A/N: Writing was the last thing on my mind while I took a little birthday vacation a few weeks back, but here we are and here comes a new chapter!
Surprisingly enough I don't have a lot to say here. There will be a bit at the end though, so check there after you read.
Thanks to everyone who is still here, and to all those who have recently joined! I hope you enjoy this ride as much as I enjoy crafting it. :)
Chapter Song: Our Lives by the Calling.
Characters belong to SM. All the good things here belong to me.
Chapter 27 – All Good Things…
I was on my way to meet Bella for a late dinner when an idea hit me.
Even though the bet was off, I had yet to return Jasper's Hamptons key to him. I knew he'd probably forgotten about it, but I didn't feel right keeping it.
I did, however, want to take Bella away for a few days after the White party. She would need some time to wind down and relax, and Jasper's place seemed like the perfect place for her to do just that.
"This is Whitlock," Jasper answered with his usual greeting. I rolled my eyes and cracked a half-smile. Someday he'd embrace the concept of using caller ID to tailor his greetings.
"This is Whitlock," I spat back sarcastically.
"If I had a nickel for every time you tried – unsuccessfully – to insult me I'd be a rich man."
"Har har har. I know you're probably busy with Alice, but I wanted to run something by you."
"Not a problem. What's up?"
"Remember when you gave me the key to the Hamptons place? Back when we had our disagreement over the bet and everything?"
"Oh yes, I remember that day very well." Jasper paused momentarily before continuing. "I hope you don't think I gave you the only key to that place. I'm a generous guy, but not that generous."
I laughed. "No, man, I would never expect you to do something like that. In all honesty, I keep planning on giving it back and then I keep forgetting." I fumbled with the buttons on my coat and cleared my throat. "Anyhow, this might be a bit much to ask, but do you think I could use the house next week? I want to take Bella out-of-town after the White party wraps so she has a chance to relax before jumping into the moving thing."
"Absolutely, man. I don't see any problem with that."
I heaved a silent sigh of relief and gave myself a fist pump. "Thanks so much, Jasper. I'll get the key back to you after we return to the city."
"You know what, don't even worry about it. Keep the key and use the house when you want. I have no problem with that as long as you give me a heads up."
I widened my eyes in surprise. "Wow, thanks. You know you don't have to do that, right?"
"I know, but really, it's the least I can do. I'm the ass that suggested that stupid bet in the first place."
"And I'm the ass who tried to keep it going even when you suggested we stop. I'd say that puts us on an even playing field." Silence followed my statement and soon became awkward.
"At the risk of sounding like a complete pussy, I'm really happy for you and Bella. I wasn't sure what would happen during that book tour."
"Neither was I." Heartfelt conversations weren't my forte, even though I'd had more than one with Bella over the course of our coupling. I decided a change of subject was in order. "Speaking of Bella, I might need to enlist you and Emmett to help with her move."
"She's not hiring movers?"
"I offered to pay for them," I explained, chuckling internally when I thought about the look of disapproval Bella gave me at my suggestion. "You know Bella. She could be the wealthiest person in the tri-state area and she'd still insist on doing everything without convenience."
"Well at least we know she'll be a good influence on you," Jasper joked.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah." I glanced down at my watch. "I should go before I'm late. The Queen of Modesty is meeting me for dinner."
"Have fun! I'll see you tomorrow at Emmett's, right?"
"Of course. The Rangers are in the playoffs now, aren't they?"
"You know it. My dad is coming too, so if you want to invite Carlisle you can."
"Sure. He'd like that." I stepped out of the car and waved the driver on. "I'll see you around seven?"
"Sounds good." We hung up and I stuffed my phone down in the pocket of my jeans. Bella stood next to the restaurant's door, puffing on an electronic cigarette and watching the people who walked by.
"Sorry I'm late." I leaned down and planted a kiss on her cheek. She smiled at me and dropped the electric stick in her purse.
"You're not late. I was just exceptionally early." She turned and pulled the restaurant door open. "After you, sir."
I leaned down and whispered in her ear. "Say that again."
