Fan Fiction, Sex Gods and Single Girls
A/N: Time to get back to the bleachers for the second half of the unfolding scene. Double entendre probable. Infringement unlikely. Hang onto your pom-poms…
Chapter 64: Mister and Mis(s)Communication
"What are you all reading?" Bella asked again, looking from Emmett to the others huddled around Edward as she returned to the group post potty trip. She was alone, Rose having stopped to chat with friends above them in the bleachers. Jasper gave Bella a smile but the others all reacted in the same odd way to Bella's question.
There was an awkward silence as their eyes darted from her to Edward and then back, with that deer-in-the-headlights kind of expression. But it wasn't a single, solitary deer that had been caught in the headlights. It was a whole herd of deer.
Momma Deer, Poppa Deer, Baby Deer…
Best Friend Deer…
Looking at all those deer-in-the-headlights, the light bulb flickered on in Bella's head. She felt suddenly lightheaded as the guilty look on Edward's face, combined with Emmett's words, began to take on meaning.
They're all reading.
THEY'RE ALL READING?!
OH DEAR FREAKING GOD!
At the same time that Bella was in a tailspin, the world according to Edward screeched to a halt on its axis. Every nanosecond that followed seemed to play out in excruciatingly awful slow-motion and painful high-definition clarity.
Edward hadn't been prepared for Bella's sudden reappearance coinciding with Emmett's ill-timed question. His mind and mouth were slow and sluggish, mucking about in the obvious quagmire of the moment as he saw realization, disbelief, and finally hurt dawn in Bella's eyes. And though Edward might have held out a glimmer of hope for a blush, Bella didn't blush; she blanched. And blanching was bad. A blanch was way worse than a blush. Edward was filled with certain dread as he looked at her pale face, wondering if she might even faint.
"Bella…?" he said uncertainly.
Her hurt and alert eyes jerked to his face. In them he saw incredulity and dismay. Her lips were already moving silently with the very words coursing through Edward's own mind.
"Ohmygod! Ohmygod! Ohmygod!"
Confronted by this unexpected and obviously awful situation—over which he'd had no control—Edward felt a cold fist of dread clench around his heart. It became a vise-grip when Bella turned abruptly and stumbled toward the steps.
"Bella, wait!" he called, shoving his shocked sister off his lap.
"Edward, you didn't tell her?!" Emmett's incredulous voice asked.
Wasn't that fairly fucking obvious?!
"Parking lot, Edward!" Alice cried as Bella darted down the bleacher stairs.
Another point for the Fairly Fucking Obvious Team!
Edward heard one last, somewhat surprising, hissed utterance as he took off after his girl.
"Shit! Hurry, Edward!"
In all his twenty eight years, he'd never heard his mother swear. So that just made it even more fairly fucking obvious to him just how obviously fucked up the situation was. And of course he didn't need to be told to hurry—he'd begun moving after Bella in a flash—so much so that he very nearly barreled into Rose right as she returned to their row.
"Oh, jeez, Rose!" he exclaimed, pulling up just short of dousing her in her hot chocolate. They did the attempting-to-pass-each-other dance, both moving to the side only to remain in each other's way. Beyond frustrated, Edward gripped her and held her still, blurting a quick 'sorry-excuse-me' as he finally lunged past her and bounded down the steps.
He cut and weaved and 'sorry-excuse-me-ed' his way through the thick throng of football fans returning up the stairs. It was like battling against a slow-moving current of slothy salmon swimming upstream. He was tempted to just roar at them all and backhand them out of his way in his exasperation.
Finally clearing the bleachers and the bulk of the crowd, Edward spotted Bella in her light gray sweatshirt, running beyond the football field toward the school itself, obviously to the faculty parking lot, and even more obviously…away from him.
He raced after her, long legs pumping, heart pounding in his throat—though hardly from the exertion. He berated himself as he ran. He'd thought he could protect her from the upset of an awkward situation. But it obviously hadn't been a good idea to keep things from her that she deserved to know. He hadn't managed to protect her, instead he'd managed to fuck up royally.
"Bella, wait!" he shouted into the darkening night, sprinting along the track at the edge of the football field.
But she didn't wait. If anything, she picked up speed as she darted past the gym and locker rooms. But Edward was faster and he was gaining on her rapidly.
"Stop, Bella! Let me explain!" he called out as he caught sight of her again just ahead near the office.
