A/N: Sorry for the later than usual update! I hit a bit of a roadblock, but thankfully I made it through. And wow. The response for this story since the last chapter has been absolutely amazing. Your support means so much to me. Now, however, the pressure is officially on. O_O
"True friends stab you in the front." – Oscar Wilde
I wanted to rip his fucking head off. Where did he get off speaking to me that way?
I felt the urge to punch the wall, to do something to show just how angry I felt. But I remained still, my hands balled up into fists as I counted to ten in my head to calm my nerves.
"You know," Emmett's voice disrupted my counting. "You can scream or … punch me if you want. I wouldn't mind."
"Excuse me?" I turned to him.
"To let your anger out," he explained.
I narrowed my eyes. "You wouldn't mind if I punched you right now?"
He shrugged. "I don't feel much pain."
I stared, unsure whether to roll my eyes at the pure cockiness of his statement or to chuckle at the goofy grin that had spread across his face.
"Really." He straightened and spread his arms apart. "Take a hit. Just nothing cruel – like below the belt or above the neck."
I shook my head. "Put your arms down." I smiled. "I'm not going to punch you."
"You sure?" he asked, dropping his arms to his sides. "It would make you feel better."
"It's okay," I said. "But thanks for the offer."
"Do you want to talk about it?" he asked.
I looked away from him. "No, not particularly."
"Bella," he said as if he'd been saying my name his entire life, like he knew me. "Just a second ago I thought your little head was about to explode. Now you can either hit me or talk about it. It's not healthy bottling up whatever just happened."
I typically hated it when people acted like they knew me when they didn't, but something about Emmett's affable personality made me not care he was treading in waters I would rather others avoid.
"I don't get a third option?" I asked.
Emmett thought for a second. "I guess you could scream like I suggested before, but we're in an elevator and people might hear."
I smiled as I turned to the elevator doors as they opened. "Well, then I'll have to make do with just keeping my feelings to myself like a normal person."
I stepped out of the elevator and made my way down the hall toward the conference room.
Emmett was at my heels. "Let me guess, at least. Ex-boyfriend? Terrible relationship?"
I ignored him as I opened the door to the conference room and held it open for Emmett to walk inside.
"Ladies first," he said, putting a hand on the door above my head, as he had just a few minutes ago. I blushed again as I walked inside, a habit of mine when someone held the door for me.
When I first moved to New York I declared myself completely independent. I refused to let anyone do things for me I could do myself. However, for some reason, when it came to people opening doors for me, I was still the timid 15-year old girl who blushed every two seconds.
"Really, who was that guy?" Emmett prodded.
Maybe the reason why I didn't have an urge to kick his ass was not his personality but the blaring fact that I was full foot shorter than him and a great deal smaller. Whatever it was, I found myself responding. "Ex-boyfriend. Not a terrible relationship. More like bad break-up," I said, and then corrected myself. "A horrible break-up."
He took a seat beside me. "That's always rough."
"You can say that again."
He nodded. "So," he said, clapping his hands together, "hit me."
I furrowed my eyebrows. "Didn't we do this already?"
He smiled. "No, I meant hit me with your ideas."
"Oh," I said, grinning back. I walked to the corner of the conference room where I was keeping the canister that held the blueprints. As I unrolled the blueprints I talked about the project. "After I finish my notes and we have an idea of where we're going, the firm is going to send about four other designers to help finish up the project."
He nodded. "What are your ideas so far?" he asked, positioning himself over the blueprints.
For the next few minutes, I walked him through the plans I had so far for the lobby.
After studying the building for the past three weeks, I knew that Caldwell Communications had great potential to be one of the best office buildings in Manhattan. The more I learned about the building, the more I realized what a great project it was – a portion of the lobby had high ceilings reaching to the fourth floor, we had plenty of space to work with (100,000 square feet spread over 20 floors), and the floor plan was actually quite genius when it was actually studied. My guess was whoever owned the building before Caldwell had spent so much money and energy on the actual building, the interior design of the building was sacrificed.
"Caldwell's name speaks for itself already. It developed a reputation in Los Angeles and the West Coast for placing equal importance on internal teamwork and individual clients, and they want to reflect that in these offices," I said. "That means the most important thing is the flexibility of the building. Everything should be multifunctional – we'll want private spaces and open spaces, places where people can convene, places to hold private meetings."
Emmett nodded. "Lots of opening walls and closing spaces."
"Exactly," I said. "The trick is to know which walls to open and which spaces to close. The original design of the building is actually quite fantastic." I pulled out the floor plan to one of the middle-level employee offices. "See all of this?" I asked, pointing to the areas I was talking about. "Maximum efficiency, lots of room yet lots of privacy. We're goi-"
A sharp rap on the glass surrounding the conference room interrupted me, making Emmett and me jump. I turned around to see Jasper standing at the door.
He poked his head in. "Can I talk to you for a minute, Bella?"