"What?" She looked innocently up at me, but I could see the spark of mischief in her eye. "Sir?"
I slapped her ass playfully and laughed. "Don't tease me like that when you can't deliver."
"Who said anything about not being able to deliver?" She grabbed my hand and followed me inside. "There is a bathroom in here you know."
"A bathroom? I think we're a little classier of a couple than that," I answered once we were seated.
"Meh," she said with a shrug. "I've been known to release my inner wild child when I'm in the right mood."
"Well, by all means, please let me know if that mood ever hits." I took in my surroundings and smiled. The Old Town Bar had a certain charm to it that most establishments in Manhattan were lacking. It had been around since the late 1800s and was a speak-easy at one point. I'd heard my uncles discuss it at random family gatherings through the years, but this was the first time I'd ever experienced it myself.
"The menu isn't extravagant, but the burgers are delicious," Bella explained as the waitress made her way over. Once we'd both placed our order I decided it was a good time to ask her about going to the Hamptons.
"Eight more days and you're free from any big projects."
She sighed and smiled. "I know. Until Alice finds me another one, that is."
"What if one of your other clients wanted some of your time?"
She cocked her head to the side and arched an eyebrow. "Do you know of a specific one who's in need?"
"I just might." I rested my elbows on the table and cupped my chin with my hands. "How do you feel about taking a few days away from the city after the White party?"
"I'm open to ideas. What do you have in mind?"
"Jasper said I could use his Hamptons place anytime. I was thinking we could head out there Sunday morning and stay until Wednesday or Thursday." I saw the look of skepticism in her eyes and continued. "It's only three days and I already checked with Alice to make sure it was okay."
"How long have you been planning this?"
"It's completely spur of the moment."
Bella took a big bite of her burger and chewed it up, keeping her eyes locked with mine the entire time. "Count me in."
"Great!" I popped a few fries in my mouth and grinned.
"You know, I've never been to the Hamptons. What can I expect?"
"Well, it's the off-season, so the beaches and places like that are closed, but they do have some spas, a couple different vineyards, some bars, and shopping of course."
"The spa sounds heavenly." Bella reached across the table and squeezed my hand. "You're too good to me. You know that?"
"I do believe it's the other way around. Except you're far too good for me on top of things."
"I can't argue with that," she teased, sticking her tongue out at me. "Did you pick up your suit for the party yet?"
I nodded. "I took care of that yesterday. Let's just hope you don't have a sparkling beverage crisis during this function."
"Hey, that was Rosalie's problem, not mine!" She slapped my arm. "I was just the lucky woman who ended up having to try to fix it."
"And fix it you did – we did."
Her expression grew serious. "That was the night I realized I still wanted to try this with you."
"In that case, I'm glad it played out the way it did, cheesecake shortage and all." I flagged the waitress over so we could get our check. "We're at your place this weekend, right?"
"Do you mind stopping at my place so I can pick my stuff up?"
"Not at all." Bella pulled her electric cigarette out again while I paged the driver.
"Just think, after next month neither of us will have to make pit stops on Friday nights anymore."
"I know. It'll be so nice." She stood on her toes and pressed her lips against mine.
I wrapped my arm around her waist and pulled her close to me, realizing for what must have been the thousandth time just how lucky of a man I was.
After my conversation with Jasper I felt like the bet was one-hundred percent behind me.
Some alone time with my girl in the Hamptons loomed before me.
And my future with Bella – a future that was wide open and full of possibilities – had settled itself nicely on the distant horizon.
The week before Victoria's party was filled with complete insanity.
On Monday I accidentally deleted the file on my computer that contained the guest list for the party. Luckily I had kept a back up hard copy in the White file, but it still didn't save me from shedding sweat and tears before I stumbled upon the document.
On Tuesday I left my phone sitting on the seat in the subway.
On Wednesday the catering manager from the Waldorf called to tell me that their kitchen supplier had an outbreak of salmonella in their chicken, and as a result we'd need to make some last-minute menu changes.
On Thursday I ended up tripping while getting off the subway, landing myself in Mount Sinai with a broken wrist and wasting an entire day that could have been spent dealing with other crises.