She stopped and whirled around to face him, glaring at him as he caught up. Her eyes looked so huge and dark in her flushed face. She fought to catch her breath as she confronted him.
"Let you explain what, Edward? That they're all reading my embarrassing exposé on how we met?! I've already figured that out! It was obvious from the looks on their faces!"
With a pained moan she turned and took off running once again.
Her reaction startled him but he pursued her, reaching out as he closed the gap between them, his fingers snagging the back of her sweatshirt, pulling her to a stop as he spoke.
"Look, I know you're embarrassed…"
"Let go!" she snapped in a shaky voice, batting at his hand.
He let go, shoving his hand into his pocket and the other one into his hair. "Bella, I'm sorry. I know that was an awful way for you to find out. I should have told you…"
"This isn't embarrassing, Edward…it's…it's mortifying! They've all read it?! They all know?! Your best friend…your sister…your father and your mother, for God's sake?"
Edward hesitated, raking his fingers through his hair. "Well…uh…I'm pretty sure my dad hasn't actually…"
"Oh my god!" Bella moaned, shaking her head. "So just Alice, Emmett and your mother—that's all?! Oh, God!" She exhaled heavily, wrapping her arms around herself , and turned, marching resolutely out into the parking lot.
Edward followed her, clutching his hair, grasping at strands as he grasped at straws. "Bella, please… I know you're…surprised…that's understandable…"
She spun about to face him, her pained eyes searching his. "Surprised?! I'm shocked! I don't understand! How could you do this?"
Edward blinked, slightly confused by her question. "I was going to tell you…I just…I didn't want you to be upset…"
"Well, I am upset! I feel like the butt of an inside joke!" she snapped, staring at him in disbelief.
Edward's eyes widened at her words. He shook his head. "Bella…it's not like that. No one's making fun of you. I'm sorry. I don't know what else to say."
He felt so frustrated. He had expected her embarrassment but he hadn't expected all this anger, nor the horribly accusing look of hurt in her eyes. He wanted to just take her in his arms and hold her and tell her it wasn't really that big of a deal that they'd read it, but as he reached a tentative hand out for her, she took a step back and he dropped his arm to his side.
She took a deep shaky breath and began walking once again. "I need to go, Edward. I just…I want to go home."
He nodded unhappily and fell in step alongside her, filled with foreboding, watching her warily as he spoke. "Okay…just…let me take you; I'll drive you."
She didn't even look at him as she choked out her reply. "I can drive myself!"
"Bella, you're upset. Let me drive you home. Please."
"No. I'm fine." She fished her keys out of her purse, unlocking the truck with the remote.
Edward rolled his eyes. "You are not fine! You're upset and you shouldn't be driving!"
"Edward, I can take care of myself! I'll be fine. I just want to be alone!"
"Fine. But I'm following you to make sure you get home okay."
"Fine." Bella huffed, climbing into the Ford and slamming the door.
"Fine!" Edward snapped in frustration, although the whole situation was actually at the far-and-fucked-up end of the Fine Spectrum. He was not at all happy with himself or the idea of her driving herself.
Inside the rental truck, Bella had just buckled up and started the engine when her phone chimed. She pulled it from her purse and looked at the text on the screen.
Be safe. –E
With a sad little sound she turned off her phone, dropping it on the seat next to her as the tears began pooling.
The headlights of the Vanquish stayed right behind her the whole way home; the sleek, black car rolling to a stop on the street in front of her house as she parked. She gathered her purse and tote bag and climbed out, clutching her things against her chest and locking the truck where it stood on the driveway. She looked up as Edward came around the front end of his car, approaching her slowly, tentatively, his hands thrust into the pockets of his jeans, his apprehensive eyes focused on hers.
Bella gave him a small gesture; a simultaneous slight shake of the head and shrug of the shoulders, unable to say anything and feeling teary once again. And then she turned toward her house.
She might as well have shouted; her message was loud and clear. She didn't want anything to do with him.
Edward exhaled heavily and looked heavenward, his shoulders slumping as she walked away from him.
"Bella…" His voice was a soft plea. "You put that story out there for people to read and now you're upset they're reading it. You knew it was out of your control who would read it."
She turned, glaring at him, her mouth open in surprise. Her response was shaky. "I put it out there anonymously! If I wanted everyone you know to read it, I should be the one to tell them about it!"
