Warnings and Disclaimer:
The Twilight stuff belongs to Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended. I own Cooking Competition Encounter.
A/N I'm finishing it! There will be a long note at the end, explanations, blah, blah, blah. I know it's been long so here it is.
Chapter 2 Walk of Shame
I dragged my wheeled suitcase to the main entrance of the Victorian hotel. I'd hoped to sneak in before anyone was awake. Hah! No such luck. There was a camera crew from the Food Network setting up equipment.
"May I help you?" asked the young woman behind the desk, with an eyebrow lifted. She knew I was doing the "walk of shame."
"Hi," I said. "I was supposed to get in last night..." I gave a shrug.
She gave me the standard check in smile as I gave her my name.
"Here is your key, and the updated schedule for the contest," she said.
I followed her directions to my room. It was located on the ground floor, small but lovely and filled with what looked like antiques. There was a welcome note next to a bottle of Chardonnay that had been on ice. It sat in water now, reminding me that I was supposed to have arrived yesterday. Like I needed more wine right now.
I threw open my suitcase, grabbed my on-camera interview clothes and turned on the iron while I headed to the bathroom with my toiletries. I was surprised by my reflection. Even though I was tired, my face looked healthy and relaxed. I guess great sex would do that to a girl.
With one hand I texted Alice and Rose, even though I knew they were probably still asleep, while I ironed with the other. Then I rushed to shower and dress for our meetings.
I checked in at the winery after checking out at the Bed and Breakfas. I kept my Ray-Bans on.
"Here is your key, Dr. Cullen. You're in one of the bungalows." The woman slid a map across the desk toward me. "We're here, and your bungalow is here, at the vineyard property, just a couple of miles away," she said as she pointed out the locations on the map. "That's where the culinary center is. We're having the welcome dinner there this evening, so that'll be convenient."
Good. I could get drink and not worry about driving.
"You probably don't have time to go there and get back on time for the first meeting. There's coffee and pastries in the sunroom. The breakfast buffet is over," she said.
"That's fine. Coffee would be great." I scanned the updated schedule she had given me. "Where is the patio?" We were supposed to meet there for our first meeting and demonstrations.
"Go back out the door and follow the sidewalk to your left," she said. "I would love to walk you there, but I have to stay at the desk. There's so much going on with the contest and all. I'm Lauren," she said, offering her hand.
"Hi. Thanks," I said in an even voice, giving her a quick handshake, after noticing her name and phone number written on the map.
I found the patio, after grabbing some coffee. It was nice, enclosed by a waist-high wall with landscaping beds filled with flowers and bushes that allowed privacy. I settled into a seat at the back near the wall. I certainly wasn't interested in chatting with the other contestants. Several were at the front, gathered around the grill talking like they had way too much caffeine.
I had this same brand of grill and didn't need to get a tutorial. I just wanted to get through the meeting, do my interview, and head to my room. I closed my eyes behind my sunglasses and leaned back in my chair to wait.
I tensed at the sound of an annoying phone ringing to my right, with some crazy song as the ringtone, and the sound of digging in a purse?
"Shoot... Hi, Alice. Look, I can't talk now. A meeting is about to start." It was the sound of low embarrassed whisper. It was the sound of Bella.
I smiled. This is why she left so early, she had to get to the contest. I began to stand up to go to her, but I froze at her next words.
"I'll call as soon as I can. We have to talk. I did something really stupid last night..." I couldn't hear the rest of her short conversation, since she had quickly walked away.
I was immobile, between sitting and standing, my hands still on the arms of the chair. She thought our night was a mistake. I sunk back into my chair slowly. No wonder she left that note without any way for me to contact her. Wonderful evening? I guess she was just trying to be nice.
She returned almost immediately. I watched as she made her way to the remaining available chair, in the first row.
"Welcome, everyone! My name is Caius, and I am the head judge for the 'Build The Best Burger' contest. You are an elite group: the top ten out of more than four thousand entries." Servers walked in carrying trays of champagne flutes and began to pass them to all of us.
