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Chapter Eight

"Hi, honey," he said with a careful grin.

"You're not Alice," I started by saying the obvious.

"I see that the alcohol didn't destroy all your brain cells."

"Yes. I mean, no. I mean… I don't know what I mean. You are here. You're not in Tokyo."

"Why would I be in Tokyo?" he asked, raising one eyebrow. He had sexy eyebrows. Wait, can people have sexy eyebrows? I was definitely focusing on the wrong things here.

I didn't say anything, but held the door open for him and stepped aside. He walked in and then turned around when I closed the door. I took a breath before turning as well. Looking at him was difficult for some unknown reason.

"Hi." Oh good start, Bella.

"Hi." He looked at me and smiled.

I couldn't yet comprehend that he was here, in my living room. This guy I had been talking to every day in the past month. The one I had spent all day thinking about, hoping he'd call or text just so I'd be sure we were okay. He made me pathetic that way. And now here he was and all I wanted to do was sort of climb him until I could hide my face in his hair. Which would be totally inappropriate. So instead I went with awkward and distant.

"So, how's the weather outside?"

He frowned.

"Seriously, that's what you're going with?" he asked me.

"Well I don't know what to say in situations like this, and it felt pretty cold outside to me, so I thought I'd start with that."

"Yes, it is cold outside. And what exact situations are you referring to?"

"Oh, you know, to those situations where the guy you accidentally dated once, talked to a thousand times and then drunkenly called and texted, shows up on your doorstep when you were actually thinking you would probably never hear from him again after blabbering something about orange eggs." At that point, I was out of breath.

"Would you be upset if you had never heard from me again?" He wore a serious expression on his face, so I didn't dare to make a joke.

I looked into his eyes when I said, "yes."

"Then I made the right decision." He apparently saw that was all the serious talk I could handle right now and started looking around our living room. That's when he spotted our magnificent wall art.

"Do not tell me that is a poster of Justin Bieber."

"Would that make you leave already?"

"You're not getting rid of me that easily. Although, this is pretty disturbing."

"I know it is. Alice put it up when she was trying to convince this Indian exchange student he was her brother. She never took it down after that, though. I suspect she secretly crushes on him a little."

"Why is he wearing eyeliner?"

"Because I think it makes him look even more biebelicious."

Edward looked as if I came from another planet which, honestly, could very well be true.

"Do you want to help me cook?" I asked him, convinced that if we had something to do, it would take my mind off the only question I wanted to ask: why are you here?

"You put your guests right to work. I like it. What are we making?"

"Lasagna. You can cut vegetables, and I can make the sauce."

We went to work, and I was surprised that it was just as easy as talking to him on the phone. We worked together as if we did it every day. He moved around in the kitchen, searching and finding a cutting board, and it felt like he had been there a million times before. I told him about the dancing and shaking we did the night before and my very recently invented game of bottles. He told me about a weird guy he sat next to during his flight to Chicago and the conversation he had with his mom about the movie he was going to do with Jasper. It was definite now.

"It was you, you know. You helped me clear my mind. So, thank you."

"I think you were going to do it, regardless. But, you're welcome."

I didn't know what else to say. Luckily an intense discussion on the appropriate amount of cheese on top of the lasagna diverted the attention. However, with our dinner in the oven, we needed something else to do. I offered to show him the rest of our apartment, which was basically, well, my bedroom. Yeah, I fell right into that one.

I was standing in my doorway, watching him while he was looking around my bedroom. It wasn't a very big room. My bed took up a huge part of it I had a small desk, which was stuffed with… things, and a book case filled with books on photography and some on psychology.

"Are you studying again?" he asked while his fingers glided over book covers.

"No. Well, I'm just reading that stuff, so I feel I have more than just my own experience to base my work for the support group on. And it's actually really interesting to read."

"You could take classes as well. Get a degree or something."

"Maybe. I don't know, I already have a degree. In public governance," I answered his questioning look. "It feels kind of —I don't know, useless to start another study. Like then I wouldn't have made any use of all those years at university. You know?"

I lied down on my bed; the fatigue from staying up late dancing and drinking was starting to catch up on me. Edward sat down beside me.

"Maybe not everything needs to have a specific use or goal. Maybe it's okay if you choose a different direction now. And hey, it's not like all that public governance knowledge is helping you serve drinks and food, right?" He said with a wink. "Bella, if you feel the work you're doing with kids at this center is something you're good at, and you believe studying would make you even better, you should just try it."

