A/N: I kind of feel like a hack for posting this, but it's really just gathering dust on my flash drive, so...
I'm not real big on writing outtakes, but then again, I sometimes love getting a glimpse into what other characters are thinking. I wrote this over two years ago, but made a few edits and a slight addition at the end.
Thanks so much for reading - and please don't review. I really do feel like a hack. :)
As I stare out the window of the limousine, watching downtown Seattle race by, I smile slightly. I haven't been back to Washington during the summer for several years and I'm surprised at how much I've missed it. I won't be sharing that information with my mom or Alice though. It will only encourage their pet project: Getting me to leave sunny Los Angeles and move back to the rainy Northwest.
I can't tell them yet, but I'm actually thinking of leaving LA. The weather is beautiful there, but I've been there 15 years now and haven't found…what? What I'm looking for? That's a song, not my life. But, nevertheless, I feel like something is missing.
I look at my client, Aro, sitting next to me, talking animatedly again about our hostess for this evening. If I didn't know he was happily married – for almost 55 years – I would think he was infatuated with Isabella DiClemente. He has talked practically nonstop about her today; how clever and funny, smart and tough, beautiful and sassy she is.
Not like my Bella. Well, my used-to-be-my-Bella. She was beautiful, too, but didn't really know it. She was shy, kind of awkward and clumsy. She was intelligent, but too embarrassed to show it. She would have blushed at the attention this Bella DiClemente seems to demand, insisting that we drag our asses all the way to the suburbs for dinner at her house.
I'm not even sure what in the world made me volunteer for this mission with Aro. I probably should have stayed in LA, but I felt guilty letting him come up here and negotiate this deal without someone who knows the ins and outs of contracts. I feel very protective of him and compelled to make sure he doesn't get screwed in this acquisition process. He spent his life building Vulture Publishing and I want him to be adequately compensated so that he and Heidi can live out their remaining years wherever and however they please.
We've exited from the highway now and are driving past some nice fucking houses. Jesus, they just keep getting bigger and bigger. We must be getting close. The women who picked us up from the airport said the house we'll be dining at tonight is incredible. I guess they meant incredibly large.
The limo slows and turns into the circle drive in front of a Craftsman-style house with a long front porch. It's beautiful, I'll give her that. It's big, but also seems…homey. It looks like a place where kids would run across the porch chasing each other, where parents would sit on the porch swing watching, yelling at them to slow down while trying to contain their laughter. A good place to raise a family.
Two women are standing on the porch, waiting. I recognize the one facing us; she was in the car that picked us up from the airport. She's pretty and has a husky voice – and a wedding band. But she seemed to be checking me out, even though she didn't really speak. By deduction, I'm guessing that the second woman, who has her back to us, is Isabella. Shit. She looks bitchy, even from the back. That's probably not fair, but I already don't like her simply because Aro seems to be so taken with her. No one can be that perfect. She has a nice ass, though. At least I'll have something to look at while I'm hating her.
Just as the car stops, my phone vibrates in my pocket. I groan inwardly when I look at the screen and see Alice's name. I have to answer. She'll keep calling if I don't.
Aro is starting to get out his side of the limo, but turns to look expectantly at me when he hears me open the other door.
"Aro, I'm sorry. I have to take this call," I explain. "It's my most demanding client."
"A female client?" he asks with a smile. He's been all over my ass about finding a woman for the last few weeks, ever since my goddamned secretary told him that I broke up with the last girl I dated several months ago. I could have killed Charlotte. But I wouldn't dare try. She scares the crap out of me.
"Yeah, but don't get any ideas," I chuckle, deciding against telling him she's my twin sister. If he knew, he'd likely try and make her an ally in his matchmaking scheme. "She's the biggest pain in the ass I've ever known."
Turning away from him, I push the door all the way open and climb out, striding into the yard where I can't be overheard.
"Hi, sis," I say unenthusiastically.
"Hey, is that any way to greet your baby sister?" she laughs. "Where are you?"
"With a client, heading into a business dinner. Did you need something, or do you just live to interrupt me?" I ask, annoyed. I'm not really irritated with her; I'm just taking my frustration with this dinner, this week, out on her.
"Well, someone's certainly grumpy. I thought being closer to home would make you happy," she says in her pouty voice.
