A/N - To anyone who had this story on alert after I first posted, I just want to say that I have not changed anything fundamental about the plot. I have just edited my mistakes and made slight changes to some of the content.
Chapter 1 - Inner Bella and Mr Delicious.
9:00pm. Another Tuesday night, just another shift at Bar52 in New York City. Or as the regulars preferred to call it, Art's. To be truthful, as far as bar jobs went I had no complaints. The bar drew in regular people, real people-not the wannabes-the Plastic Fantastic girls who wore barely any clothes and who were forever on the prowl for flashy blokes with plenty of money and a nice car.
Not trendy, flashy or anything like the "it" clubs where the Plastic Fantastics went. Art's was small and old-fashioned. There were two bars; the main bar downstairs spread the length of the side wall, with old high-backed wooden stools lined up against it. There were a few tables dotted about on the main floor, with tired-looking fabric seated chairs. Up a few steps at the far end of the club was the pool room, a simple room with three pool tables, a dartboard and-of course–the other bar. The only seats in there were the benches which hugged the perimeter of the room and the simple bar stools. The dark decor and lighting reminded me of a lot of country pubs in rural England. Most of the customers that frequented the place were friendly and didn't ogle your chest and bottom at every opportunity. I guess the style of the bar was comforting to me; it reminded me of home, although I hadn't been "home" for so long I doubted I could call it that anymore.
I was raised in England in a village on the outskirts of London called Thames Ditton. Renee and Phil, my mother and stepfather, ran an old inn for most of their marriage. I was my mother's only daughter and my stepfather had a daughter from a previous marriage named Sarah, who was ten years my senior. My father, Charlie Swan, was American; he and my mother had met while she was travelling the States with her friends when she was in her early twenties. They had a short, but apparently passionate relationship and I was the result. After I was born, my mother stayed in Seattle for a few months with my father, but she had felt too isolated and had returned with me to England.
My parents had always remained on good terms and I flew over to Seattle regularly to stay with my father. Six years ago on my mother's forty first birthday, she and Phil were returning home after a celebratory night out. Phil was driving and had swerved to avoid a fox or some other animal in the road; he lost control of the car and they slammed sidewards into a tree. Phil walked away with just a concussion and a few scratches, but my mother died on impact. Her death hit me really hard and it had been the final straw in an increasingly difficult time of my life. So, I decided to make a fresh start in the States.
My father had welcomed me eagerly and helped me settle into life in a new country by setting me up for a job at his pharmaceutical company as an assistant to one of the sales directors. I soon began to love life in the city. As long as I can remember, Alice had been my best friend despite the fact we lived so far apart, and every time I visited, we would play together–or as we got older, hang out. When I moved here permanently, we grew even closer and she became like a sister. We rented an apartment in the city and, although I missed my friends and family back home, I soon began to put my worries behind me. After about four years however, something nasty from my past reared its ugly head and I soon found myself trying to run again.
Of course, as soon as I had mentioned moving somewhere new, Alice had insisted on coming with me, so I had let her choose our destination. Now, two years later, I was enjoying life in New York more than I ever thought possible. I felt like I was "home" and would have happily stayed there for the rest of my life. Although, the likelihood of that was slim. At some point I'd be on the move again, of that I was absolutely certain.
Whenever I thought too much about the past, angst would rise up and my blood would run cold. Instinct made me scan the room quickly to check all was well and that he wasn't here, just to put my mind at rest.
Get a bloody grip Bella, of course he isn't here.
I was frequently visited by the voice of my inner self; the real me I had been hiding away for so long. She featured so prominently in my head that I thought little of it anymore. Although, on occasion I had found myself chastising her or retorting like a stroppy teenager rebelling against overbearing parents.
"Yeah, yeah," I muttered in response. "Getting a grip. Chill out!"
A light chuckle behind startled me and I heard a man's voice. "You know talking to yourself is never a good sign."
Thoughtlessly, I allowed Inner-Bella to take control and responded icily, "Well, to be honest, I'd much rather talk to myself than an eavesdropping git such as yourself."
I spun around to face the voice and immediately regretted my outburst. The man facing me was not just an average customer, he was a man who would have no problem getting me fired. He was an old friend of my boss, Art. This man made up one quarter of a world famous band called Zeus–this man was Edward-frickin-Cullen.
"Oh crap," I mumbled as he sat down at the bar.
Before I had a chance to even think of apologising to him, my boss had made his way out of the office next to the bar and greeted his friend.
