Part V

Alice wasn't pleased to see her friend walk through the door around midnight. She was wide awake and lounging on the couch with a book in hand, the TV on low, and the stereo playing holiday music all at once. It was just how Alice worked.

She tossed her book aside and said, "Bells, what the heck are you doing here?"

Bella was methodically taking off hat and scarf and unbuttoning her coat. "I live here?"

Alice wasn't amused by this obvious answer. "I mean, where's Edward?"

"At his place. Where he lives. I'm sorry, were you going to throw a party while I was out? Otherwise I'll be getting ready for bed. Good night—"

"Hold up!" Alice leaped from the couch, throwing the blanket aside. Several inches shorter and very petite, she still managed to block Bella from escaping to her bedroom. "I figured you guys would be out all night—or in." She crowed over her own joke.

Bella flushed and stepped around her. "We're not ready for that yet. Honestly, Al... It's only been two dates, if they can even be called dates." Edward was apparently too nice and respectful to seduce her in any obvious way, but she made sure to keep that last thought to herself.

She didn't hear from him at all the following morning, and decided a movie matinee with Alice was just the thing to take her mind off of the lack of correspondence. Usually he at least said good morning, and by the afternoon she felt that something was truly wrong.

She invited Rosalie and her husband, Emmett, along to the theater. Alice chose the movie, since she was the most opinionated about the choices available. It was a nice way to pass a Sunday afternoon. In the evening, unable to resist any longer, she sent Edward a message.

Hope you had as much of a relaxing Sunday as I did. Thanks again for yesterday.

Monday morning started out terribly. There were no new messages from him—anywhere. She checked and re-checked all of their cyber platforms, in case she missed one. The disappointment was bruising.

Then again, maybe his pride was bruised. What she thought was a pleasant Saturday night could've been him smoothing away their intimate moment on the steps. Did he secretly feel rejected? If that was the case, she didn't blame him for wanting to keep his distance; empathetically, she would be doing the same. But perhaps he wasn't thinking about it at all. It was difficult to tell with Edward. Distracted by her stormy thoughts, she missed Jenks' supervisory glares.

Somehow she'd gotten through the day in a blur of gloom and confusion. But Rosalie had had enough of it. "Just call him."

"Maybe he didn't contact me because he's busy. And if he's busy, my call would bother him."

"And if he's not busy..."

"Then he doesn't want to talk to me anymore."

That was an unbearable thought to her. She had enjoyed their discussions so much over the last couple of weeks. A day and a half of no communication was odd for their relationship. Ever since his first email, they talked everyday, even if it was short or about nothing important. She had gotten attached to him in her life.

She picked up the phone and called his cell phone. It went straight to voicemail, which wasn't helpful to her need for immediate answers. She tried his office. It would be her last attempt. She wasn't going to bark up every tree.

"NewMoon Creative, this is the office of Edward Cullen, may I help you?" said a reedy feminine voice.

"Can I speak to Edward, please?"

"He's not in today. You want to leave a message?"

Bella smiled at the tone that sounded like her grandmother saying: You want me to put on tea? And shut the door behind you to keep out the cold!

"No. I'm a friend and hadn't heard from him so I was just checking if he was around... Is this Phyllis?"

"Yes. And you are?"

"Bella. Bella Swan."

"Poor Edward is out sick today. Did you try his cell phone?" she asked, trying to be helpful.

She told Phyllis she had tried that, and confirmed that she didn't want to leave a message, she was sure Edward would contact her when he was feeling better, thank you for the help, and have a nice holiday.

At the end of her work day she could only picture a deathly ill Edward sprawled helplessly in bed, drawing shuddering breaths that rattled the silent darkness of his bedroom. No one with Christian charity could ignore that image.

His apartment building had a doorman. The uniformed man was nice enough, but she saw him as an obstacle. That was, until she gave him her name.

"Bella Swan, you're on the list. Go right up. Elevators are on your right, eleventh floor."


What list? She had no idea what he'd meant by that, but was too concerned about Edward to hang around and discuss it. The building itself was very nice with a side of weird. The lobby featured dark, polished furnishings with gaudy brass accents, perfect lighting, and garishly patterned carpet.

Edward answered the door sluggishly in response to her few loud knocks. He didn't look as terrible as she had imagined he would. His normal complexion took on a gray undertone and his hair was a notch messier than its usual windblown state. His heavy, tired eyes animated slightly when he saw her in the doorway.