I stared at Jasper for a moment and then turned to Emmett. "Would you excuse me for a minute?"
"By all means." His eyebrows rose and he smirked.
My forehead crinkled at his response. What was that supposed to mean?
I debated whether I should say something back, but I knew from previous experience Emmett was the kind of person who thought what he wanted to think, regardless of what anyone said.
I put the pen I was using down on the table and walked out the conference room, closing the door behind me.
"I'm sorry about what happened upstairs," Jasper said when I turned to face him. "The relocation has had both of us on edge, and you know Edward, sometimes his emotions just take over and he says things without thinking."
I looked at my old friend and smiled a little. Apart from the tailored suit he wore, he hadn't changed much, and it was nice to feel as if I still knew him, even if I didn't.
He straightened and narrowed his eyes at me. "What?"
I shrugged. "It's just… it's nice to see you haven't changed much."
"What do you mean?"
"This is exactly what you would have done six years ago. In fact, it's exactly what you did six years ago," I said. "You're always fixing and apologizing for things you aren't responsible for. I love you for it, but it isn't necessary."
He nodded slowly. "I know, but it doesn't mean I'm not sorry for what he said."
I smiled a little, reminded of Jasper's quiet wisdom. He always did what he thought was best, and I had always admired him for it. "Thanks," I said quietly.
He smiled back for a second and then said, "Why don't you have dinner with us tonight?"
I tucked my hair behind my ear and furrowed my brow. "With you and Edward?"
"I know what you're thinking," he said, "but for the sake of both of your jobs, I think it would be a good idea."
Six years ago, one look into Jasper's eyes, and I would do anything he said – within reason, of course. But things were different now.
When I left, I told myself if I was going to follow my dreams and truly find myself I couldn't half-ass it. And that meant that I had to become my own person. I soon realized that in order to become independent and self-reliant I had to listen to what I wanted instead of doing what everyone else wanted me to do, something the old me constantly did.
"I don't think I'm ready," I said finally. "I haven't fully wrapped my mind around the fact you're both here, in the same building as I am. I need some time."
Jasper searched my face and nodded. "I understand," he said.
"Thanks," I said. "And thanks for coming down here to see me. What happened upstairs wasn't exactly the most pleasant reunion."
"Yeah." He nodded. "But it's really fantastic seeing you again, Bella. I've really missed you."
"Me too," I said honestly. "Maybe we can have dinner some other time – me and you."
He smiled. "That sounds perfect," he said. "Then, I'll see you around?"
"Yeah," I replied. "I'll see you around."
He nodded and began walking away. He had only taken few steps before stopping and facing me again. "You've changed," he said, not meanly or judgmentally but simply, as if he was stating a fact.
He didn't say anything else; he just shot me one last smile before turning and walking down the hall toward the elevators.
"He works there?" Rose asked, shocked.
I nodded. "Yeah."
"Are you still going to go through with the job?" Alice asked.
"Of course," I responded. The thought of turning the job down now that I knew Edward was working there hadn't even crossed my mind.
"Really?" she asked. "Even after all you've gone through with him?"
"Of course she's still going to take the job," said Rose quickly. I turned to her as she continued to speak. "We saw how hard you worked through school and when you were hired at Alainn Designs." She looked at me, and said firmly, "You didn't let Edward get in your way then, and you certainly can't let him get in your way now. Right?"
I smiled. "Right."
"And seeing Edward again was inevitable," Rose continued.
"What?" The smile dropped off my face.
"It was inevitable," she said. "He was your first love, and you never got closure with your relationship. You had to meet again at some point to get that closure."
Alice gasped, as if she had just reached an epiphany. "Rose is completely right!"
"No she isn't." I shook my head firmly. "I got closure."
"No you didn't! That's why you haven't been able to even look at a guy for six years. You still have feelings for Edward," Alice said as if she were finally able to put all the puzzle pieces of my confusing love life together.
"That is completely ridiculous!" I retorted. "First, I've had several relationships in the years I've known you, and I absolutely do not have feelings for Edward. Not after what he did to me. The fact that he basically ran out on me after I told him I was moving was closure enough."
"Oh really?" Rose raised an eyebrow. "From what I remember, when you first moved to the city, you tried for about three months to get in contact with him, and then you learned he moved in on your best friend at the time and they were happy together. After that, you never talked or even mentioned him since. That's not closure, Bella."
Even though she raised some good points, I refused to listen to her. Even though it was my decision to leave, the way he treated me after I told him I was moving to New York was all I needed to know to forget about him and get all the closure I needed.
Alice furrowed her eyebrows, no doubt worried about my silence, and shifted in her seat, bringing her right arm to rest on the back of the couch we were all sitting on. "Are you going to talk to him?"
"I don't know. I don't want to especially if he's going to act the way he did this morning," I said. "But I think I have to."
"Yeah," Alice agreed softly.
"What do you think you'll say?" asked Rose.