Edward huffed and rolled his eyes in exasperation. She wasn't making any sense.
His eyes snapped back to her face. She was biting her lip.
"Please…don't…use my key tonight. I just…I need some time to think."
He nodded and stood there, watching helplessly as she unlocked her front door and slipped away from him.
Inside her house, Bella stood leaning against the door, hugging her purse, her tote bag, and herself as fat tears of humiliation, bewilderment and misery began rolling down her cheeks.
She just didn't understand how he could have done what he'd done. It was one thing for him to have read her story and know what she'd had to say about him. That wasn't so dreadful; he'd been there at the time those events had taken place, after all, and he'd been a party to what had happened between them. But for him to tell the people closest to him about what she'd written, and knowing they'd read everything, and were now privy to private events that weren't truly fictional, but were in fact factual…
She just wanted to curl up and die.
You are so fucking stupid, Isabella Marie! You've done this to yourself. It's all your own fault.
She heard the low, powerful rumble of Edward's car as it started up and pulled away from the curb out front. As that sound died away, she realized just how still and quiet her house was as she stood there in the dark.
She wiped her eyes and headed for the kitchen. Her shoes squeaked against the tiles as words and images shrieked through her thoughts. She kept envisioning that look on all their faces when she'd asked what they were reading. And the guilt on Edward's face when he knew she'd realized they'd been talking about her and her stupid story.
She'd known instantly. She'd said it to him. And he hadn't been able to deny it.
Bella turned on the kitchen light and set her things on the counter. Pulling her laptop from her tote, the little plastic bag of assorted contraceptive accoutrements tumbled out, spilling its contents onto the countertop. She stared at the items and felt her lip quiver. Picking up the little bag, she began hastily shoving the things back inside, trying not to think about how far off course the evening had veered from the original plan.
Grabbing the refilled little bag she walked over and opened a drawer in the kitchen. It was her miscellaneous drawer—filled with an assortment of rubber bands, batteries, tools, nails, screws and rolls of tape. She dropped her contraceptive crap in with everything else and pushed the drawer shut.
Returning to her purse, she pulled out her phone, thinking she'd call Angela, only to remember that Angela was probably in the midst of a divine weekend that included her new love interest, Ben Cheney, and very likely, some contraceptive crap of her own.
There was no way Bella could call Angela and interrupt their evening just to tell her a sob story about her stupid story. And the last thing she wanted was to hear about the nice time Angela was having with the nice man she'd met in a nice, normal way—through mutual friends at a nice end-of-summer barbecue—rather than while standing in her driveway, dressed like a home-boy, with her truck backfiring, while she shouted and gawked at his near-nudity and hung an Asshole hat on his impressive erection.
She made an agonized little groaning noise.
Who else could she talk to? Certainly not her father. His advice would likely be to head over to Edward's and spritz him in the eyes a few times with her pepper spray. Jake or Leah would both just come unglued and roll with laughter. And her mother…well, she didn't even want to think of the nonsense and suggestions her mother would likely spew.
No. There was no one else she could talk to because no one else knew the whole story about the whole story.
Nor would they ever.
Unlike Edward's inner circle.
Clutching her phone, Bella returned to the miscellaneous drawer, opened it, and tossed her phone inside. Picking up a roll of duct tape, she tore off two long pieces and replaced the roll in the drawer. Closing it, she placed the two strips of tape over the drawer, forming a giant silver X.
It was a visual reminder to leave bad enough alone, more than anything else.
That done, Bella retrieved a bottle of Tylenol PM from the cupboard above the coffeemaker and shook two pills into her hand, downing them with some water, figuring there was little chance of falling asleep unassisted that night. As an afterthought, she took out a wineglass and poured herself a little Chardonnay, to further secure some sleep for herself.
Picking up her laptop, water bottle and glass of wine, she walked toward the great room. And stopped. She stood looking at the couch where she and Edward had had their first real make-out session on Monday, bucking and thrusting against each other in their clothes as they kissed. She turned toward the living room, stopping once again when she looked at the sectional sofa there, where they'd groped and giggled about groping on Wednesday night before showering together. With a heavy sigh, she turned off the lights downstairs and headed upstairs. She pulled her bedroom door closed as she passed. She didn't dare look at the bed she'd occupied with Edward for the past three nights because she didn't want to think about his body and what he'd done to her body and all the incredible feelings she'd experienced with him that she'd never before had with…anybody.