By Friday I was dreading what the weekend would bring. Fortunately the workday passed with no major mishaps, and I crossed my fingers in hopes that my short-lived streak of luck would carry over to the party the following night.
I was exhausted when I got home from work that night. My feet hurt, my wrist had started to ache, and I wanted nothing more than to curl up in a ball and fall asleep. My Type-A personality wouldn't let me off the hook so easily, however, so I meandered into my kitchen and began making a cup of tea. Once it was ready, I grabbed a stack of papers from the counter and headed for the living room.
As I flipped through the paperwork from my landlords, a spark of excitement shot through me. This was the first step in making everything Edward and I had planned real. Despite the overwhelming sense of nervousness I continued to feel, my anticipation was growing, which also meant my eagerness to prepare everything was growing as well.
"That should do it," I said to myself, signing my name in the last marked spot. I double checked everything before stuffing the papers into a brown envelope, addressing it, and throwing on the right number of stamps.
I took a gulp of my tea and glanced over at the stack of boxes in the corner. Packing anything was going to be next to impossible with the damn wrist brace. Perhaps I'll have to take Edward up on his offer to hire movers, I thought.
I was in the process of attempting to fold one of the boxes when there was a knock at my door. Edward wasn't coming over this weekend and Rose and Alice were both busy tonight. I glanced through the peephole and was surprised when I found my boyfriend's mother staring back at me. "Esme?" I asked, pulling the door opening and moving aside so she could come in.
"I'm sorry to drop by unannounced." She set a Dean and Deluca bag down on the hall table and shrugged out of her coat. "Edward told me what happened to your wrist, and I wanted to see if you needed some help with anything around here. I even brought dinner," she said, pointing to the bag.
I smiled. "That's very thoughtful of you." She grabbed our food and made a beeline for my kitchen. I watched on as she made herself at home, flitting around the room and dishing up food. Within minutes we were seated at the table.
"Where did you get this? It's delicious," I said, gesturing to the spinach and strawberry salad in front of me.
"It comes straight from the Cullen kitchen."
"You made this?"
"I love to cook," she explained. "I'm lucky if I get ten minutes to myself when the busy season rolls around. Every second I spend in my kitchen is a second I cherish."
"Every second you spend in there is paying off." I took a giant bite of salad and closed my eyes.
"It 's not that hard to make," Esme chuckled. "And Edward would never admit this, but it's one of his favorites."
"I'll have to remember that." I winked and resumed eating. Once we were finished, Esme insisted I go relax while she cleaned up. I felt guilty just sitting around, so when she found me in the living room fifteen minutes later I was once again busy trying to assemble the moving box.
"Honey, what on earth are you doing?" Esme grabbed my good wrist and tugged at it gently. "Take a seat and let me do that for you."
"Really, you don't have to-"
She placed her index finger over my lips, hushing me. "I know I don't have to, but I want to. There's a difference." She pulled her hand back and grabbed a nearby roll of packing tape. "Besides, you and I haven't had any alone time together, and I'm dying to get to know more about the woman who caught my son's eye."
Realizing I would never win this battle, I flopped down on my love seat and tucked my legs beneath me. Esme taped up the box I'd started and assembled another five after that. I watched as she filled the empty cardboard shells with books, pictures, and other small items from the living room and dining room areas. Our conversation was pleasant and focused mostly on Edward.
"You didn't happen to bring any embarrassing baby pictures with, did you?"
Laughter filled the room. "No, but I'll mark that down for next time. I'm sure you're going to need more than one night of help getting this place ready to go."
"Your son should be the one here helping," I pointed out. "What kind of man makes his mother pack his gimp girlfriend's apartment on a Friday night?"
"The kind who has a mother who volunteers to come pack her son's gimp girlfriend's apartment on a Friday night." She stuck her tongue out at me and held up a DVD. "Jersey Shore? I expected more from you, Bella."
"We can't all be perfect," I quipped.
By the time nine thirty rolled around we had ten boxes packed and stacked against the wall.
"As much as I'd love to stay and chat – and pack, believe it or not – my husband is probably wondering where I ran off to."