I moved to lie on my side, hands propped up beneath my cheek, and I looked at him. He was looking down at me. He told me the same things Alice and my dad had been telling me, more or less. But for the first time when it came to this topic, I answered with the truth.

"I'm afraid I can't do it," I said quietly, not knowing if he heard me, and not knowing if I wanted him to.

He moved his body so he was lying next to me, facing me. We were close, and even though no parts of us were touching, this felt like the most intimate we'd ever been.

"You're smart. You already studied once, which means you can do it again," he stated with a furrowed eyebrow. I shrugged. "You can write and read, I know that for sure," he teased, probably referring to our texting. "So what makes you think you can't do it?" It was a good question.

"I don't have any concentration skills, like none. Since my mother died, it's like it is too hard to focus on one thing. There's this feeling of unrest that makes me switch channels all the time when I'm watching TV, and I get distracted by the littlest things when I'm working on something. I haven't read a book in almost two years," I confessed. "Sometimes I worry that I'll never get it back, you know, the ability to concentrate and to think clearly."

He better not make a stupid joke; this was one of my biggest fears.

"I think you'll get it back. That's not something you can lose forever. Maybe it's just on a temporary leave. It might be something you can train though, you know? Like, start the studying, but do it slowly. You can be like the slowest student in class, the one everyone thinks is pretty dumb and underestimates. And then BAM! You get the highest grade."

I smiled at him, again surprised at how at ease he made me feel.

"In the meantime, I just want you to know I have mad reading aloud skills. You know, in case you want to make use of them."

"Really? That sounds perfect. It's like we're almost a match made in heaven." I stuck out my tongue and he laughed. I grabbed the book that was on my nightstand, a thriller that I'd been trying to read. I got as far as page 2.

"Here, this one. The lasagna will take an hour anyway," I told him.

And that's how I got a real-life Edward Cullen performance. He wasn't kidding about his mad reading aloud skills. He did different voices, paused when it got scary, and whispered when secrets were revealed. He drew me in completely, and I loved every second of it. He really got into it as well; it was amazing to see the different expressions crossing his face as the story developed and the characters did crazy things. Why is there always someone that proposes to split the group up when walking around in an empty, dark building? Seriously.

Our bubble was rudely popped when two things happened at the same time. The oven buzzed, which meant our lasagna was ready. But more important, and more noisily, Alice came home stomping and cursing. Uh-oh, it sounded like she didn't have a good day. I looked up at Edward with scared eyes. Partly because the main character in our book was just grabbed by an arm that appeared from out of nowhere (probably regretting that splitting up earlier), and partly because Edward was going to meet my best friend. Which, you know, would make things a little more real. Plus, Alice could, well, take some getting used to.

When I tried to get up, I noticed how during the story I crawled toward Edward. Apparently my arm had made its way across his stomach, while his was behind my shoulders. We were so friendly. Yeah right.

I sat up and turned toward him.

"Ready to meet my friend?" I asked hesitantly. Hiding out here was not an option. I was hungry.

"Sure," he said without any hint of doubt. He had no idea what he was getting himself into. Really, no idea.

I opened the door and saw Alice with her back to me standing in front of the opened fridge. The doors to our bedrooms were at the opposite wall of the kitchen.

"Hey, Ali, there's…" I began.

"Bella!" She interrupted without looking back. I stepped into the living room, motioning for Edward to do the same.

"Do you know what she made me do today? I swear to you she gets crazier every fucking day. She has this insane idea that ladybugs will be the new thing. She wants to develop a line based on the patterns of their wings. Can you believe that? But, whatever, okay. I can get on board with that. Then, though, she asked me to 'go fetch' her a few of them, so we can use them as an example. And with a few, she meant 30. I had to go to the park, wearing my Jimmy Choos, Bella; my perfect, beautiful, new, high-heeled shoes, and walk through plants and bushes and mud to find those damn god-awful bugs that are so freaking small," she just ranted on, not turning around, not noticing me and Edward laughing as soundlessly as we could.

The picture in my head of a pissed, cursing and almost tripping Alice in the park was so hilarious, she was going to make me pee my pants. In the meantime she was throwing things out of the fridge into the blender, making one of her smoothies that were not made for drinking, if you asked me.

