Thanks for your patience with the slow review replies this week – apparently FFN has fixed the glitch, so I should be back on schedule. Hope everyone who celebrated had a wonderful and restful holiday!
I could not have written this story without my amazing prereaders, BookishQua and Twilover76. I'm also incredibly lucky to have Detochkina as my beta - she even worked this chapter in early since she's on vacation. Thanks so much to all of them! They're wonderful authors all, so be sure to check out their stories if you haven't already.
And… characters belong to SM. Oh, well.
"Jasper, did you get the mail?" I called impatiently as I barged through the door. Jazz's bike was out front and the mail wasn't in the box outside. I was expecting a very important letter from a certain city inspector, and it turned out I wasn't very good at waiting. After scanning the entryway, I still didn't see where he might have laid the stack of letters that was guaranteed to be eighty percent junk, so I moved into the kitchen to check there.
"Jasper?" I called again, starting to get irritated. There was no pile of letters on the counter, and I glanced in the dining room to see that nothing was on the coffee table either. "Jazz! Where are you?"
Storming through the house, I noticed that the door to the music room was shut, so I peeked inside to find Jazz fiddling with his guitar and wearing a pair of headphones hooked up to his amp. I waved to get his attention and he moved the headphones to his neck. "Hey man, what's up?"
"Did you get the mail?" I asked.
"Yeah, I did," Jazz answered, moving to replace his headphones.
"Wait!" I cried. "Where the fuck did you put it?"
"Put what?" he asked, but the mischievous look on his face told me he knew exactly what I was talking about.
"Fuck you, dude." I strode over to the wall, unplugged the amp, and held the cord up in the air. "Where… is… the… mail?"
Jasper smiled. "I put it on your desk, man. It looked like there might have been something important in the stack."
"Oh yeah? Anything from the City Office?"
"No, I think it was from Publisher's Clearing House. You're a finalist, or some shit. Congrats, Eddie!" he said with a laugh. "Make sure you remember your friends when you make it big."
I tossed the power cord at him and flipped him off, leaving him to his music. Hurrying down the hall to my office, I dove for the pile of paper on my desk. I tossed aside credit card applications and coupons until I saw what I'd been waiting for in a crisp, official-looking white envelope. Glancing back to make sure Jazz wasn't watching me, I ran my fingers reverently over the city logo before carefully opening the envelope and drawing out the paper inside.
Dear Mr. Cullen,
Thank you for your cooperation with the City of Seattle…
I scanned the paragraphs quickly to get to the part I needed to see. Even though I was pretty sure everything was fine, I let out a sigh of relief when I read that my citation was closed for good. I laid the paper carefully on my desk and kicked back in my chair to consider my next move.
Obviously, one of the first orders of business had to be getting Bella's phone number, but what would I say beyond 'Um, go out with me please?' I pulled out my phone and ran my hand over the screen, thinking for a while before pulling up a contact number I'd never thought I'd call.
Rose picked up after just one ring. "I'm still at the garage, and I don't know where Emmett is. Just call his cell back and leave a message," she said in place of a greeting.
I sighed. "Actually, Rose, I was calling to talk to you. Got a minute?"
She was silent for a few beats. "Sure, Edward," she said. "What's up?"
"Well, you know at the party the other night… and you said… um…" I floundered and trailed off, hoping she'd fill in the blank.
"Yes, I remember the party, Edward. What do you want?" She was clearly enjoying my discomfort.
"I want to ask Bella out," I forced out. Damn, if I couldn't say the words to Rosalie, how would I say them when I had Bella on the phone?
"Okay, good for you." Rosalie laughed. "And?"
"And… I need your help to plan a nice date," I said, exasperated with how stupid I felt.
"Why Edward, I'd love to." I could almost hear her grin through the phone. "I'm almost done here, can I just come over in half an hour or so?"
"Come over? We can't just do this over the phone?" I said, annoyed.
"No, it's too important. Why don't you call the deli on Third and order some sandwiches? I'll pick them up on my way. Order me a chicken salad on wheat, with the baked potato chips and a giant pickle," she said, with an air of authority I didn't want to question.