"Hey, Bella." He gave her a weak smile. Then the realization rushed into his face. "You must've been worried. Sorry I didn't call. I was unwell—"

"Am," Bella corrected, inviting herself in. "Am unwell. Don't stand here to explain. Back in bed, please. I already feel guilty enough making you answer the door. There should be rentable butlers for this kind of thing."

His chuckling cut off with a sharp hiss. He rubbed his temples while they made their way down the hall. He fell onto his bed, groaned, and turned his face into one of his pillows, mumbling.

"What?" she said.

He turned from the pillow a fraction. "I said you're loud. Here you are, blowing up the migraine in my head..."

So the polite greetings had turned into crankiness. Bella ignored his weak complaints (and the moodiness behind them) and pulled the blanket up to his neck. He was already drifting off toward unconsciousness, his tense shoulders relaxing and his breathing deepening.

A bottle of Excedrin and a half-full glass of water was on his nightstand. There seemed to be nothing she could do to help him.

This certainly explained his absolute lack of communication. The brightness of a computer monitor would be as bad as daggers stabbing his cranium.

Renee had experienced her share of migraines; from what Bella understood, they were agonizing. Her mother would shroud the bedroom in complete darkness while she and Charlie tiptoed around the house for a couple of days. Renee had asked for ice packs, she suddenly remembered. But Edward didn't have those watery gel packs her mother used. She put together a pack with a Ziploc bag filled with ice and wrapped it in a kitchen towel.

After she tucked it between his forehead and the pillow, she closed the door softly behind her and went to scope out her food options in his kitchen. She set her purse and coat on the breakfast nook, stepped out of her flats to keep the noise down, and went to the refrigerator. It was stocked with the essentials and a few other treats. She put together a sandwich for her dinner, chewing and observing her surroundings.

It was a nice apartment, but not ostentatious. Right away she could tell he liked the place for its numerous windows. He probably kept them all open in the spring and summer. Only three actually gave a decent view of the city below. The rest overlooked less interesting areas, including the building next door. The place was clean in the ways that really mattered. Clutter lived here, in piles of books, records and CDs, and in the overabundance of outdoor equipment he had clearly brought home from work.

Tired of looking at all the lifeless things, she picked up a newspaper on the counter and opened it to read. When that ceased to be entertaining, she went to check on him.

He was right where she'd left him, sprawled in the same exact position. She crawled into his full-size bed and slipped under the blanket. It seemed like the only reasonable thing to do. What if he worsened overnight? And she'd missed him terribly.

It was still early in the evening, but the day's worries had worn her out. She felt the weight of them push down on her even as his presence comforted her. It felt natural to just settle in against him, welcoming sleep. The sheets smelled like him; it was a lovely scent that was entirely Edward.

It was dark when her eyes opened sometime later. She didn't know what had woken her. Inside, everything was still, but she could hear the city's usual nighttime buzz, a mere echo of the chaos it was during the day. Edward was curled behind her. His breathing was deep and even. His arm had moved to her side, his hand resting just below her hip. His forehead was pressed between her shoulder blades and she could feel the cool intake and puffs of hot exhales of his breath down her back.

She was afraid to move, but wanted to know what time it was. In stiff, restrained movements she stretched her neck out to peer at the glowing numbers of the digital clock on his nightstand. Three fifty-two.

She sighed and laid her head back down. The movement caused him to stir, and he tightened his unconscious grip on her. Instantly her pulse throbbed loudly to her ears. He wouldn't be mad that she'd stayed the night, but would this level of intimacy be okay with him? She felt his hand brushed down her leg. On a deep inhale he turned his face farther in the curve of her shoulder and the pillow. Then he jerked minutely, brushing the ends of her hair away from where they tickled his face. His hand returned to the spot on her leg, as if it was meant to be there.

She tried to go back to sleep, and had almost reached the thoughtless, weightless black of it when he moved again. Her skin came to life. He didn't know how his breath made her neck tingle, made her body long for more. She wanted so badly to turn around in his arms, gently kiss him awake, and feel how well his body fit with hers. She wanted to dissolve in his warmth, wanted his lips to move over her... Thinking about it in dreamy detail, she fell back asleep.