"The worst thing was that when you look for a bug, you know what else you find? Other bugs! And you know how fucking scared I am of spiders, B," she went on. She closed the fridge, and started looking for the lid of our blender. "So, when I started screaming after a spider crawled on my arm while I got stuck on a thorn bush and couldn't move, even the homeless person on a bench nearby was looking at me with pity in his eyes. Seriously, can you believe that shit?" She turned around, finally, about to push the button on the blender. At the same time though, she saw Edward, screamed "Shit!" again, and forgot to keep the lid firmly put on the blender. Our ceiling was now covered in green drab. Yummy. Some of it dripped down in Alice's hair. I couldn't hold it in anymore and doubled over, laughing so hard. Edward took this as a sign that it was okay to laugh and let out a booming laugh, clutching his stomach.

"Oh God." I hiccupped. "You were in the park, with the shoes and the spiders, and…" I had to breathe because laughing and talking were depriving me of oxygen. With one hand I clutched Edward's arm, otherwise I would definitely have fallen. "And— and now, you have green stuff in your hair." My voice ended in a high pitch. It set Edward and me both off again. Alice was not amused, however. I tried to get a grip, attempting to stand straight again without the need for support.

"I'm sorry that happened to you Alice, but I love you for being so crazy funny." I couldn't hide the smile. She looked a little friendlier already. "So, eh, yeah this is Edward." I gave him a little push, so he stumbled a little toward Alice. He was on his own now; I did my part of the introduction, right? He stepped forward, still chuckling, and put out his hand.

"Hi, Alice, it's really nice to meet you. You look lovely, even with the green hair and the cracks in your dress." What a charmer. But he was good. Alice was definitely melting.

She rolled her shoulders back, stood up straight and looked him in the eye with all the dignity she could find. I knew her. She wasn't going to feel bad about herself just because someone famous heard her embarrassing story. Alice was cool like that.

"Hi, Edward, it's nice to meet you, too. I wish I could say you look lovely as well, but, frankly, you look a little dissatisfied. Which, I have to tell you, is definitely not my fault. I've been trying to convince Bells here to try some hot, steamy phone sex." And, there it was: payback. She smirked at me.

"Ali, be nice," I said with my stern voice.

"Oh come on. I was kidding. Edward knows. Right?" she asked him. He just nodded, apparently rendered speechless by the combination of the words phone and sex.

I decided ignorance was the best policy in this case. "You wanna join us for dinner? Lasagna is in the oven and ready."

"Definitely. Let me take a shower real quick."

Dinner was actually a pleasant event. Alice behaved nicely after the phone sex incident. The lasagna tasted good, and a glass of wine loosened us all up a little. Edward and Alice bonded over her telling embarrassing stories about me. How nice. I even felt safe enough to leave them alone for a little while so I could call my dad, which I always did on Sundays. When I got back to the living room, they were doing the dishes and Edward was telling her a story about Jasper, and how he could certainly use some of Alice's fashion advice.

"I'm serious. He sincerely believes that dressing like a cowboy counts as formal dressing. And I'm not talking about just a pair of boots. No, he has a hat, too. The craziest thing is that he gets offended when I refuse to be seen in public with him looking like that Woody guy from Toy Story."

"Well, just bring him along next time, and I'll give him some style. Although I should warn you, I may allow him to keep the hat."

"Alice has a thing for cowboys," I added.

They turned around, not having heard me enter the room.

"Everything ok with your dad?" Edward asked me. Alice smiled, knowing how many points he just scored by asking that question.

"Yes, he sounded good. He just got back from some kind of hiking trip with friends, which had been fun. Hey, you guys almost finished cleaning up already."

"Yes, we work fast. I'm heading to bed now though. This day was exhausting," Alice said. She put away the last plate and hung the towel over a chair. "Goodnight, guys, and sleep well. Or you know —do other stuff well," she said with a wink.

This made me realize that I had no idea where Edward planned on sleeping. I walked toward my bedroom on autopilot, and he followed me in there. I looked at my bed, and then back to him.

"Say, friend, where are you sleeping anyway?"

He kind of looked nervous, while lifting his hand to grip the back of his neck. With his face lowered, he glanced apprehensively at me.

"Well, when I decided to go to the airport, it was kind of an impulsive thing. I didn't pack any stuff or whatever, and I forgot to book a room or hotel. I'm sorry, but I should have told you earlier. I just really wasn't thinking about it until, well, now." Since he was looking genuinely distressed, I found myself wanting to reassure him that there was no need to worry.

"It's okay, Edward, really. Just spend the night here. It's no big deal. Right?"

"No, of course not," he answered. Looking at my bed, he mumbled, "no big deal at all."

"So, you really don't have anything with you? No PJ's?" I felt my face heating up, a blush creeping on my cheeks. In some kind of a weird way, Edward seemed to lose his awkwardness when I found mine.