I thought about it. "I don't know. It's been six years since I've even spoken to him, and he was such a huge part of my life before. There's a lot between us. After the way he spoke to me this morning, I want to hate him, and in a way, I do. But that's not…all I feel. There's a lot to it." I finished quickly, realizing I was rambling.
Alice and Rose, from either side of me, enveloped me in a hug. "Whatever you say or do, we'll always be here," said Alice encouragingly.
I smiled and wrapped my arms around them. "Thanks," I said gratefully.
When I woke up the next morning I was resolved on speaking to Edward. I knew that if we were going to be working together, we would have to find some kind of middle ground.
I stared at my reflection in the metal of the elevator as I straightened my shoulders. I moved to push the up button, but I stopped as a familiar voice filled my ears.
"Jasper, for the last time, I have no idea where to get tickets for Billy Elliott. I know the city no more than you do."
My body tensed. Edward. I looked around frantically, hoping to find some kind of potted vegetation I could hide behind, but I saw nothing. I silently cursed, making a mental note to add some good hiding places in the lobby into the interior design.
"I knocked on your door before I left but you didn't answer." His voice was getting closer. I guessed he maybe had another few feet before turning the corner and seeing me. "Okay, okay. I'll wait for you next time before I leave. See you soon."
I braced myself as I heard him turn the corner. His footsteps stopped abruptly, and I felt every muscle in my body clench. I silently berated myself for being such a wuss before I finally took a deep breath and turned around.
Edward stood motionless, his hand still holding his phone to his ear. After a brief moment, he suddenly cleared his throat as he pocketed his cell phone, and he took a few steps toward me.
God, he looked better than I remembered. The shock of seeing him yesterday morning had passed, and I found myself really looking at him for the first time.
The years had definitely taken a toll on him. However, it wasn't just the suit he wore that made him appear older as it had with Jasper. Edward was more refined, more composed, and he had an air of maturity about him that was definitely not there before. I noted he had finally given up on the hair gel he used to slather in his hair every morning, and he looked taller than I remembered.
Even during the beginning of our sophomore year of college, I still saw him as the 15-year-old I fell in love with. Now, any trace of the teenager seemed to be gone, replaced by an adult who had a career and a grown-up life.
That was the point of my leaving after all. It was about following my dreams, but it was also because we both needed to grow up and find out who we were as people.
And as I looked into the deep green eyes I had known so well, I knew we had both achieved exactly that.
"Hey," he greeted as he stopped a few inches away from me.
I smiled. "Hi."
He looked down at his feet for a moment before glancing back up at me. "Look, I'm really sorry about the way I acted yesterday," he said. "I let my feelings get the better of me, and I shouldn't have."
We were both silent.
"The way I feel shouldn't affect our business relationship," he said. His green eyes met mine, and I had to remind myself to breathe. "It won't happen again."
He waited for me to speak. But what could I say? What did I want to say? I had absolutely no idea, and I found myself saying the first thing that came to mind. "Okay."
I winced as I realized that okay was not the right thing to say in this situation. The side of Edward's mouth pulled into a smirk and one of his eyebrows rose. "Okay?"
"Yeah," I said, finding some confidence within myself as I forced more volume in my voice and tilted my chin up, challenging him to mock me again. "Okay."
He smiled at me and nodded. "Okay."
I moved to press the up button and waited for the elevator to arrive. When it did, I quickly walked inside a few paces in front of Edward. I pressed the button for 15 and I turned to him as he entered the elevator, "Twenty?" He nodded, and I pressed the corresponding button.
I leaned against the back wall as the elevator doors slid closed.
I turned to glance at Edward but snapped my eyes forward again as he turned to look at me. I felt my cheeks and neck flush, and I tried to ignore the sudden fluttering in my stomach.
He cleared his throat loudly and turned to the front again as the elevator began to move.
A tense silence followed, interrupted when the elevator dinged at my designated floor. Before I walked out, I turned to smile and nod at him and was surprised to see him smile politely back at me.
"I'll see you around?" I asked.
He nodded. "I'll see you around."
I kept my gaze on him for one more second before stepping out of the elevator. And as the doors slid shut behind me, I smiled to myself.
Maybe civility wouldn't be too hard to achieve after all.
A/N: So a lot of background into Bella. I know you guys will be awaiting the next chapter to get into the confusing head of Edward, and we'll find out a lot about him. He had quite a drastic change from the last chapter to this one, and I hope the next chapter will explain most of your questions about him.
Also, as I'm sure you have noticed, my knowledge of interior designs and the goings on in the public relations world is limited to what I find on the internet. I hope you all can forgive me for any nonsense-type things I write pertaining to their jobs. :)
Again, thank you so much to everyone who has reviewed/alerted/favorited! You guys are absolutely awesome. Seriously, thank you so much, and I hope you all liked this chapter!
As always, thanks to my fantastic prereader EmilyMasen and my magnificent beta AskTheMagic8Ball. I would be lost without the both of you.
Thanks again for reading! And Happy Labor Day weekend!