So she moved down the hallway, entering her guest bedroom, setting water and wineglass down on the small nightstand and seating herself and her laptop on the bed. She settled back against the pillows, fired up her laptop, and opened her documents to reread her first two chapters of From Hate to Heat with new eyes. Fresh eyes. The eyes of others.
A half hour later, sleepy from the Tylenol PM and her wine chaser, Bella closed her laptop and set it onto the floor. She turned off the light and lay there in the dark, upset and on the verge of agitated sleep.
They know everything. They've known the whole evening long.
Edward read the first chapter last Friday night so he probably told them last weekend.
They've probably known since the barbecue.
They all know I'm an obsessed and crazy, man-stalking, home-invading, personal-property-peeking, factual-fan-fiction-writing nutcase-loser.
And Edward never said a word.
Emmett. He's probably been giving Edward shit for days—laughing at him, laughing with him, the both of them laughing at me.
Alice. Gah! I've been working with her all week! How will I ever face her on Monday? I'll have to call in sick. Forever. Or transfer to a different school. Or retire.
And Esme... His mom. His sweet mother. She seemed so nice and normal. She's way crazier than my mom if she can pretend to be nice and normal knowing I wrote about her son's black silk boner.
I can't believe these people.
I can't believe Edward.
Why did he do this?
Bella's eyes drooped shut as she finally dozed off.
She slept fitfully; her slumber fraught with weird imaginings and fan-fictional nightmares.
In one particularly dreadful dream she was hiding out in Edward's bedroom—trying not to be caught mid-snoop—when she heard voices downstairs. Creeping into the hallway, she listened to laughter and ribald comments lilting up from the living room below, where Edward's velvety voice was boastfully reading From Hate to Heat. Aloud. To a packed house.
Bella was groggy Saturday morning when she finally awoke, surprised to find herself dressed in the clothes she'd worn the previous day, lying atop the bed in her guest room. She was even more surprised when she looked at the clock and saw she'd been asleep for nearly twelve hours. But then she noticed the wineglass and remembered the Tylenol PM. And the reason for them. And the fitful night's sleep. And the hideous dreams about her hideous reality.
When Bella had gone inside her house that Friday evening, Edward had remained standing on her driveway, stunned at the whole fan-fiction-fiasco. After a few long moments, he finally returned to his car and drove home. Climbing out of the Vanquish, once he'd parked in his garage, he glanced across the street and saw that Bella had turned on the kitchen or great room light. He pressed the button to close the garage door and stood staring toward her house until long after the door had descended, blocking his view.
The darkened interior of his house seemed unfamiliar and unwelcoming to him when he finally entered. He realized it had been four nights since he'd spent the evening in his own house—he'd spent the past three nights at Bella's.
The thought just made him irritable and he growled in frustration.
Leaving the lights off, he walked through the great room and out to the living room, stopping in front of the window overlooking Stardust Lane.
His phone rang and he ignored it. It wasn't the right ring. But after a moment he pulled the phone from his pocket and sat down in the black leather club chair closest to the window. He ignored the missed calls and volley of texts he'd already received and typed out a text of his own.
If you want to talk, don't hesitate to call me. Doesn't matter what time. –E
He stared at the text before sending it, wondering if he should add an x and an o, but he had gotten the feeling that she didn't want his x's and o's for the time being. Or possibly ever. He clenched his jaw and dropped his forehead into his hand, sending the text off as it was.
After a few minutes, he looked at his phone once again to finally check the calls he'd received. Of course his mother had called. Twice. As had Alice and Emmett, once each, in addition to a torrent of texts. His mother had left a voicemail and so he listened to her voice, drumming his fingertips on the arm of the chair.
"Edward... It's Mom. Well, and Dad, of course. We're concerned and just hope everything is okay between you and Bella. Hopefully you two are sorting things out together right this very moment. Anyway, we just wanted to let you know we're here for you if you need us, but I guess you already know that. We love you, Edward. Bye."
He sighed. There was no reason to call. What was he supposed to say? 'Hey, it's Edward. Just calling to let you know everything's totally fucked up between Bella and me.'
He looked at the house across the street. The lights downstairs had gone out a while ago and the house sat in darkness. Bella must have gone to bed, though her bedroom—and the starlights in her window—had remained dark.