"Edward buddy, long time no see. How're you doin?" Art was only in his mid-to-late twenties and had inherited the bar from his father - also named Art, hence the bar's nickname. His father had passed away about four years ago and Art had been running the place ever since. The man was a top guy and was probably the most easygoing person I had ever met.
"Good thanks, I'm glad to be back; I missed the place."
I expected him to complain to Art about my attitude and braced myself for a telling-off, but he just glanced quickly at me, a smile on his face, and then began chatting to Art casually.
When I actually stopped to look at this fine specimen of a man, I literally had to wrestle with my brain to close my mouth and stop gaping at him like a goldfish. This guy was easy on the eyes when I'd seen him on TV and in magazines, but face-to-face, he was delicious. I wasn't so good with sizing people up, but I'd say he was about six foot two inches, give or take a little and not particularly brawny, but not skinny either. He had bronze-coloured hair, which had been messed into a bed-head style. He had piercing green eyes-though I could be wrong; the lighting certainly did not help my ogling, and he had lovely kissable lips. Before I could scan the rest of him, I heard someone call an order from further down the bar, so I turned quickly and headed off to serve the customer.
Inner Bella was delighting. Oh my, he's delicious, delicious, delicious.
I hovered fruitlessly, trying to resume Project Ogle without blowing my cover, while he was still chatting with Art. I heard Mr. Connolly call out for another drink, so I grabbed him a beer and set it down on the bar, still flashing glances at Mr. Delicious.
Nice name, Inner-Bella beamed and urged me to continue staring.
I quickly looked at Mr. Connolly, only to see him frowning at me like I had my bra on top of my head or something. "Everything okay, Mr. Connolly? Is there something wrong with your drink?"
"The beer is fine, Bella dear, but I was rather hoping for a whiskey instead." Mr. Connolly practically lived at this place and never in the two years I worked here had he drunk anything other than whiskey.
"Oh damn, I'm sorry, let me get you a whiskey." I smiled sheepishly at the sweet old man, who chuckled quietly.
"Not to worry, it would appear your mind and your eyes are somewhat distracted." He smiled in the direction of Art and Mr. Delicious at the other end of the bar.
The phone rang from the office, so I made my way quickly to answer it. Before I reached the end of the bar, Art stopped me.
"I'll get that. Could you just grab Edward a drink? It's on the house tonight buddy, I'll be back out in a few." Art turned and headed into the office.
Mr. Delicious sat down on a stool and flashed me a wide grin as I approached him. "Hey there, crazy lady. Can I get a beer, please?"
"Sure," I mumbled and pulled him a bottle from one of the fridges. I set it on the bar and started busying myself cleaning up.
"So, do you actually talk? To anyone other than yourself of course." He snickered as he took a long drink of his beer. He kept his eyes on me, seemingly waiting for my answer.
My eyes narrowed; who the bloody hell did he think he was talking to? Once again I started ranting like a lunatic.
"Of course I talk; I just don't particularly like talking to jumped-up, arrogant arseholes such as you. I'm sure you have more than enough Plastic Fantastic dolly birds falling at your feet and hanging off your every word, but please don't expect it from me." I stood in front of him, glaring with my hands on my hips.
Mr. Delicious stared straight at me and was clearly dying to smile; he took a swig of his beer and then chuckled. "Well, at least you can talk; that's something, I suppose." He took another long drink and placed the empty bottle on the bar. "Perhaps we should try again.I'm Edward, nice to meet you."
He held out his hand over the bar, flashing me a grin that sent me weak at the knees. Despite my best efforts, I had to smile back. "Nice to meet you too, Edward. Would you like another drink?" I asked in my politest voice and reached over to shake his hand.
Wow, you are actually touching Mr. Delicious. Maybe you should kiss his hand like you're supposed to kiss the Pope's ring? Inner-Bella cackled mischievously.
Well, this would certainly be a cool story to tell my flatmates Alice and Angela after I finished work.
"I would love one; however my mom always told me never to accept anything from a stranger, even if the stranger is a beautiful bartender with a very sexy English accent." He shook his head slowly and added, "Of course, it won't be a problem if you tell me your name." He laughed again as he waited for my reaction.
Oh Bella, Mr. Delicious thinks you're beautiful; tell him you think he's delicious, too.
I rolled my eyes, both at his comment and Inner Bella's request, "My name is Bella, now do you want another drink or what?"
Mr. Delicious flashed me that knee-quivering smile again and I nearly collapsed.
Jeez Bella, what's wrong with you? Get the man his beer, then leap over this bar, straddle him and rip his shirt open – DO IT, DO IT, DO IT. Inner Bella was screaming.
