Thanks as always to MC and MrsRachaelM for helping make this story flow and for taking away my "that's". hehe Love you guys!

As always, I don't own Twilight but I do have an extensive file on Cupcake recipes!


The Stepping Stone

Edward is back in Los Angeles.

The thought should make me extremely giddy. But it doesn't.

Because even though I'm talking to him on the phone, and the man is right down the street, this phone call isn't going well. Sitting in my cramped office at work, surrounded by cupcake paraphernalia, I cradle my phone in one hand and rest the other arm over my legs, which are bunched up on the chair. I should just be thankful to hear his voice, but it's not enough.

"I'm so sorry, Bella. But with the movie soundtrack and Rose's album, I'm going to have to be here all through the weekend to get things done on time. I don't think I'll be able to leave the studio much at all."

I can hear the disappointment in his voice and just want to reassure him. My insecurities can wait. "It's okay, I completely understand. Just do what you need to do."

"Thanks, Cupcake Girl. I still can't believe I'm down one background vocal and have to send a rough cut of Colin's track to the studio, all by Monday. It's going to be a long weekend."

We hang up, saying goodbyes with no promises of any contact. Edward needs to do his job, and I am going to wait for him patiently. I sigh as I hang up the phone and try to think of how I can keep my mind occupied so I don't rush over to his studio and camp out all night.

The problem with that is all my distractions are busy, as well. Rose is obviously working with Edward on her album. And Alice is in her creative bubble, designing outfits for Rose's album tour and photo shoots.

It's a vicious circle, one I am not a part of. And it is a bittersweet thought, as well. I want to spend time with all of them, but am glad I don't have to deal with the job stresses. I have my own order to get done for the weekend.

But that's tomorrow's job and tonight I need to keep my mind off Edward and our relationship.

I finger the card in my hand, flipping it over in thought. This could either be a really good idea or go terribly wrong. Am I willing to find out? Do I have any other options that will keep me preoccupied enough?

Accepting my fate, whatever it may be, I pick up the phone in my office and dial the number on the card. As it rings I begin to doubt myself, but before I can change my mind a voice answers.

"Hello?"

"Hey, um, Jake. This is…Bella." My voice stammers a bit, my nerves flooding through the phone.

"Oh hey, Bells. How are you? What's up?" I can practically hear the huge grin in his voice and the easy nature of it reminds me how effortless this can be.

"Well, I was wondering what you are doing tonight. Thought maybe we could go bowling like the old days, and I can kick your ass again."

"You're delusional, Bells. You know I always let you win. But you're on. Tonight's my "Friday" since I work all weekend. When do you want to meet?"

We decide on all the details and hang up; me promising to meet Jake at the nearby bowling alley at seven o'clock. I feel good about the conversation and am thankful it's a Thursday, it makes it seems less "date-like" and more "friendship-like."

At least, I hope it does. I did try to make that pretty clear to Jake when we made our plans. Let's hope he's on the same page tonight.

Hanging out with Jake is supposed to stop me from worrying about whatever's going on with Edward, and I really hope it works. I need some fun after the last couple days of stress and the emotional rollercoaster I put myself on.

I look in the mirror one more time, pleased with the results. Jeans and a cute T-shirt, minimal makeup and a high ponytail is the perfect combination of looking good but not looking too good. If you know what I mean. Besides, we are bowling and I hate for my hair to be in my face the whole night. I'm nothing if not practical.

Pulling into the parking lot, I feel my nerves start to dance around in my stomach. I am second guessing myself for the hundredth time this week but decide to let it go and have fun tonight, regardless.

As I walk into the bowling alley, the hum of electricity and noise fills the air and all my fears dissipate. I search the semi-busy place until I see Jake. He's standing in a lane with two beers on the table looking completely at ease in jeans and a T-shirt. One of those beers looks like it's half -drank already.

He's flirting with some random chick in the lane next to him. She's cute and spunky looking with her jet black shoulder length hair and short skirt. How can she even bowl in that? But that's not the point.

The point is Jake hasn't changed much at all. He still has that charismatic charm that can woo any girl within seconds. I just need to remind him I'm taken and he'll back off.