"Actually, Bella, I normally don't wear any PJ's, just a pair of boxers." He was smirking. I knew it without even looking at him.

"Yeah, no. You're wearing a t-shirt." I started going through my closet, looking for a shirt big enough for him.

"What, afraid you can't keep your hands to yourself when I'm lying half naked next to you?"

"Oh, don't you get cocky, and just wear this." I threw some sports shirt at him and fled into the bathroom. He didn't need to see any more blushes from me. I heard him snickering when I closed the door. After using the toilet and washing my face, I put on some shorts and a tank top. It was a little too revealing and should be enough to wipe that smirk right of his face. I opened the bathroom door and saw him sitting on the edge of my bed, still wearing his pants, but he already changed shirts.

"I have an extra toothbrush if you want to use one," I informed him. He wasn't listening though, because apparently my legs were too distracting. When his eyes travelled higher, they got stuck again somewhere around my boobs. Hell yeah, it was my time to smirk.

"Edward, are you okay?" I feigned worry.

His eyes shot up to my face and he looked a little flustered. Serves him right.

"I asked if you wanted to use a toothbrush, but you seemed really out of it," I said with all the seriousness I could muster. He totally sensed my little game of pretending, and suddenly a look of determination appeared in his eyes that made me a little worried on what to expect next.

While looking me straight in the eyes, he started unbuttoning his jeans. God, please do not let it be boxer briefs, for I will not survive such temptation.

Revealing slightly loose-fitting black boxers, he threw his jeans out of the way, and walked toward me. "A toothbrush would be lovely."

After giving him one, we stood in silence beside each other, brushing our teeth. Tension was flowing around us until my small bathroom just didn't seem to be able to contain it anymore. I quickly rinsed my mouth, put my toothbrush back in the cup, and slipped into the bedroom and into my bed. Feelings of panic surfaced and I realized I was getting too close to crossing the carefully set friendship line. This was not the time for crossing, I knew, although when Edward turned off the bathroom light and crossed the room toward the bed, I wanted to erase that line altogether. He got under the covers too, and then there was silence. And it was not good.

I felt like I needed to do something to break not only the silence, but also the tension. I knew it was there. He had to know too. I hated that uncomfortable feeling. We could be fun, relaxed, natural. But at that moment we were none of those things, and I knew damn well where this leading to: me making a fool out of myself.

"We're not doing any kind of sex related activities, here, tonight, in my bed. I just thought you should know that. So you can stop with the whole I'm-oozing-sex-appeal-out-of-every-pore-of-my-body -thing, cause I'm not responding to it. No, sir. And it doesn't matter that maybe some parts of me want to respond in a very non-friendly way that would involve a lot less clothes than we're wearing now. You know why it doesn't matter? Because we are friends, and friends maybe sleep in the same bed but they sure as hell do not sleep together. So, yeah…," I said lamely, clearly not knowing how to end this little speech. He was silent, and I couldn't blame him for that. Still, I needed to hear what he was thinking about all this, more than I needed chocolate covered Oreo's when I was PMSing. "Is there anything you would like to comment on?"

I felt him turn and looked to my left. He was lying on his side, looking at me doubtfully. The wheels were turning in his head, I could see it. He was going to tell me that I was crazy, that he didn't feel any sexual tension at all, that he didn't even want to be more than friends on any level.

He opened his mouth but closed it again after two seconds.

Oh but it could be worse of course. What if Edward didn't even want to be friends anymore? What if he finally saw that I was just some weird girl that was going to make him wait for God knows how long? I swallowed, not sure if I was ready to take the blow.

"What if we weren't friends?"

There it was: the blow.

"You don't want to be friends anymore?" I said with a voice that was quivering way more than I would've liked to admit. I sounded like a six year old that got thrown out of the sandpit by her friend.

The doubt in his eyes turned into frustration. He suddenly sat up, so I was looking at his back.

"No, Bella, I don't want to be friends. This so-called friendship is driving me nuts, okay? When we speak on the phone I want to tell you stuff that I'm not supposed to, because I'm your friend," he said that last word with venom in his voice. "When I text you, I secretly want to ask you what you're wearing and say all kinds of dirty things, but I can't, because I'm your goddamn friend. When you opened the door earlier today, I wanted to kiss you so badly when you stood there looking at me with those big, brown eyes. And I won't even tell you what I really wanted to do 10 minutes ago when I saw you wearing something that you call PJs. Because apparently I'm just your friend, and friends, like you just said, don't sleep with each other. So, no this whole friendship is not working out for me," he said with evident frustration.