He thought of Tuesday evening, when he'd used her spare key to let himself in and had found her curled up on her bed, crying in the dark. The memory made him restless, but what could he do? He had her key, but that was a moot point—he had promised her he wouldn't use it. He wanted to call her, but was hesitant, especially if she had gone to bed. So he sent her another text instead.
I want to call you but I don't know if you're asleep. Your house is dark, so maybe so. I feel awful about what happened. I didn't mean to hurt you. I thought I could protect you by not telling you, but I should have told you everything. I want to fix this. I miss you. You are the best thing that has ever happened to me. –E
He considered telling her he loved her, but that was really something he hoped he'd have the chance to tell her in person. At some point. And so he sent the text off as it was.
He decided to send his mother a text after that because she was probably in turmoil.
Hi, Mom. Got your message. I'm trying to straighten things out. I'll keep you posted. Love you both.
Edward stood up and stretched and headed to the kitchen to pour himself two fingers of Maker's Mark. He turned out the light and returned to his post in the living room, looking at the house across the way.
His phone dinged with a text and he grabbed for it, hoping it was a reply from Bella. But it wasn't. It was Alice. Again. At least she had only sent half as many texts as Emmett. He opened it and scrolled up, reading all of her texts.
Call me. I'm so worried. –Pix
We all saw you running after her. Please call ASAP. –Pix
Edward, pick up the damn phone and call me NOW! I'm losing my mind here, you big jerk! –Alice
I meant "big jerk" in a familial, brother/sister kind of way, not in a you've-been-one-to-Bella kind of way. I feel awful and I think this is partly my fault because of something I told you—but I won't say what here—think of it as an incentive to call me and find out. –Pix
Call, dammit! Crap! This SUCKS! –Pix
Edward took a drink of his bourbon and called his sister. The phone only rang once before she answered.
"OhmygodEdward! FINALLY! I've been waiting and waiting for you to call!"
"So what happened, Edward? It's bad, isn't it?"
Edward swirled his drink in his glass. "Yeah...things are…pretty bad. I told Bella I'd been reading and corresponding with her, but like a complete idiot…I never mentioned the rest of you. Obviously she figured that out from what Emmett said."
"Oh, God…I KNEW IT! This is all my fault! When we met for lunch on Monday, I told you the important thing was to tell her about your own involvement. I didn't mean NOT to tell her about the rest of us, I just meant start with yourself first. Oh, God! I screwed everything up for you both!"
"No. No, you didn't, Alice. I knew I had to tell her about everyone. I planned on telling her tonight after we got home. It just blew up in our faces before I got the chance. But who knows? She might have been just as pissed off if I'd managed to tell her privately."
"So it was pretty bad, huh?"
"Yeah…it was awful. Way worse than when I told her about me reading the other night…"
"Okay, stop—first tell me how she reacted to that."
"Well, she was embarrassed, of course. She…uh…actually ran away from me then, too. But once we started talking, it turned out she was mostly worried that I was mad she'd written about me. I told her I wasn't—what she'd written had really happened, and she wasn't attaching our real names to it, so it didn't really matter and…in the end, things were good."
"So then what happened tonight?"
"Hell…tonight she was absolutely mortified. And just so…angry. And…hurt. She wasn't even making sense half the time. There was nothing I could say and now…I'm not so sure if she's even speaking to me anymore. This is totally fucked up."
"Well, let's dissect this. Her mortification is understandable. You have to realize that fanfiction is a weird thing in and of itself. Within the fandom, we're all fine and good. Outside of it, we feel like we have a dirty little secret to hide. Most readers don't want outsiders to know about their obsession. Same thing goes with making banners...
"That reminds me… I've got to redo the banner for From Hate to Heat because theoretically, that's YOUR ASS in the middle of it…"
"What's wrong with my ass?" Edward frowned to himself.
"Nothing, Edward. You have a nice ass… Shit. I can't believe I just said that! Oh, EWWWWWW! You're my BROTHER! Ughh!"
Edward rolled his eyes. "Just get back to what you were saying before we both throw up."
"Right. Anyway…as a fanfic WRITER, Bella is obsessed like the rest of us, but she's also putting her story and herself out there for scrutiny, AND she happens to be writing about a personal experience. Of course she assumed her pseudonym protected her—no one but you would connect her story to her—and suddenly she finds out that not only is she NOT anonymous, but everyone closest to you is reading it…
Edward suddenly sat up straight in his chair.