At least, I'm going with the presumption I'm taken. Even if Edward is pulling away from me, he stole my heart the first night we met. My heart is taken without my control and I can't give it to another right now even if I try.

Reminding myself I am letting it go for the night, I grab some bowling shoes and nonchalantly stroll over to Jake.

"Couldn't even wait for me before you started drinking?" I ask casually, as I bump him with my shoulder and nod my head in direction of his beer.

Jake gives the girl a grin as he turns around toward me, slinging his arm over my shoulder in a friendly manner. "Hey, I can't help it if you're late. I got thirsty."

He looks over his shoulder and winks at the dark-haired girl, who is still smiling coyly at him, as he ushers me over to our spot. I can feel the daggers the stranger is shooting at me through the back of my head and roll my eyes at the thought. If she only knew.

Pushing Jake's arm off me, I sit down and begin to change my shoes. "I am not late, Jacob. I'm right on time," I explain, glancing at the clock on the scoreboard above us. "You were the one who was always so over eager. Or maybe you wanted to get some practice time in, huh?"

I smirk at him, knowing how competitive he is. He always thought he was so much better than me at bowling, but I was pretty darn good. Although, I do know he would let me win every now and then.

It's been ages since I've bowled so I'm sure he will beat me tonight. But I still like to taunt him and remind him of his past weaknesses.

"Okay, enough with the chit chat and the jokes," Jake says to me, shaking his head at my teasing, and sits down at the computer screen in our lane. "It's time to get serious. I'll enter our names."

Jake and I immerse ourselves in the game, me concentrating as hard as I can so I can give him a run for his money. Him, flaunting his skills and grinning cockily at the spunky girl in the lane over. Minutes turn into hours faster than I thought it would.

I am truly enjoying myself and I'm so thankful this is going so smoothly. Our touches are more like brother and sister, filled with teasing and punching, and there is absolutely no awkwardness.

Until Jake decides to get a little too personal with the conversation.

"So Bells, tell me about this guy you're seeing," Jake says easily. And with that my insecurities come rushing back. I try to push them down, to squelch them so Jake doesn't see; but he knows me better than that.

The carefree mask I've been wearing all night sleeps for a second, and I try to bring it back with a smile. But Jacob can see through it and his look of pity and confusion is enough to break me.

My face starts to crumble a bit when Jake jumps up and holds me in his arms. "Hey, what's the matter?" he asks soothingly, as he rubs his hands up and down my back.

"It's nothing really," I start, and I try to pull my body back, but Jake's not buying it and he quirks his eyebrow in question.

The one thing I know for sure is I cannot give Jake the wrong idea. I need to make sure this conversation ends with him knowing how I truly feel for Edward. I don't want to give him any semblance of hope between us.

I take a deep breath and release myself from Jacob's hold. Sitting down in the hard plastic bowling chairs, I ready myself to bare my soul again. Or at least part of it. I'm not feeling completely certain of this new friendship, but it would be nice to hear a guy's point of view.

"It's all really new," I continue, speaking quietly and looking down at my hands that are clasped tight in my lap. Jake takes the seat next to me and nods for me to go on. "Basically, we've had this whirlwind romance, and now I'm wondering if things happened to fast. I think Edward might be pulling away."

"What makes you think that?" Jake asks, and I tell him what I told Rose. I fill him in on the day's short conversation as well, but the one thing I hold back is how short of a relationship this has been. I have a feeling not many people would believe how strong our feelings have become in a few short days.

"Bella, I think you just need to give the guy some time," Jake tells me sagely. I briefly wonder where he gets all this wisdom from but listen intently anyway. "It seems like you both really like each other and maybe it's just freaking him out. Sometimes guys take a little longer to figure their shit out than girls."

And the smirk he gives me tells me he's not just talking about Edward.

"I just hope he gets his ass together before it's too late." Jake smiles sadly at me for a moment and then breaks into his cocky grin. "Because if he hurts you, I'm going to have to kick his sorry excuse for an ass."

We both grin and start to laugh at Jake's "Mr. Tough Guy" routine, but it's nice to know he's in my corner. And I think it's for the right reasons.

"But seriously, Bella. If you ever need someone to talk to, I'm here for you. I always will be."