"Thank you, another beer sounds good." Mr. Delicious' voice interrupted my inner-self's rant and snapped me back to reality. "So Bella, I've never seen you in here before; have you worked for Art long?" he asked as I handed him another drink.
"Yeah, about two years, ever since I moved to New York," I replied, wondering why he was having a conversation with someone he clearly thought had mental problems.
Mr. Delicious leaned forward a little, stared straight at me and said, "Mmmm, well if I'd known I was likely to bump into you, I would have made sure I got back to New York more often."
Oh, oh, oh! He's flirting with you! Inner-Bella was ecstatic. Now will you leap over the bar, straddle him and rip his shirt open?
I rolled my eyes and snorted; that was the only thing I could do besides actually following Inner-Bella's command. I glanced around the bar; aside from Mr. Delicious and Mr. Connolly, the only other customers in the place were up in the pool room. Weekdays were always quiet; Fridays and Saturdays, on the other hand, were crazy busy.
I peeked back at Mr. Delicious and he was staring at me. When he caught my eye he winked.
Praise the Lord, Hallelujah! He winked at you; now leap over the bar, straddle him and rip his shirt open.
Inner-Bella was driving me crazy, but my god, it was tempting. I quickly peeked down at his body, or at least as much as I could see above the wore a grey hooded jacket with double-breasted buttons and a white button-down shirt underneath. The top two buttons were open to reveal a tinytriangle of his chest.
More, more, I want to see more.
A faint growl interrupted me and I turned to see the origin. Ah, Mr. Connolly had fallen asleep with his head on the bar. I chuckled and heard Mr. Delicious laugh loudly too. "Guess it's ten o'clock then," I said smiling widely.
"Does he do that often?"
"Oh God, every night without fail. We usually just keep checking to make sure he's still breathing and wake him up when we're about ready to close."
"That's funny, really funny," he continued laughing and took another drink of his beer before waggling his newly empty bottle at me, while licking his bottom lip at the same time.
That little action sent Inner-Bella into turmoil. For God's sake woman, leap over the bar, straddle him and rip his shirt open. I beg you.
I could barely control myself and even contemplated doing just that. It wasn't even an issue that Mr. Delicious would probably have me arrested for sexual assault. I knew I would have an insanity plea at the very least.
"Well, you see, officer; I can't be held responsible for my actions, it was my inner voice telling me to do it." Yes. Off to the funny farm for me, I thought as I handed him another beer.
"So Bella, apparently you've not been a New Yorker all your life; where did you live before?" Once again Mr. Delicious was trying to hold a conversation with me. Why?
"England," I answered back smartly, not quite sure what else I could say that would be of any interest to him.
"Very funny, where about in England? Why did you move here?"
Now he was staring at me again and I was struggling to stand up straight. Seriously, what the hell was wrong with me?
"I was born here, but my mother was from a small village in Surrey. My father is American and I moved in with him after she died." I shrugged casually, trying to block out a few other snippets of the past.
"Oh, sorry." He smiled apologetically and fell silent for a few seconds. "So, you're technically a fellow American, then."
"I suppose I am, but I guess I sound a little different to most."
"That's true, but I much prefer listening to your voice-it's definitely sexier." He grinned and winked again. Jesus, what was this man doing to me?
I am sick and tired of telling you Isabella Swan, LEAP OVER THE BAR, STRADDLE HIM AND RIP HIS SHIRT OPEN!
I had no idea how to respond to that without sounding like a moron, so I just stood there and smiled, looking like a moron instead.
Smooth Bella, very smooth.
"So, when you're not watching over sleeping alcoholics, what do you do with your time?"
"I only work here two nights a week. During the day I'm a nanny for a family over on Central Park West. I look after their kids while they're at work."
"Like it?" He was still looking at me and I thought I saw his eyes look me up and down, but I was probably imagining it; after all, I did converse with my inner-self.
"Yeah, it's good, I suppose. It pays okay; I couldn't live in Manhattan on just my bar wage. Art doesn't pay that well, you know. " I laughed.
"That I can imagine." He was laughing again. "Do you like kids, then?"
Oh my God, he's asking you to have his babies. I will not tell you again; leap over the bar, straddle him and rip his shirt open.
"Well, I'll just say that working all day with a teenager and a toddler is probably the best contraception a girl can have."
Oh crap, what on Earth did you just say to him?
He didn't say anything for a moment, and then smirked. "So, what you're suggesting is that we could put a stop to teen pregnancies by getting schoolgirls to spend time with bratty kids? Nice idea, Bella, I like it."