I looked at the clock on the wall and my eyes grew big. "I had no idea it was this late! He's not going to be upset is he?"
"Bella, Bella, Bella." Esme reached out and patted my arm. "The Cullen men are very laid back. My husband doesn't mind if I'm gone, he just worries when I space out on communicating my whereabouts."
"Gotcha." I helped her put away the packing supplies and followed her to the door. "Thank you so much for everything, Esme. I hope you realize I fully plan on repaying you when I'm not stuck in this cast anymore."
She waved her hand dismissively. "No repaying me for anything. Although I'm never one to turn down a free cocktail…"
"Dinner and drinks it is then!" I wrapped my functional arm around her in a hug. "Thank you again."
"You're very welcome." She headed out the door, but turned around in the hall. "Edward is happier than I've seen him in a very long while. Thank you for helping him find that."
I blushed and nodded my acknowledgment. Esme stepped forward and gave me one last hug before setting off down the hall.
I found myself smiling as I locked the door and went around the apartment turning off lights and picking up odd and end objects. Esme's company was nice, even though unexpected and seemingly unnecessary to me. Of course I always thought I was fine to do everything on my own regardless of my physical health, so admitting I might need help and then accepting it when offered were big things.
When I was in bed that night, I drifted off to sleep with a smile on my face.
Soon I'd be falling asleep next to Edward.
Soon I'd be eating Esme's cooking on a regular basis.
Soon I'd be settling down and starting a new chapter of my life there in the big city.
Despite the chaos of the previous week, everything fell nicely into place when the night of the White party rolled around. The guest list was updated, the menu was successfully altered, and the hotel's grand ballroom was lavishly decorated, just as Victoria had requested.
"This is spectacular!" Alice appeared at my side, crossing her arms over her chest and taking in the sight around her. "Another perfectly executed event."
"It's not executed yet, " I reminded her. "Victoria still needs to give me her seal of approval before the guests arrive."
"Ms. Swan?" One of the hotel managers approached us.
"Would you like us to put the items for the silent auction on display now, or wait until a later time?"
I shook my head. "We're going to display them after dinner is complete."
"I'll instruct my staff to bring them out at that time."
"Thank you so much." I watched as the older gentleman barked out instructions to a group of employees.
"Bella!" I turned to find a smiling Victoria walking toward me. "Everything looks just as I pictured it! It's perfection!"
"I wouldn't go that far-"
"Well I would." Victoria squeezed me against her in a hug before turning to Alice. "I can't thank you enough for setting me up with her! You weren't lying when you said she was fabulous."
"I better be careful or her reputation will start to precede her." Alice winked at me.
"Have you ever considered branching out and doing event planning in addition to public relations?" Victoria placed a hand on her hip and cocked her head to the side.
I looked over at Alice and shrugged. "We haven't been in the industry long enough to really consider expanding."
"Oh, please!" The pretty redhead waved her hand dismissively. "A year in any industry is long enough in this city."
"It's a big venture. I'm not sure we have the time – or the assets, in all honesty – to take on such a big task right now," Alice said.
"Allow me to let you in on a little secret." Victoria gestured for the two of us to come closer to her, lowering her voice to a whisper. "I'm confident enough in your abilities that I'd loan you the capital to expand."
Alice's eyes grew wide. "You can't be serious?"
Victoria simply smiled. "Keep that thought in the back of your mind." She looked over the top of our heads and waved at someone. "Now, if you'll excuse me it looks like the guests have started to arrive."
A familiar head of blonde hair caught my eye as I watched Victoria saunter across the room. Mike waved furiously at me, looking like an idiot. I shook my head and started to head toward our table, but Alice grabbed my arm and stopped me.
"We need to discuss this when you get back from the Hamptons."
"Yes!" Her eyes sparkled with excitement. "I think she's on to something, Bell. Promise me you'll entertain the idea?"
"I promise I'll entertain the idea," I said, smiling and tugging my arm away. "Right now I'd like to get to the table before Mike's arm falls off and anyone realizes he's with us."