We hug awkwardly over the arm rest separating us, and I smile a genuine smile for him. "Thanks, Jake. I really do appreciate it."

"You really like the guy," Jake states as he appraises my face, and all I can do is grin back at him, thinking of Edward.

"Yeah, I really do."

He places his hand on my thigh and looks me squarely in the eyes. "I'm glad he makes you happy," he says and then squeezes my leg. "Now let's get back to your horrible bowling!"

The rest of the night is filled with light banter, more beer and just all around fun. I'm really glad I had the guts to do this, and as Jake walks me out to my car later that evening, I give him a tight squeeze and thank him again for being there for me.

He just shrugs it all away like it's not a big deal and we say goodbye with a small wave. It's nice to know things can be so simple with us again.

~TCQ~

The next few days I spend working on a new cupcake recipe for a bachelor party gig I have on Saturday. I had this brilliant idea to make Jack and Coke cupcakes and still have yet to find the perfect mix.

Of course, the guys were beyond thrilled with this idea. I mean, if guys are going to have some cute little dessert it helps that they are infused with alcohol! I am also thankful one of their moms was a previous customer and highly recommended me to her son. I'm not so sure cupcakes would have been on the original menu.

Both Lauren and I take turns in the kitchen coming up with the right concoction. I know this is possible but had no idea how hard it would be to find the perfect balance of Jack and coke. Too much Jack, not enough Coke. Too much of both and we had an extra gooey mess of cupcakes.

Needless to say, it is keeping my mind occupied and I am truly grateful for that. Friday and Saturday speed on by and I am completely in my element. Hands deep in frosting and cake batter, apron covered in flour, sugar and every other baking powder known to man.

I love every minute of it and am so proud of the final outcome. I open the box on Saturday evening and display Lauren and mine's hard work. I'm not so sure this young man appreciates it right now, but I hope it changes once they take a bite.

The cupcakes are really to die for, if I do say so myself. We settled for a chocolate and Coke based cake batter with a chocolate-Jack ganache piped into the middle for a filling. It was much easier than combining the two in the original batter and makes a nice surprise in the center.

My absolute favorite is the topping on top. It is a delicious powdered sugar frosting with a light taste of whiskey. And the topper? One of those cute little gummy cola bottles adorning each cake.

After the cupcakes are off to the bachelor party and the shop is closed for the night, I break out the bottle of Jack Daniels.

"I think this calls for a celebration," I say to Lauren and start pouring glasses. Lauren grabs the Coke and adds a bit to each one.

"Cheers," she says, raising her tumbler full of alcohol in the air, and I clink mine in return. Hey, you have to make do with what you got, right?

We sip our drinks quietly, basking in our accomplishment and enjoying the feeling of achievement. Lauren has been with me since the beginning of Sparkles, and I know it wouldn't be the same without her.

By the time our glasses are empty, I start to get mushy and thank Lauren for everything she's done for me and the business. We hug and get a little teary-eyed as we say goodbye. Lauren is on her way to spend the night at Tyler's, and I am opening the shop up early tomorrow.

I watch as Lauren heads out and make my way toward the back of the shop, my hand trailing on the display case and my mind fills with memories. The blood rushes to my cheeks and the moisture between my legs pools suddenly, the night still fresh in my mind. It's been a week and already my life has been turned upside down. Of course, it's all been in a good way and I hate to think what would have happened if I hadn't let Edward in last Friday night.

Would we have ever met? Yes, I guess fate would have still held strong and brought us together at Alice's birthday dinner, but would it have been the same without our prior connection? No, definitely not. And would we be here today as we are now? I don't think so.

I resolve to put aside all the unknowns and the worries of what is to come. If it's meant to be it will be, I just hope my heart can take it if it's not.

The rest of the night and the next day I'm able to keep my thoughts off Edward. At least for the most part, I really do miss him. I busy myself around my house and at the shop; cleaning, taking care of customers and only slightly thinking of those soft, warm pouty lips.

Sunday passes quickly enough and during some downtime I appreciate the fact Jacob hasn't called me since our outing. I hope that means he got my friend message loud and clear. And I'm sure talking about Edward probably didn't hurt. I just can't seem to keep the grin off my face whenever I think of him. And I know Jake could see it, as well.