"Sure, whatever," I grumbled, hanging up the phone.
I wandered to the kitchen and paged through our collection of take-out menus until I found the deli Rose requested. At the last minute, I decided I'd better get a sandwich for Jasper, too, then added one for Emmett just in case he showed up. I also ordered an assortment of chips, some potato salad and cookies, and paid for it all with my credit card so that Rose couldn't complain about picking up the tab.
I had half an hour to kill, so I flipped on the Xbox, but when I couldn't pick a game to get into I gave up and went back to the office. Shuffling random papers and intermittently glancing out the window kept me busy until I saw Rose's red BMW convertible pull up to the curb. I opened the door to meet her on the porch, struggling with a giant bag of food.
"Jeez, Edward, did you order enough food to last the rest of the week?" she asked.
I shrugged and took the bag from her, heading into the kitchen. "I just got a few extra sandwiches for Jasper, and in case Emmett shows up."
Rose looked at me, eyebrow arched. "You know, you're really thoughtful when you're not being a complete prick. That can only help us here."
I reached for the stack of heavy-duty paper plates Jazz and I usually used, and started unpacking the food. We had accumulated an impressive selection of mismatched dishes in our cupboard, but we preferred to minimize the need to wash dishes by using disposable most of the time.
Just as I was considering whether I felt like running to the music room to tell Jazz there was food, he ambled into the kitchen and his eyes lit up at the sight of the deli bag. "Oh, sweet, is that an extra roast beef?"
I tossed him the sandwich and slid him a plate, and the kitchen fell silent as we scooped potato salad and dug in. Rose set the last sandwich aside. "Emmett called me on my way here, so he's coming over too. He can entertain Jasper while you and I talk."
Jasper perked up. "What are you two chatting about?"
"Nothing," I said quickly.
"Oh, really?" he asked, swallowing a bite of his sandwich and grinning wide. "This wouldn't have anything to do with a letter you got today, would it?"
"Nope, I don't know what you're talking about," I said emphatically. "And even if I did, I wouldn't want any information to get back to anyone through your girlfriend."
Jasper looked appropriately chagrined. "Yeah, you're right. I'm going to take this and go finish up in the music room, and then head over to Alice's." He grabbed his plate and added a few cookies. "Thanks for dinner, man," he called over his shoulder on his way out the door.
Rose sat down on one of the barstools pulled up to the countertop, directly across from where I was leaning, eating my sandwich. She moved her plate to the side and got out a small notepad and a blue pen from her bag. "So, should we get started?"
I shook my head at her. "You're really serious about this, huh?"
She smiled. "You asked for my help, and I take my job seriously. I figure, after how badly you fucked this up in the beginning, you owe it to this woman to sweep her off her feet."
"I guess I didn't think of it that way," I mumbled, running my hand through my hair from the stress.
Rosalie waved her pen in the air to get my attention again. "Don't worry about that right now. Somehow it seems like she's willing to go out with you, right?"
"Well, then we'll just plan a fabulous date so she'll forget all about what an asshole you were," she said with a bright smile. She cleared her throat, then started again, "So, the way I see it, you've spent some time with her already, right?"
I nodded again. So far this was pretty easy.
She stared at me for a moment, as if assessing the need for any input from me, then continued, "This seems more like a second date to me. There's not as much risk, because you're pretty sure you like spending time with her, right?"
The way Rose was looking at me expectantly, I didn't think I could get away with nodding a third time. "Right," I said simply and flashed her a charming smile.
She rolled her eyes at me in return. "Do you expect me to just plan this whole thing with no input from you?"
I wasn't sure what answer she wanted to hear. "Um… yes?"
She picked a grape from the edge of her chicken salad sandwich and threw it at me, leaving a smear of mayonnaise behind as it bounced off my forehead. "What the hell?" I yelled, rubbing my face with a napkin.
"Wrong answer," she said sternly. "I'm here to help you, but you've got to do some of the planning too. Just think of it as part of your penance," she smirked.
I suppressed a sigh, as to not piss off Rose any further. "Okay, fine. So where do we start?"