"...Poor Bella…of course she was mortified…"
"Wait, Alice… What did you just say?"
"I said, of course she was mor…"
"No, before that, you said…'Of course she assumed her pseudonym protected her...'"
"Oh…um…I said, of course she assumed her pseudonym protected her—no one would connect her story to her but you—and suddenly she finds out that not only is she NOT anonymous, but everyone closest to you is...'"
"Oh...fuck…" Edward exhaled quietly.
"Fuck!" he cried, slapping the arm of the black club chair.
"What, Edward? What's wrong?"
"Earlier in the evening Bella said, 'How could you do this? I feel like the butt of some inside joke.' I assumed she meant, how could I keep this a secret from her. And then later, just before she went inside her house, she said, 'I put the story out there anonymously. If I wanted everyone you know to read it, I should be the one to tell them about it.'"
He paused, giving Alice a chance to catch up, but she was right there behind him; it only took her a second.
"Oh…My…God. She's thinking YOU TOLD us to read her story?!"
"That's what it sounds like." Edward flopped back in his chair, stunned. "Shit. No wonder she was so angry at me and so hurt. She thinks I told you all. I would never do that. Why would she think that?"
"Oh my gosh… Now that you mention it, it's totally obvious! She knows YOU'VE read it and then she finds out your sister, mother and best friend are reading it?! Edward…your BEST FRIEND! Think about it! Bella would never figure a guy like EMMETT would be reading her Starfic unless you pointed him in that direction! Let me guess…you didn't think to tell her that we've been fans of hers all along?"
"No! That never even occurred to me!"
"No wonder she's angry and hurt, you big doofus! This is more than just an awkward situation because she thinks we've secretly known her thoughts on her budding relationship with you. She thinks YOU served it up to us! No wonder she feels like the butt of an inside joke! She thinks YOU sold her out! Oh…poor Bella!
Edward scrubbed his hand roughly over his face and up into his hair. "Christ… No wonder she reacted the way she did. Now I get it. Fuck…this is horrible. I've got to tell her."
"How? I thought you said she wasn't speaking to you."
"I've already sent her a couple of texts. I'll send another one. Hopefully she'll read them. Don't worry, I'll figure something out."
"Well…let me know if I can do anything to help. Oh…and call Emmett. He feels just terrible! I got five texts from him since we left the school, wondering if I'd heard from you and wanting me to call him. I think he had Rose drive the Hummer home from the game just so he could man the controls at Text Central."
"Yeah, I'll give him a call. He texted me too. Thanks for listening, Pix."
"Of course! Keep me posted, Edward. Like I said, I'm happy to help."
"All right, Alice. Talk to you soon."
Just as he ended his call, Edward's phone dinged with a new in-coming text. He looked at the screen and rolled his eyes. It was the most recent in a barrage of texts from Emmett. He scrolled back to the first one and read them in the order they'd been sent.
I am so sorry. Call me, Bro. –Em
Me and my big fucking mouth! Call me.–Em
I can admit that I am a fucking idiot. Now call me.–Em
I screwed everything up between you and Little Swan, huh? Give me a call. –Em
I can't believe you didn't tell her, Edward. Call me when you can.–Em
If you want to meet for a drink or something and talk, call me. –Em
I can pick up a 12-pack and come over to your place if you want. Let me know. –Em
Call me now or I'm coming over whether I hear from you or not. –Em
Edward placed the call, pinching the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger as he waited for Emmett to pick up.
"Yo, Edward! Christ, Bro, I have been on pins and needles since the end of half-time! You okay? How is everything?"
Edward sighed, dropping his hand back to the arm of the chair. "Everything is about as fucked up as it gets, Emmett."
"Oh, jeez… Edward, I am so fucking sorry. It's all my fault. I can't believe I did this to the two of you. I swear I looked down the bleachers to see if Bella and Rose were coming back up before I said anything; it never dawned on me they might come back across the top from the other end. I never even saw her coming, and all of a sudden, she was just right there."
"I know, Em. And it's not your fault; it's mine. I should have already told her."
"Shit, I just figured when you were talking about buying the Star-lighted site and said you'd discussed it with her, you'd probably told her about all of us reading her fics, you know?"
"Yeah. That would have been the smart thing to do, but I only told her about myself. She had no idea about the rest of you, but she sure figured it out quick. I'm pretty sure she thinks I told you all to read the story."