I pick up my cell phone and shoot Jake a quick "thank you" message. I really appreciate how he was there for me that night and has respected me since then by giving me my space. As soon as I set my phone on my desk, it rings.

Chuckling as I see the name on the caller ID, I answer. "Just waiting around for me to make the first step, I see."

Jake laughs lightheartedly in return. "Well, I didn't want you to think I was stalking you or anything," he answers back flippantly. "But I did wonder how you were doing. Are you okay?"

The concern in Jake's voice is sweet and reassuring. He really does care about me and it's nice to hear.

"Yeah, I'm doing good. Just keeping busy and waiting for Edward to come to me." I smile at the thought. "Thank you so much for being a listening ear the other night, Jake. I appreciate it so much."

"That's what friends are for, Bells." His answer is carefree but genuine. "Besides, do you remember the chick in the lane next to us that night?"

I tell him I do, and I already know the direction this is heading.

"Welp, it turns out comforting you was the best thing I could have done. I went back into the bowling alley after you left and she was like putty in my hands."

"Only you, Jake," I say as I laugh in return. "So how'd that work out for you?"

I can't help but smile, knowing that Jake is the same as always and hoping someday he finds the perfect girl for him.

"Not too bad," is his confident reply. "I'm seeing her again later this week."

"Good for you, Jacob. You deserve it." I smile, knowing I really mean that. "I just hope she treats you right. And vice versa," I can't help but add. Hey, I still have some past issues with him that won't go away overnight.

"I know, I know, Bells. But I kind of feel different about her." And as he talks I can hear a change in his voice. Maybe Jacob Black is growing up after all.

The next phone call I receive, hours later, is one filled with despair. And it is still not the voice I want to hear most. But when I hear the pleading on the other line, all my resolve starts to disappear.

"Please, Bella. I really need you to help out." Rose is all but groveling, and it's getting very difficult to say no to her. "And besides, you are good. I don't know why you think I'd make this up. It's my album after all; I'm not putting crap on it."

I let out a heavy sigh, maybe I can do this. It's just one time, right? And they are only background vocals. It's not like my voice will be that distinguishable, anyway.

But there is one problem: the guy who owns said studio and the one I am supposed to be giving space to. I don't want to make him feel obligated to me or seem like I'm trying to find ways to be with him.

My determination is weakening and Rose knows it, but I'm not going to jeopardize what I have with Edward just to help Rose out. I'm sure she can find someone else. Someone much better than me.

"What about Edward, Rose?" I question her, wanting her to see my side of this. "I don't want to overstep my bounds. And besides, there has to be other people you can get for this?"

"Bella," she says sternly. "Edward will be fine with it. And odds are you won't even see him. Besides, he's super busy working on Colin's tracks, anyway. I barely see the guy myself."

I'm nodding my head in defeat and agreement at the same time, not that Rose can see me. But she's not finished yet either way.

"And the fact of the matter is I want you on my album," Rose continues before I can even reply. "You are amazing, and I would be honored to work with you. You need to realize that you have more than just one talent. And you can be great at both."

I'm in complete shock at the gruff but complimentary tone Rose is using. She obviously feels very passionately about this, and I know she wouldn't lie about it just to make me feel better. Still, I'm not very confident in my singing and this is all completely overwhelming to me.

"Fine," I say resigned. "What time do I need to be there? I have to get coverage at the shop."

~TCQ~

As I enter EMC Recording Studio, my heart is pounding in my chest and I am even more nervous than the last time I was here, just a week ago. Everything on the outside appears the same. Gianna is still sitting at the front desk looking glamorous and well put together. The reception area and waiting room is just as pristine and modern as I remember it.

Heck, even I look pretty much the same; wearing my nice jeans and fitted T-shirt. Rose told me to be comfortable and clothing-wise, I am. Unfortunately, the same can't be said about the inside of my body. My palms are sweaty, my heart is going a mile a minute and I feel like a nervous wreck.

Last week I was anxious about surprising Edward with cupcakes, but it has nothing on how I feel today. I really hope my unease doesn't hinder my performance too much.