"Alice, my home is LA. I've only been here three hours. I'm about to head into a dinner with a woman who's attempting to buy the company my client spent his entire life building, and whom I think my client might be at least partially in love with. I'm trying to make sure he gets what he deserves, and if she turns out to be the rich bitch I suspect she is, I'll make her pay even more. So, really, do you need something?" I know I sound impatient, but this is so typical of Alice – interrupting my night to tell me some shit that she could have just emailed me about.
"Edward, is everything all right? I mean, are you okay? I seriously got the weirdest feeling about ten minutes ago. And you know how my feelings are where you're concerned. They're never wrong. It's a twin thing. What's going on?" she asks, concern apparent in her voice.
"Alice," I start, trying really fucking hard to keep the exasperation out of my tone, "everything is fine. I flew here in a private fucking jet, rode to dinner in a goddamned limo, and am now standing in the yard of a beautiful house about to go inside and be fed. There's nothing to worry about."
"It's not a worry feeling, really. It's like fluttering. Kind of excited or nervous feeling. What do you know about this rich bitch?" she asks.
"Not that much. She's young, widowed, has a bunch of kids, I think. I haven't met her yet, so I'm really not sure."
"Maybe she's gonna be your Sugar Mama," Alice laughs.
Now I am irritated with her. That comment pisses me off. I rake my right hand through my hair roughly.
"I don't need a Sugar Mama, Alice. I think I have enough fucking women trying to run my life. Between you, mom and Charlotte, I never get to make one damn decision on my own. And I don't need anyone else's money. I make plenty of my own," I growl at her.
"Down, tiger. No one's trying to boss you around. Okay, we are, but only because we love you. Even that old battle axe of a secretary loves you," she says sweetly.
"Look, I really need to go if you're done. They're waiting on me," I say, closing my eyes to get a handle on my temper. "I'll call you later, and I'm seeing you Sunday, right?"
"Right. Okay, but Edward? I just want to say…be open. Be open to whatever comes your way. I have a feeling something big is going to happen."
"Okay, Al. Gotta go. Bye." I hang up without waiting for her to reciprocate, but she probably won't notice…I hope. If she does, she'll definitely call me back and rip into me for being rude. I can't worry about her right now, though. There's a rich bitch around here somewhere who's going to get a heavy dose of Cullen charm… until she releases the hooks she's got in my client.
I stand still for a few more seconds, until I can force a relaxed-looking smile onto my face. I hear Aro calling out to me. He wants to me come meet the Sugar Mama now. Fucking Alice. That'll be stuck in my head for the next two days. I exhale before saying, "Sorry. I'll be right there, Aro."
I turn on the magic. "Please forgive my rudeness," I say loudly as I turn around and take a step toward Aro and Mrs. DiClemente.
Holy fuck. Mary, mother of fuck. Fuck.
It's her. I stop walking. I can't move forward anymore. My heart just dropped into my stomach. It's her. I can't believe it's her.
"Edward." I hear her say breathily. I can't even respond.
She doesn't look any less affected than me, though. She's blinking fast. Clinging to Aro. That looks just like my Bella. Flustered, apprehensive, needing someone to hold her up.
There's no sense letting her see how surprised, how shaken I am. I can handle this. I put on my best bad boy smirk and start walking again. As I'm walking, I see her start to pull it together, too. She stands up straight, smiles the smile that used to mean I was definitely getting laid, and lets go of Aro.
"Edward, it's so nice to see you. I had no idea you were the lawyer Aro brought with him," she says in a business tone.
My smirk disappears. Two can play the business game, Bella.
"Bella. I had no idea that Bella DiClemente was Bella Swan DiClemente," I answer.
And I didn't. Alice told me once that she heard Bella had gotten married. I stopped her before she could tell me any details and said I didn't want to know anything else. I certainly didn't know she was widowed. Fleetingly, I feel sad that she lost someone she must have loved very much. I guess that's how you know you really loved someone. You're happy for their happiness; sorry for their sorrows.
We stare at each other awkwardly for another moment before we shake hands. I bend down to kiss her cheek, feeling the surge of desire course through me when we touch. We always had that spark. Even on that last night, when things went so horribly wrong, we had the heat whenever we touched. I let her go quickly because I can really only take so much of that from her now… when I don't have her.
I explain to Aro that we went to high school together. He acts like we're long-lost buddies or something and says we should go to dinner. Bullfuckingshit. She feels the same way, I guess, because she shoots that down immediately, which completely pisses me off. Why does it bother me that she feels the same way I do?