Then he stood up and Inner Bella immediately began ranting in panic. Well done, you daft cow, you've scared him off now.
However, he did not leave, but shrugged out of his jacket andhung it on the back of the bar stool.
"I'll be right back. Could I get another beer?" He turned and walked over to the bathroom.
Finally, I got to see what he was wearing on the lower half of his body; he wore a pair of khaki cargo pants and a pair of sneakers. My,oh my, he had a lovely little bum.
Bella, go into the bathroom and try to take a peek. You might get to see his little friend.
I shook my head vigorously, trying to shake that thought from my mind, and nearly gave myself whiplash in the process. I put another beer on the bar and went to check thatMr. Connolly was still breathing. I laughed quietly as quiet snores rumbled in his chest and I noticed one of the customers from the pool room heading over to the bar. The bar in the pool room only tended to be open on busy nights; today being especially quiet, it was unsurprisingly closed.
"Hey gorgeous, two more beers and your telephone number please." I think the man tried to smile sexily, but he failed and just looked rather constipated.
I ignored his second request and put two beers on the bar and waited for him to pay. Mr. Creep, however, didn't even see the drinks as his gaze was fixed straight at my chest.
Gross, gross, gross! My eyes aren't that far south, you creep.
"You won't find your money down my top, I'm afraid. I think you'll find that's what your wallet is for." I glared at him and he quickly dropped his gaze, fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a twenty dollar bill. He told me to keep the change and made his way back to the pool room; evidently he was embarrassed.
"Urgh, creep," I muttered angrily to myself as I put the money in the register. I heard a soft laugh and whirled around. Mr. Delicious was back.
"Benefits of working in a bar, I suppose. Plenty of drunk perverts staring at you," I mumbled.
"Oh, I'm sure plenty of men stare at you, regardless of where you work. Some just use beer as an excuse to do it blatantly." He raised his eyebrows and smiled that damn smile again.
"Very smooth, I bet you say that to all the girls." I had never been so thankful for being someone who didn't blush. If I did, I would no doubt be the colour of a fire engine, and that wouldn't have been a very pleasant experience.
"Only when they aren't falling at my feet and hanging off my every word, of course." He laughed and I cringed as I remembered my crazy outburst just a few minutes earlier.
I racked my brain, trying to think of a witty one-liner to come back at him with, but I was stumped. I was one of those people who came up with a brilliant response about twenty minutes too late.
Just then, Art emerged from the office looking stressed. "Sorry Edward, can we take a rain check? I've got a bit of a mess to sort with the orders." He rubbed his forehead. "How long are you in town for?"
"No biggie, Art, we're here for a gig at The Garden on Thursday night. After that, I'm a free man until Monday." I noticed he kept glancing over at me. "I'll definitely be back; things have improved since the last time I was here."
Art was puzzled. "What? I haven't done anything; nothing's changed in... oh... right...yeah." Art laughed and he looked swiftly in my direction. "So, Bella, how's Mr. C. doing? Is he still conscious?"
"Conscious, no - alive, yes. If he snores much louder, we'll get aftershocks outside." Right on cue, a loud snore ripped from the still-sleeping Mr. Connolly.
"Great customers you have here, Art," Mr. Delicious teased his friend, as both men laughed loudly.
"Well, he's harmless and he's a damn good customer. I'll be back out soon I hope. Catch you later." Art paused and threw a meaningful look towards Edward and, before he walked back into his office, winked and nodded in my direction. "You should pop back in on Friday."
"Charming," I muttered to myself. Friday nights were always heaving. Sandrine and I would be running around like headless chickens, while Art lived it up with Mr. Delicious.
"So you live in Manhattan? Where?" I was still at the far end of the bar and was surprised to see Edward had moved stools to sit bang opposite me.
"Um, yeah, it's only about a ten minute walk from here. The rent is astronomical and we can barely afford to eat, but nevermind." I smiled; the city was a great place to live - always something going on somewhere - and easy for someone to exist almost unnoticed.
"Who's we?" He frowned slightly as he looked down at his beer.
"My roommates and me."
"Roommates," he said emphasising the 'S'. "As in, more than one?"
"Two actually, Alice and Angela. They're totally crazy, both of them."
"So, you get on well, then?" he snickered.
"Oh, aren't we the comedian?" I sneered. "But yes, they're my best friends."
I knew I was lucky; obviously, Alice and I went back years and we'd met Angela on the bus to New York. She'd just qualified as a nurse and wanted to live and work in the city. We'd instantly clicked and decided to rent an apartment together.