Minutes after I arrive, Gianna walks me back to the Control Room to meet Rose. My head whips back and forth hoping and dreading at the same time for a glimpse of Edward. Knowing he is most likely in the building raises my anxiety up a notch.

Rose greets me with an exuberant hug and thanks me over and over again for doing this for her. Jared is there as well, sitting at the control panel and offers me a huge smile when I finally free myself from Rose.

"Hey, Bella. It's really good to see you again." I smile back but it turns into more of a grimace, my stomach dropping even farther down to my feet. One look at my face and he rushes on. "Don't worry about any of this, all you have to do is go in there and enjoy yourself. Get lost in the music and you'll do great. Forget I'm even here."

I nod tersely and will myself not to get sick. That would not go over to well.

"Bella, you already know the song fairly well but why don't we just go in the Live Room and sing it over a few times. Get you comfortable with your part and the room."

Rose and I get as comfy as possible on the two high stools she has set up in the room. She starts singing her song and teaches me my background part. It's not as hard as I thought it would be to jump right in, my notes are in the perfect range for me. Rose must have been doing her homework on this.

After what seems like a short while, Rose hands me a pair of headphones and my hands shake as I grab them and slide them over my head. Before they cover my ears, Rose stops me with a gentle touch and a smile.

"It's just you and me here, kiddo." Her eyes are piercing mine, drawing me to her and not the room around us. She surreptitiously moves a microphone in between us as she speaks. "We can do this as many times as we need; there is no need to stress. No one gets it perfect the first time around. Not even me."

Rose grins at me and gives my hands a squeeze. "Close your eyes if you need to and listen to my voice. It will be just like we've been practicing."

Suddenly the strum of a guitar fills my ears, followed by the drums and finally Rose's melodic voice. I let it all take me away to my happy place, and pretend I am in my shower or car singing along. Anything to forget what I'm really doing here.

It's not seamless but it does get easier with each take. My mind becomes free; leaving behind the stress of a new and unknown relationship, the everyday pressures of running my own business and ultimately, singing for millions to hear. Rose is right there with me during the whole process, but as the day progresses and my confidence starts to take over, she moves further and further away; letting me be in my own bubble.

After several takes, I hear a voice piped into the room. "Bella, I think we may have got one. Come on out and let's have a listen."

I open my eyes and look over to Jared, incredulous that this one might be it. But when I look through the glass I see two pairs of eyes; Jared's and an all too familiar set of emerald ones.

My breath hitches in my throat and I am frozen in my spot. I was so caught up in the vocals and recording I forgot about Edward.

Rosalie practically pulls me from the barstool and leads me back into the Control Room. All my thoughts from this past week come flooding back to me as I stand near the man I have missed all week. My brain is focused on his scent, his now almost full beard, the closeness of his body and the warmth that radiates from it. The song and my voice playing throughout the room are like background noise. It could be static for all I care.

The hubbub of voices finally clue me in to the fact the track has stopped playing. The happy chatter around me lets me know this might be the final take. Rose, Jared and even Edward are excitedly speaking, voices talking over one another; none of them waiting for the others to finish.

It takes a few minutes, maybe seconds; it all goes by so fast, until Rose finally notices my silence.

"Um," she looks cautiously at me before proceeding, "maybe Bella here needs a little break. I think we're overwhelming her."

She looks pointedly in my direction and both men turn their gaze on me, as well. I think I may be in shock. I'm still standing there like an idiot, not saying anything. But I can feel Edward's sleeve-covered arm brushing against mine as he turns toward me. His presence smothering me like a heavy-weighted blanket.

Finally, he speaks to me. After days of waiting, anticipating, worrying, he quietly says, "Bella, why don't you go into the staff lounge and relax? We have some snacks and sodas and stuff in there."

I slowly nod my head in agreement and let Rosalie lead me to the break room.

"Bella, are you okay?" Rose sits me down on a small couch and hands me a soda.

I'm not sure how to respond yet. I must be in shock, either that, or heartbroken that the only words I've heard from my…whatever Edward is to me, is a question and a simple statement redirecting me away from him.


So how do you feel about Jake now? And Edward? *hides from objects been thrown* Let me know in the reviews!