We turn to walk inside the house, Bella and Aro ahead of me as we climb the steps to her door. Unable to contain it any longer, I mumble, "Same stubborn woman."
Inside, I get a glass of wine. I would prefer to just carry the whole damn bottle around with me. I have a feeling I'll need it tonight.
When I'm introduced to Bella's lawyer, James, it only takes me two seconds to figure out that he's an ass. And I'm not just saying that because he keeps looking at Bella like he owns her. The feeling doesn't seem to be mutual though. Bella mostly ignores him after introducing him to all of us. Then again, she's also mostly ignoring me.
She runs off to the kitchen, leaving me stuck in some asinine conversation with James and Jessica, the girl who was trying to sit on my lap in the limo earlier today. She managed to get her business card into the pocket of my jacket, but I threw it away as soon as I got into my room.
A few minutes later, I see Bella coming back out of the kitchen. Jesus, she looks beautiful. She looks better than she did in high school, if that's possible. She has a great body, not as skinny as her teenage body, and rounder in all the right spots. Her hair is shorter, but it's the same chestnut color I remember. Her eyes are shining as she smiles at Angela, and then seems to be searching the room for someone. Demetri? Fuck, I hope she doesn't have a thing for him. I like him, but not for Bella. She smiles at me as she passes, but doesn't slow down.
Jessica is talking my fucking ear off about her boss…wait. Jake Black is her boss? Jake Black is CEO of Bella's company? Fucking figures. He always did follow Bella around like a lovesick puppy. He probably still does, I muse. She must not return the feeling, though. He isn't even here.
I let my eyes follow Bella, feeling my stomach clench when she and Demetri hug, and then keep their arms around each other as they talk. She'll barely shake hands with me, the guy she lost her virginity to, but she'll hang all over a guy she can't know that well. Unless they're having an affair. No, I don't think Demetri would do that to Aro. Although she is fucking gorgeous. If she wanted to, he probably would. I would.
Maybe I'll just go break up that little tête-à-tête. I excuse myself from the asshole and the talker and get over to Bella just in time to hear her ticking off her favorite classic authors. She left out the one I remember, though. I quickly scan the bookshelf and don't even see her favorite, which makes me irrationally pissed again.
"Where's the Austen? You used to be such a fan of Lady Jane," I ask, trying to use a polite tone. I don't feel like being polite, so I'm not that successful.
"I just started re-reading Pride and Prejudice last night. So the Austen is on my nightstand," she answers softly. That was her favorite Austen novel. I want to tell her I remember that, but my testosterone has kicked in now and is demanding vengeance for the Demetri hugging.
"I thought it was a six volume set. Did you only keep the one volume?" I ask. I hear myself and know I sound like a snotty, little kid.
She giggles. Yep, spoiled, rotten Edward should be laughed at.
"No, Edward, I kept them all. They are all in my nightstand, where I keep them all year round because they are special to me. I received them as a gift for my 18th birthday and I don't like to share them. So I keep them hidden away. For my eyes only," she says, sounding a little snotty herself.
However, relief floods through me at her words. Why? Because she kept a gift I gave her 15 years ago? Because they apparently meant as much to her to receive as they did to me to give? Yeah, that feels right. Fuck. I'm screwed.
I can't stop my mouth from curving up into a small smile. I see her looking at my lips and fight the urge to smile bigger. I start a conversation with Demetri, trying to ignore the fact that she's staring at me. When the caterer calls us in to dinner a couple of minutes later, I sigh gratefully: I really don't think I could stand here much longer without touching her.
As we take our seats at the table, I see James staring at Bella. And not in a nice way or even a lecherous way. In a dickhead, I'm-not-getting-my-way way. I'd really like to punch him, but I think that might get me in trouble with both my first love and my client.
Then I notice Bella giving the look right back to James. The Bella I knew would have been cowering by now. This Bella just won the staring contest with her lawyer. Oh, shit. I need an exit strategy or I'm going to end up in love with this woman all over again. Or if I'm really being honest…still. I never stopped loving her. Fuck, I need to think about something else… but I can't make myself.
Aro's right. This Bella is different than my Bella. She's tough and sassy… and sexy. I feel myself smirking again, and then notice that she's smirking, too, as she looks around the table. When she notices that I've seen the interaction with James, she cocks one eyebrow at me. I can't contain the grin she always loved any longer. I don't have much time to enjoy her answering one as Jessica sits down next to me, scooting her chair right up beside mine. It's going to be a long dinner.