She awoke again as soon as the sun had risen and hadn't gotten nearly enough sleep due to her restless impulses. Quietly, she crept out of his apartment and back to her own for a quick shower and fresh change of clothes. It was miraculous that she had eluded Alice and her inevitable questions about where she'd been.

She was at work when she received a message from him.

I had the strangest dream you were in my doorway last night.

Her body was still missing his warm, hard presence.

That wasn't a dream.

Did we...?

Bella could practically see his wicked one-sided grin and animated eyes burning into her with humorous mischief. She fired off a question to his question.

What else happened in the dream?

Twenty minutes passed before she got a reply, and the single sentence made her face burn all the way up to her ears. And all the way down...

I better not say or it won't come true.

When she could think clearly again, she asked him, Are you sure this isn't just a concussion masquerading as a migraine? Their fall on the ice had felt more like a crash, though she hadn't been exposed to the full impact of it.

Nope, it's genuine. This is what happens to me from time to time, because my brain is quite large and very active.

That made her laugh out loud, much to Jenks' dismay. She was relieved that he sounded like his normal self.

During the afternoon lag—he knew her schedule well enough by now to know when her office was slow—he called to ask her if she was free again on Saturday night. He wanted to try a new restaurant that opened in the West Village.

"But Saturday is Christmas Eve," she said gently. "Aren't you going to your family's ski lodge?"

"I leave on Christmas Day," he answered readily. "I stay there until New Year's."

"Oh. That's a long time," she said, trying to keep the sullenness out of her voice. She wished she could see his face right now. Would he miss her, too? She remembered the feel of his hand resting on her hip, and her face flushed into the phone.

"Yeah." There was a pause. "Would you want to come? It'll be your chance to try skiing for the first time. I'm an excellent teacher."

She laughed nervously, and then grew doubtful. "You're just being nice. It wouldn't be right for me to crash your family tradition."

"You wouldn't be."

She paused. "Maybe. I already agreed to go with Alice to her family's gathering." She knew that Alice wouldn't care if she changed her plans, but Bella wasn't as impulsive as Edward. She needed time to think over the invitation.

She could almost hear him shrugging. "Okay, just let me know. Was that a yes for Saturday?"


"Dress nicely," he added, and hung up.

It wasn't a matter of going through her closet and making a hard decision about what she'd select for Saturday. She knew what she had to do. Besides, how many occasions were there to wear a Versace dress? In her life, not many. Edward had told her she looked beautiful in it, and she couldn't resist choosing the symbol that brought them together.

She'd done her best with her appearance. She cut her shower time short to shave and lotion up until her skin softly shimmered. Hair was blown out to a shiny mass, makeup was applied only to accentuate the features she liked, and she'd eaten a light lunch earlier.

Alice had left yesterday with a packed bag to see her family in Connecticut. Bella found herself completely alone in her apartment for the first time in a while. It was a good thing Alice agreed to stay on as a permanent roommate or she would go crazy in the silence she had once cherished. Things change.

Things certainly had changed.

A sick anxiety filled her at the thought of skiing, especially for the first time in front of Edward's family. The sun's blinding reflection off the slippery slopes, high speeds, thickly padded gear that prevented comfortable movement. She could still back out and spend the holiday on her own. Watching movie marathons, drinking herself silly, baking cookies and finishing that book she'd put aside too many times.

And, of course, missing Edward.

If she could survive a week of skiing, she might be crazy enough to suggest a camping trip to him. Baby steps, she reminded herself. Her ice-skating experience that ended in a crash was still fresh in her mind, but Edward had easily laughed off her embarrassment.

He was always so patient with her. She loved his quick mind and sexy one-sided grin. She would willingly take his good humor and bad moods, their long conversations and companionable silences. She knew that he would give her some adventure, while she would persuade him to relax more. Who knows? She might even be able to bring out an occasional lazy side of Edward, one filled with comfort and kisses.

Ever since they first connected, they seemed to always be attached 24/7, but without suffocating each other. She'd never had such an easy connection with someone. It was the start of something good.

These thoughts kept her mind occupied as she went down to the subway to grab the 6 down and cross over to the L. She walked a few blocks, slowly, keeping her eyes peeled for the restaurant.

New York was truly a city that never slept. People were out and about on Christmas Eve, inside its many restaurants and bars, and strolling around on the streets. Some spilled from houses hosting large parties. Taxis went back and forth. The weather was clear, the dark heavy clouds sitting stationary above, but the air was frosty. Her cheeks felt numb-red.