"I'd like each of you to introduce yourself, your full name, your occupation, and why you entered. But first, a toast. To the you, the creators of the best burger recipes."
I took the obligatory sip and opened my contest booklet to the section listing the recipe names and contestants. She must be Isabella Swan.
I didn't pay much attention to the first few intros. James was a highway patrolman. Angela was a housewife who apparently spent all her free time entering contests. Shelly Cope was a retired school teacher, also into contests. Jasper was a rancher from Texas, and emphasized that he raised only hormone free cattle. That was cool. If you were going to eat beef, that is.
My interest peaked when Mike Newton introduced himself. He was the asshole from the conference call. He made a big show of describing himself as a webpage designer. They finally cut him off when he started to list all the contests he'd been in. I guess there was a cooking contest subculture out there I never knew about.
"Um ... hi, I'm Isabella Swan. But please, call me Bella," she said in a slightly shaky voice.
"I'm a senior at the University of Washington, majoring in English. Like most of us here, I love to cook, and I hope to earn some tuition money." She smiled shyly and hurriedly sat down.
The intros continued, Gianna, Victoria, blah, blah blah. I lost interest after Bella spoke.
"I guess that leaves you," Caius said, looking directly at me. Shit. I wasn't paying attention.
"Oh, sorry, I'm Edward Cullen." As I said this, I saw Bella stiffen, and slowly turn around, her eyes wide and her mouth slightly open. We stared at each other until Caius interrupted.
"And what do you do?"
"As a heart surgeon, I'm always looking for healthy recipes to offer my patients." I shrugged a bit and sat down. Bella had abruptly turned back to face the front.
Oh my God! He's here! My breathing quickened, and I smiled. Fate had given me a chance to undo my stupid mistake of not leaving my number for him to call me. I relaxed knowing I would talk to him again.
I could hardly pay attention to our presentation as they explained how to season the new grills with oil and how to use the automatic starter to light the grill. They refilled our champagne glasses. I guess they drink early and often here in the wine country. I drank it down, hoping for some liquid courage to face Edward. Doctor Edward Cullen. He was the guy whose voice I loved on the conference call. What was it about him? I seemed to be attracted to him like a magnet.
A guy with dreadlocks stepped to the front.
"Hi, I'm Laurent, and I will be directing the filming of the contest for the Food Network. First, we will do some group shots. Then we'll have two crews filming your interviews. If you'll just stay in this area or by the filming, we'll pull each of you one at a time. Then you are free to go, yes?" He looked over at Caius, who looked at a small blond woman with a clipboard.
"Yes, there will be a lunch buffet in the sunroom. Help yourselves whenever you have time. Once the filming is over, you'll be free until dinner at the culinary center," she said. "I'm Jane, by the way... we talked on the phone. Let me know if you'll need a ride there. I know some of you took the wine country shuttle rather than renting a car."
I'd hoped to talk to Edward, but they immediately divided us up into the beef and alternate categories. They filmed us standing in a line, arms crossed and looking competitive. We did that about a million times, from different angles. Then we walked down the sidewalk in the gardens, individually and together. Again, looking determined, and again, about a million times.
I assumed the other film crew had done the same with the other group.
I leaned against the concrete wall and rubbed my sore feet. Why did I buy new shoes for this?
"Hi, Bella. It's so good to see you again."
"Yeah ... Hi, Mike." I looked back down as I continued my foot massage.
"This has been really cool. They film a lot for this contest, compared to the other ones I've been in. I can't wait for my interview. I have all my talking points," he babbled.
I just stared at him. Talking points? Seriously? God, I hated him. "Well, I know some of the things I want to say. I think they're just going to ask us questions, right?"
"Well, I think it's important to have some dialogue ready. You know, to sound really good on camera." Right. It was going to take lots of dialogue to make Mike sound good. Well, maybe less dialogue would be better in his case.
Thankfully, Laurent gathered both groups together, and I tried to move away from Mike, and toward Edward. Unfortunately, he followed me like a lost puppy.