Bella's staring into her glass of wine, lost in thought. The most beautiful, soft smile crosses her face and she looks up, right at me. Was she thinking about me? I wonder.
When she sees me looking at her, she raises her eyebrows and mouths, "What?"
I mouth back, "Nothing."
She smiles at me and I smile back. Fuck. Have I felt like this anytime in the last fifteen years? Have I felt this euphoric about a woman smiling at me? I'm really afraid I haven't.
During the main course, one of the servers brings Bella her phone, prompting Aro to ask if Jake will be calling. Why would Jake call?
"You know, Heidi and I are so looking forward to the wedding. I promised Jake we'd be here for both of you if it's at all possible," Aro says genuinely. "But only if you save me a dance, missy!"
Wedding? What wedding? Fuck! Bella is marrying Jake? I feel my heart pound in my chest and look down at my plate. All that time in high school, Bella always said that Jake was like a little brother to her, that it would be gross to kiss him. Evidently, she got over that. Something sharp and painful rips through my chest at the thought of her marrying not one, but two men who aren't me.
"Of course I'll dance with you at the wedding," she answers. "And Jake's flight doesn't get in until late tonight, so I doubt I'll hear from him. He usually just prefers to give me a special wake up call in the morning."
My stomach lurches. Jesus, Bella. I don't want to hear about your fucking sex life with Jake fucking Black.
At the opposite end of the table, Aro gets choked on something and I look up with alarm to see him waving off Demetri, even though his face is beet red and he's coughing so hard that tears are shining in his eyes. He takes a drink of his water and seems to recover… with a smile.
Meanwhile, Bella gets the text message she's been waiting for. She excuses herself from the table, surprising me again with her command of the room. This is not the shy high school girl who tried to sneak in and out of every place without being noticed. This woman doesn't seem to be afraid of anything.
Through the window, I see her hop up to sit on the porch railing, holding her phone. Her face breaks into a wide smile as she reaches up to rub a hand across her heart. Whoever sent her that text, she loves him – the way she used to love me. And I couldn't have loved her more if I'd tried.
But, man, she fucking destroyed me all those years ago. The fight was trivial – over something I was supposed to do but didn't. Something that normally wouldn't be a big deal. But that night… for some reason… it was. We argued, and fucking Alice somehow ended up in the middle of it. Before I really knew what was happening, Bella had closed up shop on our relationship and fled to her mom's. She ran away from me…from us…from my family. She wouldn't take my phone calls, wouldn't communicate with me in any way.
Looking out the window at her now, I feel a sharp pang of resentment and anger. She put me through hell. If I was a betting man, I'd bet she was hurting just as much as I was back then, but she wouldn't even try to work things out.
Jesus, I had no idea I still had such strong emotions about her. I thought I had masterfully suppressed all this shit years ago.
I try to look away from her, try to tear my eyes from the source of my pain. But then I see her throw her head back and laugh, and I feel only jealousy that I'm not the one making her happy, making her face melt with such tenderness and love.
Reality suddenly snags me with her long fingernails, as Jessica turns toward me and puts both of her hands on my leg. She reaches for my neck, stabbing me with her claw as she pulls me close, whispering God-knows-what in my ear. I'm not listening; I'm planning my escape.
When Bella comes back in and announces that we're moving to the patio, I shake Jessica off. Quickly, I move to the end of the table to help Aro up… even though he doesn't need my help. Once he's up, Angela, the lady with the husky voice, slides up on his other side, slipping her arm through his.
"Let go, both of you," Aro mutters under his breath. "Bunch of babysitters around here. I don't need you. I don't even need this stupid cane."
"I think your lawyer is the one who needs the cane – to beat off his admirer," Angela laughs. "He's been defenseless all through dinner against the full-court press from Skankica."
I laugh quietly as I watch Bella take charge again, leading Jessica and Tyler from the room and into her office across the hall. Her eyes land on me for the briefest second before she shuts the door.
"Someone's going to get what's coming to her," Angela says lowly. "And not a moment too soon. Bella has no trouble defending what's hers."
Rationally, I realize that Angela means Bella will protect her company. But for a moment, just a moment, I'll pretend she's talking about me.
Several minutes later, Bella joins the rest of us on the patio. She plants herself right beside her biggest fan, my client, and they talk quietly, their heads bent close together. Co-conspirators. I wonder what they're up to.