Rose tapped her pen against her pursed lips a few times, thinking. "What's your goal with this date, Edward?" Before I could answer, her hand flew up in front of my face. "If you say 'sex,' I'm kicking you in the nuts," she warned.
I thought about messing with her, but reconsidered when I saw her pointy shoes; so I shook my head innocently instead. "I wouldn't say that, Rose." Even if it was a little bit true, I wasn't about to admit it to her. "I just… I want to get to know her a little more, spend some time with her and have some fun." It was mostly the truth and sounded very honorable.
She looked at me like she could hear the less chivalrous thoughts I was keeping to myself. "Well, the ideal get-to-know-you date is at a place that's kind of quiet to talk and learn more about each other, but you have something to do in case the conversation lulls." She paused for a moment. "Can you think of anywhere that fits that description? It adds a nice personal touch if you take her to one of your favorite places, because that shows that you trust her and want to tell her more about you, too."
I stared at her, floored for a moment. It made sense, but I'd never thought that deeply into things before. Who knew girls analyzed that shit? I shook my head to focus. "Um… I don't know. I like the beach and the Sound, I guess. Discovery Park?"
Rose was already nodding. "I can see that. There's lots of options, with the beach, or hiking trails, or the lighthouse. How would you feel about a picnic?"
"That sounds good, but I don't really know what she likes." Besides chocolate mousse, anyway… and my brain wandered into sensual territory as I remembered Bella's lips on my neck in the restaurant.
"Whoa, I know that look. Don't make me throw another grape," Rosalie threatened, and I snapped back to the present. "So, maybe you go pick up food first… hey, how about going to Pike Place market? Parking is a pain in the ass, and it's kind of touristy, but it's still fun. You could get some bread and cheese, and fruit or whatever, but let her pick. You'll have to start your date mid-morning, then," she noted.
I shrugged. "That's fine with me. I guess all I can do is ask her, right?"
Rose was getting excited. "And then you can go have a picnic, and play it by ear – maybe take a walk, explore a little. If you're really charming, you can take her to dinner too. But pick out someplace close to the park and casual, so she doesn't feel like she needs to change clothes."
"Sure, sounds good," I agreed.
"And bring a blanket for the picnic, and a basket with some napkins and stuff," she continued.
"Okay," I agreed.
"And go scope out picnic areas beforehand, so you know what you're doing the day of the date. And compliment her on how she looks, without sexual innuendos. You know that, right?" She frowned at me. "Why aren't you taking notes? I'm giving you gold here."
"All right, damn it, give me your pen." I reached for her blue ballpoint and the notebook she had yet to write in, and started taking notes as she ran through the plan again.
Just as we were finishing up, Emmett barged in the door and gave Rose an enthusiastic kiss hello. I distracted him with a meatball sub before the kiss could escalate further, and he added a mountain of potato salad and four cookies to his plate.
"So how's the plan coming?" he asked, before stuffing an inhumanly large bite of sandwich into his mouth.
"I think it's great," Rose said. "She's going to love it, Edward."
I certainly hoped so. Now I actually had to get her to agree to go out with me. Which reminded me…
"Rose, can you give me Bella's number?" I asked, sheepish.
She chuckled but pulled out her phone and wrote the number on the notepad. "There you go. Now she just has to say yes," she teased.
"Thanks," I said sincerely. I was still nervous, but at least with Rose's plan I had a shot.
"Oh, and Edward? One more thing," Rose said, rolling her eyes at the speed at which Emmett's sandwich was disappearing. "Not that this should even enter your head for a few more dates, but… do you still sleep on that old couch?"
"Yeah…" I said, not seeing the connection. "What? It's comfortable, and I don't really need anything else."
"Well, you might want to think about buying a grown-up bed. In case, you know... you ever want Bella to sleep over. Just think about it, okay?"
The thought of Bella in my bed gave my brain lots of new fantasy material. I raced through scenarios and positions, and suddenly buying a bed sounded like a very good idea indeed. "Yeah, I will. Thanks, Rose," I said distractedly.