On the corner ahead, lights glowed from within the building, and a murmuring buzz of voices could be heard. Outside, the scent of cooking filled the air. It was the restaurant where she was to meet Edward, a quiet establishment in a little neighborhood.

A shop window gave her pause. It was decked out with wrapped gifts in between the mannequins that were dressed in beautiful, slinky dresses, and white lights bordered the window. She would never look at a dress the same way again. It was so amazing that lifeless fashionable fabric could lead to the most incredible crossing of paths.

She hadn't noticed Edward standing beside her, even as his form left a blurry dark shape in the window's reflection. It was startling when he greeted her softly, but she was happy to see him.

His usual friendliness was guarded. His pale complexion mixed with nighttime shadows made his angled features look stark, but his eyes glimmered warmly.

"Is your migraine coming back?" she asked.

He shook his head with a forced smile. "Looking ill is not a good prelude to what I was just about to do."

Her first instinct was to laugh, but she managed to hold it back. All she could do was stare up at him, waiting for him to explain.

"I was going to wait," he continued, his voice sounding tight and a little strange. This level of nervousness was unusual for him. "But when I saw you standing here by yourself...looking beautiful..."

The air seemed to trap itself in her lungs. It took her a few distracted moments to focus her attention on what it was that he held in his raised hand. It was a shopping bag.

He looked uneasy. "I know you don't like surprises."

She didn't have a clue. "What is it?"

"Hiking boots."

Bella had never felt so unenthusiastic about a gift. Beneath her surprise, she did her best to muster a grateful smile. But her mind was quickly clouded with worry. "Does that mean we aren't going out to eat after all?"

He laughed and caught her around the waist, pulling her body close to him. "Don't look so scared." He grew serious, looking down at her lips. "If it's okay, I'm going to kiss you. Not because it's Christmas, but because—"

Bella took the conversation into her own hands—lips. This, she wasn't afraid of. She'd wanted to kiss him for a while; the urge to felt so strong that it almost hurt not to.

It was pure, raw pleasure, a surge of warmth. The heat of it began to work its way from the inside out. It dragged desire up and flowed into the arms that she hugged around his neck. It made his lips work against hers, and gentleness turned to approval and rose to enjoyment.

Breathless from it, he looked down at her. "Bella, you should know that I'm falling for you and have been ever since you told me to get on the cool bandwagon with hot chocolate. It was completely unexpected, and it made me want to...know you. When you flaunted this dress at me, and kept in contact with me, it pulled me in. Even with your sarcastic remarks, you've got this ingenuous klutzy side that is absolutely...beautiful." He loosened his vise grip on her waist. "Are you still with me, Bella?"

"Yes. I heard everything." Her eyes felt wet, but she wasn't sad. He could see that his words affected her deeply—the emotion moved across her face and composed itself into a blooming smile. "But you still never answered my question. About dinner."

"Let's go to dinner. The boots are for later. I know this great spot that overlooks the city. But I figured your heels would hurt getting there..."

He started toward the restaurant. She put a hand to his cheek, turning him back to her. She'd never felt so weightless and floating. "Edward, I like you, too. I was worried that telling you would freak you out."

"Well, we've been stalking each other over a mistakenly delivered package. I don't think it gets much freakier than that."

"What if..." He was so good humored, she just had to try and ruffle him. "What if I'm downright in love with you?"

For the second and last time in their acquaintance, Edward Cullen was struck speechless. There was a soft intensity in his expression. She reached up on her toes and kissed the shock away from his parted mouth, smiling into it. In a moment of regained senses, he cupped her face and the kiss deepened into grateful need and the hope of promises. They were missing their dinner reservation, but neither of them cared.

I hope you enjoyed it. :)

The idea for it was based on a true story. I did get a mystery package in the mail last Christmas. It was a Versace dress. But that's where the similarities ended. It was an ebay order mix-up, which took me a week to figure out after accusing some clueless relatives.

Thanks to dollegirl for her encouragement aka when we both said "THIS SHOULD BE A FIC" and to kimpy0464 for coming through with her beta magic.

I have an outtake of Bella and Edward's future in the works... If it turns out how I want it to, then I'll post it. Thanks for reading!