"Well… the reason I said no to Riley is because I'd recently started seeing someone else," she started. "And that someone is Edward Cullen."

"Really? I thought you said that you guys were—"

"Just friends, I know. We sort of were when I said that. At least we hadn't really put any labels on what we were at the time. But… now we have, and I don't want to hide who I'm with out of fear of what the network might think any more. I thought, or well, I hoped, that if I just came out with it that you and the network, hell, maybe even Riley, would be a little bit more understanding than if it just came out at some point in the future."

"Bella, you never had to hide it," Mike said, crossing the room and putting his hands on her shoulders. "I'm happy for you. Cullen's a real stand-up guy. But I'm glad you told me so we can make arrangements so that work and personal don't really intersect much for you. That way, nobody has anything to say. And if somebody has a problem, then they can talk to me about it."

Bella felt the sting of fresh tears behind her eyes.

"You have no idea how much of a weight off my shoulders it is to hear you say that," she choked.

"You're the best reporter and best writer I've ever had on staff, B. Don't worry about something trivial and silly like what somebody else thinks of who you're dating get in the way of how awesome you are. Your work stands on its own."

Swollen tears of relief rolled down her cheeks as she closed her eyes and took a deep, calming breath.

"Thank you so much, Mike. Really."

"Would it be okay if I hugged you? I feel like you could probably use one right now," he said with a joking laugh. She laughed as well and nodded before being wrapped up in a warm, tight bear hug against Mike's chest. "Now go home and enjoy the long weekend, got it? Come Monday things are going to be very different around here."


Yay! It took her a little while, but Bella came out with it. They're not out of the woods yet though.

Review, review, review! Please! Tell me how awesome it is to see me update again after a millenia. Tell me how pissed off you are because I took so long. Tell me your best hockey story. Hell, tell me your best joke. I don't care! Just click the little button and make my day.

Also... a few chapters back, I said in an a/n that the dream Edward had with Bella at a bar was an allusion to a oneshot I wrote for Fandom for Texas. Several people inquired about it, but FFn was being dumb for a while and I couldn't get it out to many of you who wanted it. So! If you're still interested, please PM me your email and I'll be more than happy to send it your way.