Emmett grinned proudly at Rosalie and pulled her closer. "Way to go, baby. Now if you could just fix Edward's problem with his lying evil almost-stepmother, his life would be pretty damn perfect."
I scowled, yanked from the vision of Bella by Emmett's reminder of the fucked-up situation I still had to deal with. I'd filed a motion to force Victoria to take a pregnancy test, but so far her lawyers were delaying with some emotional distress bullshit. She was probably trying to figure out how she could cheat on it, or maybe she was tracking down some pregnant urine so she could use one of those drug-test beating gizmos.
Rose looked at me and sighed. "Way to go, Emmett. I had him happy and psyched up to call Bella, and now he's getting all emo again."
"I'm not emo," I protested. "Victoria just pisses me off, is all."
"With good reason, dude," Emmett said comfortingly. "She's a first-class lying bitch. I wish I could say something to James and get him to turn her in or something, but he's just as slimy as she is, and he technically works for the subcontractor so I can't threaten to fire him."
"He should be worried, though. Isn't he like an accessory to all this, if he knows and doesn't say anything?" Rose said.
"Yeah, but that's hard to prove, as long as he's not directly involved with the extortion," I said, pondering the possibilities.
"Emmett, how smart is this guy?" Rose queried.
He shrugged. "I don't know, average, I guess. Seems like he pretty much does what he's told." Looking at the smile spreading across his fiancée's face, he broke into a grin himself. "Why, baby? Do you have a brilliant idea?"
"As a matter of fact…" Rose smiled.
About an hour later, we had a solid plan, as long as Jasper was willing to play the part we'd drafted for him. I was feeling a little antsy to get my date with Bella planned for real.
Rosalie caught me fiddling with the notebook and staring longingly at the phone number it contained, and she chuckled. "Go, call her. We've got this in the bag now," she said.
"Damn right we do, baby," Emmett said as he leaned in to kiss her. "You're so smart, have I told you that? I mean, you hooked up with me, so that's a good sign of intelligence already, but seriously. You should have been a rocket scientist, I think."
Rose laughed and kissed him back, and soon it seemed like they were anxious to head home. I waved them out with one more thanks to Rose for her help.
I closed the door and leaned against it with a heavy sigh. Gathering my courage, I walked back over to the kitchen counter where the notebook lay open with Bella's phone number displayed. I dialed the numbers slowly, saved the number, and pressed the little green button to send the call. Holding my breath, the phone rang twice, and then…
"Hello?" a sweet voice answered.
"Hi, um… Bella?" I asked.
"Yes, who's this?" she asked politely but firmly.
"Oh sorry, it's Edward," I said, feeling foolish that I hadn't started with that.
"Hey, Edward," she said, sounding happy to hear from me.
"Hi," I replied.
After a few beats of silence, I realized I should probably say something else, and fast. "So I was calling because… I got my letter, and now I have a question for you."
"Oh… really?" Bella said, sounding a bit disappointed. "Wasn't my office number on the letter? Wait… how did you get this number, anyway?"
"Uh… Rose gave it to me. I hope that's okay, I mean. If you want, I can delete it and call you back at your office," I offered, pounding my fist on my forehead. How could I have gotten this so wrong already?
"No, no!" she said quickly. "This is completely fine. What's your question about the letter?"
"The letter? I don't have a question about the letter," I replied, confused. Replaying the conversation back in my head, I understood her confusion. "Sorry, I didn't mean that I had a question about the letter. Just a question for you." I shook my head at myself, feeling horribly rusty at all of this.
I sighed but tried to keep my exhale away from the phone so she couldn't hear. "So, now that my case is closed out, I was hoping… we could go out sometime."
"Oh," was all she said, and I had no idea if that was a good thing or a bad thing.
I waited for her to keep talking, but nothing came. "So…" I led, hoping she'd say yes and put me out of my misery.
"You said you had a question?" She was teasing me now, I could hear it in her voice, and it made me smile. She must have taken lessons from Rosalie and Jasper, because apparently it was 'mess with Edward' day.
"Why yes, I do," I said, taking the fact that she hadn't hung up on me as a positive sign. "Will you go out with me?"