"Ouch. No wonder she fled. She's gotta be embarrassed out of her mind."
"Yeah, no shit." Edward dropped his head to the back of the chair, staring up at the ceiling in the dark but seeing Bella's face in his mind's eye. "I've never seen her so upset. She's embarrassed and so angry with me she doesn't even want to speak to me. She said she needs time to think, you know?"
"Oh jeez… 'time to think' is a bad thing, Bro."
"Just think about it, Numb-nuts. Think about every sit-com or romantic comedy you've ever watched. Or every romance novel you've ever read…"
"I don't read romance novels."
"Sure you do, or at least you have been—you're starring in one, Edward. Anyway, they all have two things in common: miscommunication and time to think. They go hand in hand. It always starts with a misunderstanding, and because the characters miscommunicate and aren't fully informed, they base all their thoughts and actions on their own skewed view of things. The more 'time' they have to 'think,' the more askew things get. If they never straighten things out…well, that's a tragedy. But if they figure it out…it's pure comedy. Trust me. You can quote me on this."
"Yeah, but how am I supposed to communicate with her when she doesn't want to talk to me?"
"Use everything available to you, Bro. Call her and tell her, even if it goes to voicemail. Text her. Send her an email."
"She can ignore and delete all of those things."
"Well then, send her flowers. She can't delete them. If they're delivered to her door by some third party, she'll take them. Women love flowers. Hell, it's why florist shops exist in the first place: women love flowers, men fuck up, we buy them flowers to unfuck ourselves."
Edward shook his head. "I can't send her flowers, I just sent her flowers for her first day of school on Tuesday."
"Well, how about a nice potted plant?"
"Don't be an ass. I'm not sending Bella a fucking potted plant." Edward crossed his arms over his body, stretching out his legs as he rolled his eyes. "Jesus Christ…a potted plant," he snorted.
"How about hiring a male stripper to show up at her door and sing an apology?"
"I'll be sure and do that just as soon as hell freezes over, Em."
"Okay, how about maybe a pizza, with an apology spelled out in pepperoni?"
"I already tried to apologize at the school and at her front door. She didn't want to hear it. And besides, I made her two pizzas on Tuesday for dinner."
Edward heard Emmett burst into laughter.
"I'm sorry, Bro, I don't mean to laugh; I know you're all upset, but it's just so weird that you have an actual girlfriend; someone you're buying flowers for, cooking dinner for… And you were both making goo-goo eyes at each other and hanging all over each other all evening. It was really kind of cute, Edward."
Edward closed his eyes. "Well, don't jump to conclusions about me having an actual girlfriend. Maybe I just had one. And now—after three days—that's done."
"Oh, chill out, Negative Nancy. Let me ask you this…is Little Swan high-maintenance?"
"High-maintenance?!" Edward snapped. "No! Not at all! She's completely normal and easy-going and down-to-earth. She's not high-maintenance, she's…absolutely perfect. Why would you ask that?"
"Well, if she's not high-maintenance she'll come around. You just need to find some way to get your foot in the door and talk everything out. And if she means as much to you as I'm guessing, you'll figure out how. Just do it quickly before she has too much 'time to think'."
"Maybe you're right. I hope you're right."
"I am right."
"I texted her already but maybe I'll call her…and leave a message if she doesn't pick up. Maybe I'll send an email too and I'll think of something else I could have delivered to her, like you suggested. Thanks, Em."
"Hey, no prob. Oh, and hey, I should mention, I wound up telling Rose what was going on…"
Edward sat up abruptly. "You what?!"
"Simmer down. I had to. You nearly knocked her on her ass when you bolted after Bella. Besides, Rose has her own issues and is very protective of her friends. She was worried you'd screwed Little Swan over and I had to tell her it wasn't anything like that. Don't worry. Rosie's cool; she won't talk."
"Anyway, I'll let you go so you can start hatching your master plan. Oh…and if you haven't already done so, you should get in touch with your mom and Pixie. They were both pretty upset."
"Yeah, I know. I already texted my mom and talked to Alice. Anyway, thanks again."
"Sure thing. You're smart, Edward. You'll figure something out.
"I hope so. Good night, Em."
"Take care, Bro."
Edward ended the call and pocketed his phone, sitting and looking out the window for a while at the house across the way with the rental truck parked on its driveway. He polished off his drink and took the empty glass to the kitchen for a refill, thinking about the events and conversations of the evening.