Alice laughed. "He's sitting with us, genius. I think they'll know."
"Then let's rescue Edward." We looked over at my boyfriend, who was sandwiched between Mike and Laurent in some awkward form of a hug. I shook my head and sighed.
"You better get your hot ass moving before he starts batting for the other team." Alice gave my behind a playful slap.
"I think he's got a pretty good contract with his current team." I winked and headed toward our friends.
"What the hell were you two gossiping about?" Mike crossed his arms over his chest and narrowed his eyes.
"Actually, we were discussing the likelihood of Edward checking out the grass on your side of the fence … if you know what I mean." Alice wiggled her eyebrows mischievously and rounded the table to where Jasper stood.
"Unless the world turns upside down and he ditches this vixen," Laurent nodded in my direction, "I don't think he'll be inspecting any grass from this pasture."
"Why are we talking about pastures?" Emmett joined the group looking confused as ever.
"We're talking about Edward being gay," Mike said matter-of-factly.
Emmett choked on his drink. "Edward is what?"
"Stop!" Edward threw his hands in the air and looked down at his feet. His cheeks were red with what I assumed to be irritation, but I could see the corner of his mouth threatening to turn up in a smile.
"Perhaps we should all take a seat," Rose suggested. "I think they'll be serving dinner soon, right Bell?"
I nodded. "Right." We arranged ourselves by couple and soon several mini conversations broke out.
"Mike is lucky Rosalie saved him," Edward whispered in my ear. "One more comment and I probably would have clocked him."
"Saved by the Smith. Who would have imagined," I joked. Edward laughed and leaned down to kiss my cheek.
"You look breathtaking tonight." My cheeks warmed with a blush.
"Thank you." His fingers trailed down my neck and over my bare shoulder. Goosebumps peppered my skin and an electric current buzzed beneath the surface.
"This party is fantastic!" Rose smiled at me from across the table. "Now I know what you've been doing every time you declined an invitation to go shopping."
"She even added sparkling grape juice to the menu for you, Pregasaurus," Alice pointed out.
"I saw that – and appreciate it." Rose winked and held up her glass. "To the end of morning sickness."
"I'll toast to that!" Emmett picked up his drink and clanked it against Rosalie's gently.
She turned and glared at him while he took a large sip. "You weren't even the sick one."
"No, but I was the one who got to hold your hair back and clean up after you on several occasions."
"Hey, that only happened twice!"
"Try three times," Emmett corrected. "One of which was at my parent's house of all places."
"You seriously kept track?" Rose swatted his arm and dropped her forehead down on his shoulder.
"You know it, baby." He ran his fingers through her hair and laughed. "And I fully intend on using the information the next time you tell me you're not here to be my mother when I'm sick."
"That's completely different!"
"He shook his head. "Nah, not really."
"Bella, tell him it's not the same."
I held my hands up and leaned back. "I call Team Switzerland in this discussion."
Rose flipped me off and stuck out her tongue. "Bitch."
I blew her a kiss and laughed while Edward and Emmett simply shook their heads. Soon after our dinner was served and the conversation slowed while we all ate.
"A little bird told me there would be dancing after dinner," Edward said when our plates were cleared.
"Is that so?" I looked over my shoulder at where the brass quintet was setting up. "I didn't know dancing was your thing."
"I've been known to have a few good moves." He brushed some hair behind my ear. "And there's still plenty of things you don't know about me. That's what makes this so exciting."
The quintet started playing the beginning of "Bohemian Rhapsody," causing both Alice and me to get excited. I stood up and grabbed Edward's hand. "C'mon, Cullen. Time to show off your moves."
I pulled Edward onto the dance floor and started shimmying around awkwardly. I never claimed to be a good dancer, and I wasn't trying to impress anyone with my moves. I just wanted to unwind and have a fun night after all the work I'd been putting in.
The song changed to "La Bamba" and soon the rest of our friends had joined us on the dance floor. I couldn't help but laugh as Edward spun me around in circles.
In that moment I wished it were possible to freeze a memory and permanently imprint every part of it in my brain.