"Speaking of friends, how do you know Art? It seemed like you know him well." I found myself staring at him intensely and couldn't bring myself to stop.
"Yeah, I've known him since high school; I grew up in the city and so did he. He's a good guy, but I suppose you know that already." He was staring back now. Unable to hold his gaze, I dropped my eyes down to my hands.
"Yeah, he's probably the most easygoing person I know. Well, apart from him, of course." I inclined my head towards the still-snoring Mr. Connolly and laughed.
The only other two customers in the bar left the pool room and headed out into the street.
"Wow, it's really happening in here tonight," Mr. Delicious said sarcastically as he glanced around the empty bar.
"It's usually like this through the week. I'm surprised Art didn't tell you to come in tomorrow night. We'll be busy Friday – I doubt he'll get much chance to talk to you if you do stop by." I pulled up a stool from under the bar and sat down. It was 10:30pm; I should be ready for leaving in about an hour, only to be up again at six in the morning for work.
Mr. Delicious laughed and actually seemed a little embarrassed; he looked sheepishly at his beer. "Yeah, well, he's the boss."
"Mmmm, I guess he is." I sighed heavily and felt my eyelids start to sag. I saw his eyes look up to mine. "You look beat."
"Yeah I am, I have to be at work every morning for seven, so I'm up at six. That includes tomorrow morning, unfortunately." I stifled a yawn and then smiled back at him. "Tuesdays and Fridays are the worst; I have to double-back."
Suddenly, I had a thought; I wasn't back here until Friday night, was that what Art had been implying when he suggested Edward come back then? I scolded myself internally for being ridiculous, but then again, he did get a little embarrassed when I brought it up. These thoughts brought Inner-Bella to the surface with a bang.
I know I said I wouldn't say it again, but I'm going to. Leap over the bar, straddle him and rip his shirt open.
A loud smash startled me and I turned to see Mr. Connolly had knocked his half-empty glass of whiskey onto the floor. The noise had not disturbed the man in the slightest and he continued to snore.
"Crap," I muttered and headed round the bar with a dustpan and mop to clean up the mess. "If screaming kids are an alternative to contraception, then this old guy would be a good deterrent for budding alcoholics."
Mr. Delicious burst out laughing and I couldn't help but join in. I busied myself clearing the floor and as usual, I forgot I wasn't alone and began talking to myself, muttering some incoherent crap about glass and drunken idiots. Remembering that the sexiest man in the world - according to Cosmo 2009 -was standing directly opposite me, I cringed in embarrassment. I looked up and he was peering down at me with a serious look on his face.
"Maybe you could be an inspiration for people with mental health problems to go and seek professional help." The serious look vanished and he smiled widely again.
I stood up and glared at him. "Look, usually it's just me and the snorasarus over there, so if I don't talk to myself it can be a pretty quiet night."
"Hey, I didn't mean to offend you – sorry." He didn't look sorry, not in the slightest.
However, I was far too busy fighting away images of him taking his clothes off to be offended. I walked back around the bar, still scowling. "For the record, I don't actually talk to myself, my inner-voice talks to me. So, technically I'm a just a lunatic." I smiled and he burst out laughing.
Art emerged once again from his office, still looking on the wrong side of stressed.
"All sorted?" Edward asked, still chuckling.
"Not by a long shot, but I've had enough for now. Rushed off your feet, Bella?" he asked sarcastically as he scanned the bar and poured himself a glass of whiskey. "Look, you might as well take off. I'll wake Mr. Connolly and close up for the night."
Nooooooohhhh! Inner-Bella flipped her lid. DO NOT LEAVE! LEAP OVER THE BAR, STRADDLE HIM and RIP HIS SHIRT OPEN. I DO NOT CARE THAT YOUR BOSS IS IN THE ROOM. THIS MAY BE YOUR LAST CHANCE.
I couldn't help but laugh to myself as I grabbed my jacket and keys from under the bar. Art was oblivious but Mr. Delicious, however, missed nothing and sarcastically asked, "Inner voices again?"
"Actually, yes, they were trying to tell me what to do."
"What were they saying, exactly?" he asked, curiosity raging on his face.
I let out a little chuckle before saying quietly to him, "Well, they wanted me to jump over the bar, straddle you and rip your shirt open."
I winked at him, laughing at his dumbfounded expression, and shouted "Goodnight, Art!" as I walked through the door.
A/N - Thank you for those who might be reading again and to anyone new I hope you liked it! I will post as often as I can so hopefully I'll be seeing you soon :D