As if she knows I'm staring, she looks up at me, her deep, brown eyes clouded with emotions I can't identify. Although I'm talking to her friend, Ben, I can't seem to tear my eyes away from her. But I won't smile at her… not now that I know she's marrying fucking Jacob Black. By the time she looks away from me, I feel like I might throw up.
Yeah, Alice, I'm feeling really open to this big thing coming my way. Alice isn't usually so far off base. For as much as I like to make fun of her, she really does seem to have a sixth sense when things will happen for me.
I'm still looking at Bella when she meets my gaze again. This time, her eyes are filled with tears. Fuck. I feel like someone punched me in the gut. I want to go grab her, hug her, kiss her, protect her. Instead, I frown at her to show my concern. She smiles back at me.
Then she picks up her phone from the top of the table. "So, Aro, you want to see the text I got at the dinner table?" she asks. "It was from my dad. He sent a picture of my kids."
Why do I feel a weight lift off my chest? I'm ridiculously glad that her kids and Charlie are the reason for the beaming, the raucous laughter, the heart rubbing. And I want to see the picture. Evidently, everyone else does too.
I smile when I see the six brown eyes, big and round like Bella's, shining with excitement. I chuckle quietly when I see the stringers of fish… that has Charlie written all over it.
Her children are beautiful, just like her. And they look fun, just like this Bella that I'm itching to figure out. This Bella who is confident, capable, funny and sexy. The one that I'm so immediately infatuated with, just like my client.
The one who's marrying someone else.
Absentmindedly, I reach up to rub my hand over my heart.
Later, when we're ready to go, I hang back, wanting to be the last one out. As Ben and I walk out to the porch, I watch as Bella hugs Demetri and Aro goodnight near the limo, then looks around. Hoping maybe she's looking around for me, I keep my eyes on her until she sees me. She smiles slightly, tucking her hair behind her right ear and moving slightly away from everyone else.
"It was nice to meet you, Ben," I say as we shake hands. He returns the sentiment, and then I slowly go down the steps, heading straight for her.
She looks nervous as I approach, and I can pinpoint the instant that she puts the business façade back on, smiling tightly and holding out her hand toward me.
"Edward," she begins as I curl my fingers around hers.
"Bella, can I talk to you for a minute?" I interrupt, still grasping her hand. When she says yes, I pull her away a few steps.
"Aro's watching," she whispers, laughing softly as she twists her hand out of mine.
"He's nosy," I say, smiling with her, and then taking a silent, deep breath. "Bella, I just wanted to say… I was so surprised when I saw you tonight."
"Me, too," she replies.
"I don't think I reacted very well at first," I admit.
"I didn't either."
"It's really good to see you though," I say honestly. "You look beautiful."
She lowers her eyes and I begin to see the blush spread across her cheeks. "Thanks."
"That's what I should have said to you earlier. I'm sorry it took me so long."
Raising her warm, brown eyes to meet mine, she reaches forward to squeeze my forearm gently. "I'd really like to talk to you," she says as she lets go, clasping her hands in front of herself. "I mean, alone. Maybe after negotiations are finished."
"I would really like that, too," I nod.
"Okay," she says, her voice barely above a whisper. "I think they're waiting for you."
Twisting around, I see that everyone is in the limo except me. Angela is waiting beside the car. "Right," I chuckle. "Well, I guess I'll see you tomorrow. And then we'll talk… later."
"Later," she agrees. Before I can stop myself, I step forward, placing my lips gently against her forehead. When I rear back and look into her eyes, I feel something pull in my chest. Yeah, she still fucking gets to me – even after all these years. "Goodnight, Edward."
When I get in the limo, the others are already deep in conversation. As we drive out of the neighborhood, I look out the window, letting my thoughts return to Bella.
"It's nice to see old friends, isn't it, Edward?" Aro asks softly.
"Yeah," I reply, just as quietly. "It's nice."
Uncharacteristically, Aro leaves me alone then… leading me to believe that he knows – or at least guesses – that I'm thinking about what he wants me to be thinking about.
The girl I used to love. The woman she's become. She reached me in ways during the last three hours that no other woman has during the last fifteen years.
But it's too late for us.
She was a wife to someone named Marcus. She's a mom to three kids – Sophie, Michael and… shit, what was the other kid's name? I can't remember. She's also presumably a fiancée to Jacob fucking Black. But one thing about it keeps nagging at me.
She wasn't wearing an engagement ring.
In the fading light, I see my reflection in the window… I'm smiling.
Maybe it's not too late after all.