"Yes, Edward. I'd like that," she replied demurely.
I grinned wide and fist-pumped. "Soon?" I followed up.
"Sure," she said. "When were you thinking?"
"How about Saturday?" I asked. "Are you free starting around ten-thirty?"
"In the morning?" She seemed surprised.
"Yeah, is that okay? I made some plans, but they're flexible."
"Sure, that sounds nice," she replied. "What kind of plans?"
I pondered a moment. "I actually think they should be a surprise."
"As long as you promise you're not taking me trolling for junk," she teased.
"Scout's honor," I said, holding my hand up even though she couldn't see it.
"I have a hard time seeing you as a boy scout." Bella laughed, and I smiled wider at the sound.
"All right, you got me," I confessed. "I wasn't a boy scout. Is that a deal-breaker for a date with you?"
"Hmmm… I guess not. It wasn't on my list, anyway," she reminded me. "But I do need to know how to dress," she reminded me.
"How to dress?"
"Yes, Edward. What do you want me to wear for this date of ours?" she asked, her tone a lethal blend of sensuality and innocence.
I gulped, suddenly picturing Bella wearing as little as possible. However, I thought that answer might jeopardize my chances of actually seeing her naked at some point, so I cleared my throat to make sure my voice didn't squeak before I responded. "Whatever makes you comfortable, Bella," I said.
I heard her take a deep breath. "So, jeans? Casual?" She pressed for clarification.
I pouted a bit as my imaginary Bella started putting more clothes on, but comforted myself with the fact that her jeans were almost guaranteed to make her ass look phenomenal. "Jeans would be perfect," I said.
"All right, then. I'll see you at ten-thirty on Saturday. Do you want me to come there, or…" she trailed off, no doubt feeling a bit awkward being seen at my house.
"No, I'll pick you up. Is that okay? I could get the address from Jasper…" I wanted to drive, but I didn't want to invade her privacy.
"Sure," she said shyly. "I'm looking forward to it."
"See you then, Bella."
"See you then," she said. There was an awkward pause while we both wondered who should say goodbye first. "Well, goodbye, Edward. Thanks for calling," she added softly.
"Yeah, you're welcome, I mean… goodbye, Bella."
She giggled, and the sound warmed my whole body. "Bye," she whispered, and the call ended.
I stood frozen for a minute or two, staring at my phone with an idiotic grin. The stillness was palpable, and I was suddenly aware of how alone I was in the house. I was all amped up for my date, but I had nothing to do and no one to do it with, so I grabbed my keys and decided to head to Discovery Park to scout out the perfect picnic location.
I walked around the park until I found a hill, which was a little off the beaten path, but not too far of a hike from the car. The grassy surface gave way to a rocky beach, and I figured if things were going well we could play around there for a while, or walk around the rest of the park. The lighthouse was close enough to walk to, and looked like a spot just made for a romantic date out of a cheesy chick-flick. Which was sort of what I was going for, but better.
I wandered the park for a while more, then headed back to my car. All through my walk, thoughts of being in bed with Bella wouldn't leave my mind, so I headed to the furniture store where we'd bought the recliners before.
The store must have been slow that evening, because the salespeople descended like vultures as soon as I entered. A guy in an uncomfortably starched blue button-down shirt was the first to shake my hand, and the other two turned away in disappointment.
"Hey there, how are you this fine evening?" he asked with false warmth. "I'm Riley."
"Hi, Riley," I said, matching his enthusiasm but laying it on thicker. My mind was already racing with ways I could mess with this guy. I could ask him which headboard would hold up to multiple pairs of handcuffs, or how well bodily fluids would clean off a leather couch, or… I forced myself to focus on the task at hand. Which was buying a bed. Although, if Bella was into it, the handcuff thing might not be a bad idea.
"And you are?" he asked, since I'd missed his obvious social cue to introduce myself.
"I'm… looking for a bed," I deflected. Maybe I was just being obstinate, but I didn't want to tell this douchebag my name if I didn't have to.