I was trying to hold back everything: tears, words, lasagna. Vomiting was probably not the best idea right now, but his words were shocking in a way that nauseated me. I hadn't seen him like this before. I was usually the one with crazy, inappropriately honest outbursts, not him.

His shoulders hunched and he sighed. The frustration and anger slipped away, and when he spoke again, it was with a voice that broke my heart.

"Is it such a bad thing to want more with you? Is it so unimaginable for you to be with me?" He turned his head toward me then and I saw his eyes were oozing insecurity instead of sex appeal. And he was still the most beautiful man I'd ever see. I quickly sat up, too.

"No, it's not a bad thing at all. In fact, it's a very wonderful thing. You are a very wonderful thing." Suddenly, it hit me. I jumped up, off the bed."That's exactly the problem!" I exclaimed. Judging by his look, he was far from understanding me.

"You are wonderful. You not only listen to all my crazy talk, but you give it right back to me. You ask about my dad. You get along with my best friend. We have a connection, and I know it. I feel it. And that's exactly why it is so hard for me to be more than friends with you, because we could be so good together. We could be close to perfection. If it would be anybody else, it would be less scary, because it would fail. Not us though; we might succeed with flying colors. And then what Edward? What if we don't fail? What if everything could be perfect, but I can't keep up? Because it's too fucking scary to have something that would break you if you lost it. I know what it's like to lose someone and I don't ever want that to happen again." I was half sobbing, half hyperventilating at that point. He was quick to get up, and he threw his arms around me. Nobody ever held me as tight as he did in that moment. He told me that it was okay. That he was here. That nothing was happening. I cried. Harder than I had in a very long time. He knew it wasn't about him and me, and I knew I didn't have to explain. He didn't promise he would always be there, because life doesn't allow you to make promises like that. He let me cry and soak the shirt he was wearing. When I calmed down, we laid down on the bed again. No talk of sex or relationships occurred to us anymore.

"Tell me about her. Tell me about your mom."

So I did. I told him about how I would sometimes come home from school on Fridays and she would be waiting with our bags packed, ready to go away for a girls' weekend. We often went to Paris, but I never saw the Louvre because she claimed it was boring to do all the touristy stuff. So we always ended up walking around discovering cute little stores and trying to find out which restaurant served the best crème brulée. I told him about the paintings she used to make with all the colors she could fit in there. He smiled when I told him about the trite jokes she and my dad made every single day and somehow they still made each other laugh. I told him about when she got sick and how scared we all were. I told him about how courageous and strong she was, how she never complained. He stroked my hair when I told him how extraordinary it was that she was able to enjoy so much even when the cancer made it difficult for her to do so. I told him how I miss her always and about the moments it overwhelms me.

"It can be Mother's day and I'm fine. But when I had to go to the dentist and he found three holes in my teeth, I cried for an hour because I couldn't call to tell her that. And it's just—there's no one in the world you know, that will actually care about hole in your teeth the same way your mom will. Although she probably would have told me that it was my own fault and I should stop eating so much candy." I laughed because I can actually hear her say it.

"She was an incredible mom." It's not a question he poses.

"Yes she was, and she always will be. Because what she gave me, the love, the attention, the humor, it will always stay with me, you know?"

He smiled. "That's true. And I'm so grateful for that, for her being your mom. Because even though I don't know her, I do know you. And the strength, and love, and the fact that you think your own jokes are the funniest of all—" he laughed when I had to punch his arm for that – but yeah it's definitely true, "I mean all the things you saw in her, they shine through in you. I hear them through the phone every day and I see them when I'm near you. So I'm grateful for her, for helping you make this awesome person that you are now."

He looked so sincere. I swallowed.

"That is the probably the best thing anyone had ever said to me." I smiled at him.

"Probably?" he asked, quasi indignantly.

"Well, I forget a lot. So it could be, like, the second best thing anyone has ever said to me."

He moved to tickle me, so I was quick to say "I'm kidding, I'm kidding!"

We laid down again, and I yawned.

"We should get some sleep," he suggested.

"Yes. Seriously though, thank you for listening. Thank you for being here."

"Thank you for telling me. I love to hear your stories."

"It's not boring?"

"Nothing you ever tell me is boring."

"Wait until I tell you about—".

"Goodnight, Bella," he interrupted me.

"Goodnight, Edward." I closed my eyes.

And that was the first night I slept next to Edward Cullen.


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