He had to convince Bella he hadn't told everyone about her story—much less to read it. And he wanted to apologize profusely for not telling her everything days ago. If he'd done that, much of this mess could have been avoided.
He began to pace, pondering Emmett's advice, muttering to himself about potted plants and pepperoni pizza and male strippers. For as goofy as he could be, Emmett truly was a people person, and much of what he'd said had made sense. Though obviously not the part about the male stripper. As he paced back toward the window, an idea began to take shape in his head. He stilled as he let the thoughts flow and form.
After a few minutes of thinking and re-thinking, he reached for his phone.
"Alice…I have an idea…but it has to be done quickly, and I need your help."
"I'm listening. Spill…"
And so he did. And after he'd shared his thoughts he waited for her response. She'd been uncharacteristically quiet the whole time.
"Alice? Do you think it's a stupid idea?"
When she finally spoke, her voice was shaky and he heard her sniffle, and it was obvious she wasn't addressing him when she finally spoke.
"Jaspy? Tissue, please?"
Edward heard a rustle of movement as he realized 'Jaspy' was Jasper and that he was there with Alice. He heard her blowing her nose before she finally replied.
"Your idea isn't stupid, Edward, it's crazy! But it's the absolute best kind of crazy! Hell, Edward, it's so sweet, I could just CRY!"
Apparently she really could cry because she was, in fact, crying again. There was another rustle and then she blew her nose a second time. As she did so, Edward heard Jasper's voice and realized Alice had the call on speaker phone.
"Thumbs up, on the idea, Edward. And if Bella's not interested…heck, I'll be your girlfriend!"
Edward heard Jasper's sudden laughter and a series of soft thumps-perhaps the sound of a pillow repeatedly striking a body and he smiled. "Well, that's good to know, Jasper. I'll keep that in mind, thanks."
He cleared his throat and addressed his sister. "Well, Alice? You think it's do-able?"
"Definitely, Edward, and of course I'll help! You know I love a good project and this is a very worthy cause. I'll do some research and get things organized. In fact, I might even have a secret weapon for 'Operation Bellybeans.' You just do your part and text me in the morning when you're on your way. Leave everything else to me!"
"Thank you, Pix. I just hope it…works, you know?" Edward raked a hand through his hair.
"I know, Edward, but I just can't see you and Bella not being together—you were made for each other."
In general, Edward had never been quite as optimistic as Alice, but it was that final thought of hers that kept coming back to him throughout the night as he tossed and turned and waited for morning.
The Vanquish rumbled up Stardust Lane shortly after eight o'clock the next morning. It was only gone for a little over an hour before it returned, pulling back up into the garage. Edward parked and climbed out, holding a backpack and the remote control for his garage door.
He was wearing old jeans and an ancient T-shirt, and he had bruise-like circles of sleeplessness beneath his eyes and the stubble of a distracted man covering his jaw.
As he walked down his driveway, he pointed the garage remote over his shoulder, shutting the door behind him. He didn't watch it descend—his eyes were focused intently across the street.
Crossing Stardust Lane, he shoved his keys and the garage remote into the backpack. Reaching into his right front pants pocket, he withdrew a second set of keys, twirling them around his finger like a gun-slinger. He pressed the alarm button on the larger key as he started up Bella's driveway, his eyes flickering to her windows as the alarm chirped and the lights flashed on the blue Ford F-150 pickup truck.
He pulled his phone from his back pocket as he climbed in, shutting the door and starting the engine. His eyes moved cautiously to the house windows once again before he backed down the driveway. He didn't see Bella and could only hope she was still sleeping. The truck sped up Stardust Lane a moment later, stopping at the top of the hill long enough for Edward to send Alice a short text.
Mission accomplished. I'm on my way. -E
Edward plugged his phone into the stereo jack then and turned up the volume as he drove off, listening to his preferred mood music...or moody music...of choice. The Kills' Future Starts Slow began blasting through the speakers.
Edward Cullen was a man on a mission. It was time for Phase Two of Operation Bellybeans.
A/N: Reviewers get a visit from Emmett, complete with potted plant and pepperoni pizza! Get him drunk and his inner male stripper appears! While you're hangin' with Em, listen to Future Starts Slow by The Kills. Stubbleward is going to listen to the whole album while he drives to an undisclosed destination. Any guesses?