Riley's pasted-on smile faltered for a moment but returned even brighter. "Right this way, sir. Do you know what type of mattress you're looking for? We have a variety of types, traditional innerspring mattresses, memory foam, or air filled. What are you sleeping on right now?"
"I sleep on an old couch, actually," I answered with plenty of zeal in my voice, and resisted the urge to laugh as Riley's face fell again. I could almost see him mentally readjusting his potential commission and debating if he should have left me to one of his less speedy colleagues.
"Oh… well." He stumbled over his words but maintained his slick salesman tone. "Do you have an idea of what you'd like to switch to? Or we could just start by trying out the different types, and going from there," he suggested.
"Brilliant, Riley!" I exclaimed. "Let's do that!"
I sat experimentally on the first mattress I saw and gave it a few test bounces. It seemed just fine, so I moved to the one across the aisle and did the same thing. It felt exactly the same, and I actually looked again to make sure I hadn't just moved to the other side of the same bed. The price tags showed a $300 difference, though - I was stumped.
My confusion must have been evident on my face, because Riley piped up again with his schmaltzy sales pitch. "These are all variations of a traditional innerspring mattress, so there are a lot of differences as far as firmness, pillow-top, coil count – here, let me show you." He reached for a cut-away mattress that showed all the innards, under the mistaken impression that I actually gave a fuck what all his fancy mattress words meant.
I held up my hand before he could launch into the history of sleep or something. I'd seen enough torn-up mattresses in my junk hunting days to realize what they were made of. "Well, Riley, that's absolutely fascinating," I emphasized the word so much that even the obtuse salesman had to hear the sarcastic italics. "But really I'm just looking for the most comfortable bed you've got." If Bella would ever spend the night, I wanted something quality that would be restful for her after a long day of inspections. And it had to be a king-size, so we had plenty of room for spectacular sex.
Riley chuckled in a way that made me want to punch him. "Comfort is a very subjective thing, Mr…" he trailed off, hoping I'd fill in my name, but this time I just ignored him.
I found that usually the best stuff came with the highest price tags, so I bypassed the aisle I was currently in and skipped ahead to the more expensive stuff. Riley was still caught up in his teaching aid, so I left him behind, but he quickly tossed it and jogged to catch up.
"These are some of our higher end products," he said, as though I couldn't read the price tags. I rolled my eyes and sat down on one to check it out. "You can feel free to lay down if you want, take it for a real test drive," Riley encouraged with a new light in his eyes now that I was in the expensive section.
Settling into the mattress, I had to acknowledge that this one felt different. It seemed to be made out of some weird foam stuff, and it didn't bounce much at all. I thought it could be really comfortable to sleep on, but would it be distracting during sex? I debated asking Riley, but he didn't seem like the type to get laid a lot.
After trying out several different beds, I settled on the most expensive of the normal kind, since I couldn't try out my sex moves on the foam in front of the whole store. I also got a simple but sturdy headboard and frame, and I subtly rattled the slats to see if they'd hold up to handcuffs or a nice silk scarf, since it never hurt to be prepared. Riley was kind enough to inform me that for a little extra, everything could be delivered the next day, and I decided to go for it. Not that I expected to need it soon, but still, better safe than sorry.
After I finished up with the salesman and walked away leaving his final handshake hanging, I went to the nearest department store and picked out some sheets and a comforter. I had no clue what the numbers on the sheets really meant, but I figured I couldn't go wrong by choosing the most expensive ones.
A saleswoman was watching me from a distance, but I tried to look like I knew what I was doing and she kept her distance. For the color, I chose a manly slate gray, with a dark gray and blue striped comforter. As an afterthought, I grabbed some pillows and threw them in the cart.
I drove home and hauled the multiple bags up to my room, setting them to the side so there was plenty of space when the bed was delivered. Stripping down to my boxers and a t-shirt, I sank down onto my couch with a happy sigh. I'd miss sleeping on my couch, but the dreams I had of Bella in my bed would definitely make the upgrade worthwhile.
Oh, Edward… getting a little ahead of yourself? ;) I'd love to hear from you, and I answer all reviews, so drop me a line! If you want to chat on Twitter, I'm mamabean30 over there.
Thanks for reading!