The sounds of the quintet mingled with the sounds of my friends' laughter.
Smiles on our faces and the faces of the people at nearby tables watching us.
The feel of Edward's lips brushing against mine as he dipped me down and kissed me.
All the people who brought joy to my life were there in that moment.
Victoria might have thought the party was perfect, but I had to disagree.
It wasn't the party that made my night perfect; it was the amazing company.
"This is some party." Emmett said, joining me on the edge of the dance floor.
"Bella did good." I looked over at my friend. "Where did your date disappear to?"
"She took off to the bathroom with yours. Pregnancy bladder and all that stuff."
I laughed. "I'll never understand the group restroom break mentality."
Emmett looked out on the dance floor and took a sip of his brandy. "I haven't danced this much since my high school prom."
"I know what you mean." My eyes followed his gaze. Dinner had ended a few hours earlier and some of the guests were clearly starting to enjoy the benefits of the cash bar. A fast-paced dance song was playing and dozens of people where shimmying every which direction in front of us.
"Is this the first time you met the Ericksons?"
I nodded. "Alice's dad travels a lot, so this was the first opportunity we had to get together with them."
"They seem like a nice couple."
"Even if they weren't nice I'd still be grateful." I tipped back my beer and grinned. "I'm so far gone when it comes to their daughter that it isn't even funny."
"From the looks of it, all three of us are equally smitten." Emmett glanced back out at the dance floor where Edward was twirling Bella in circles playfully. When the dance music stopped and a slow song started up, he slipped his arms around her waist and pulled her close to him, planting a kiss on her lips and then resting his chin on top of her head contentedly.
"Did you ever think you'd be saying that?"
"Saying what? That we're all smitten?" Emmett looked over at me and I nodded. "No, I guess I never did. I was thoroughly convinced that Edward's heart was made of stone."
I couldn't help but laugh. "There was always a soft spot buried in there. It just took the right woman to unearth it."
"He's lucky Bella was willing to look past all his bullshit." Emmett took another swig off his drink and shook his head. "There aren't many women out there who would be willing to take him on as a client after his original performance, let alone enter into an actual relationship with him."
"Bella is a unique woman."
"All three of these women are unique." We both cracked up at that statement.
I nudged my friend's elbow and held my beer in the air. "To wayward bets that end up working out for the best." We clanked glasses and went back to watching Edward and Bella on the dance floor.
"I'm not sure Edward ever even looked at Jessica that way," Emmett said after a few minutes.
"From the looks of things, you and Edward didn't even need to make that bet to get her to fall for him."
I was about to respond when it happened.
"What did you just say?"
I knew who the voice belonged to before I even turned around. Of course when I did, a frightening sight greeted me.
Rosalie's cheeks were flaming red and her nostrils were doing that awkward flaring thing they always did when she got pissed. Her eyes were narrowed, her arms were crossed tightly over her chest, and if looks could kill Emmett and I would have both been dead minutes earlier.
"I asked you a question."
I cleared my throat awkwardly. "Um..."
A/N: ... did you hear that? I think it was the sound of the other shoe dropping! O_O
I'm sorry to those of you who I didn't give an answer to regarding whether or not the bet would be revealed. I've obviously known since I started writing how this was going to play out, but I didn't want to spoil it for anyone.
Now, before you start throwing things at me and chasing me through the streets with torches and pitchforks, please just trust in me. Trust in them.
THANK YOU so much to everyone who voted for Hot Commodity in the Fandom Choice Awards! The story won third place in the Best Quote and Best Friendship categories.
I do have a Facebook group where we discuss this story and my other writing. There's a lovely group of ladies there and we'd love to have some more. Send me a PM over there if you're interested. I'm Blu Eyed Cherry on that social network.
Those of you who are reading If You Only Knew are probably really ready to chase me with a torch. While I definitely won't get the story updated tomorrow, my intent is to get the next chapter up on Sunday and hopefully be able to get back into that routine moving forward. Time is very scarce these days because I picked up an extra interning shift, but I am trying to get things written.
Buckle up ... the last leg of this ride has officially begun. ;)
See you in two weeks!