"We have two locations set up to film. Ladies, I know how you are. You may want to check your hair and makeup. I'll start with the guys." He looked down at a clipboard. "Um ... Edward Cullen and Mike Newton."
They headed off in different directions with their respective crews. I watched Edward walk away. He was graceful in an athletic sort of way. He wore a button down shirt that looked like it must be custom made since it fit his chest perfectly. His grey slacks were also ideal. I decided a stop in the bathroom to regroup would be a good idea.
A redhead, whose name I forgot and Shelly were in there chatting. I smiled and headed to the mirror to reapply lip-gloss. By the time I made it out to where Edward was filming, they seemed to be well into the interview.
"I chose venison, since it's a lean, yet hearty meat. I think it's important to eat a heart healthy diet." From where I stood, I could see how he was framed in the camera. He looked unbelievable. The camera loved him. And why not? He was gorgeous.
"You don't eat beef, then?"
"No, not since high school ... um ... well, once since then," he mumbled.
He didn't eat meat? But he did last night. I'd given him a bite of Kobe beef.
"Really? What made you try it again?" the interviewer pressed.
"It was a first date," Edward said quietly. He had a faraway look as he said it.
"Must've been worth it then," he said with a laugh.
Edward looked at him seriously and said, "No. I found out later she thought the evening was a mistake." He looked directly at me.
Oh no, he must have heard me on the phone with Alice. He thinks he's the mistake. No, no. I should've left you my name and number. That was the mistake.
He took off the microphone clipped to his shirt and was out of the chair like a shot, moving in the opposite direction from where I was standing.
"Miss Swan?" said a man.
"Yes?" I answered.
"Let's get this microphone on you and we'll start filming, okay?"
I went through the answers as best as I could, trying to smile. I described my burger, how I had been cooking since I was a child since my mom sucked at it. It went by in a haze. I hoped I didn't sound like an idiot.
When he finally released me and asked for the next person, I sighed in relief. I wanted this to be over so I could get to my room. And do what? I wasn't sure, but I knew I had to stop and think.
"Okay, I think we have enough. Good luck tomorrow... and hey... just relax in front of the camera tomorrow. You'll be fine. Just pretend we're your friends, and you're cooking for us," Laurent said with a wink. I nodded, smiled weakly and made my way back to my room.
I needed a plan. I needed to talk to Alice and Rose. They would help me. They always had answers to my dilemmas.
"Hey Bella! Ready for some lunch? I waited for you." There stood Mike, a stupid grin on his face.
I stared at him. How could this guy be such an idiot? What did I have to do to get rid of him? "I'm not hungry," I said quickly and brushed past him. I knew it was rude, but I just didn't care anymore.
When I got to my room, I shut the door and leaned against it heavily, as if it was the only thing keeping me upright. I pulled out my phone, and let my purse drop to the floor.
There was a text from Alice: What did you do? Call me!
I felt like I wanted to curl up. I hit send.
"Alice..." I couldn't get any more words out as I started to sob.
"Did that guy hurt you?"
"No, it was me," I sputtered.
"You hurt him? Well, that was stupid." Leave it to Alice to try and lighten the situation.
"I went to dinner with Edward at Twilight. It was the best meal I ever had. And he bought some great and really expensive wine. It was wonderful and romantic. He's smart and knowledgeable and sexy and so handsome..."
"That doesn't sound stupid," she said quietly.
"No." I sighed and tried to continue. "We had to walk a few blocks back to his bed and breakfast so I could get my luggage and call a cab. We had half of the four hundred dollar bottle of Cabernet left from dinner, and I wanted Edward to smell the wine along with the herbs in the garden."
"That sounds wonderful. When do you get to the stupid part?"
"I lost my balance, and when I tried to right myself, the bottle went flying. We each tried to catch it, but we ended up spraying wine all over us and the bottle was broken." I started to cry again.
"Oh... well, that's kinda stupid, but it was an accident," Alice said.
"I know. That's not the stupid part." I could hear an exasperated huff through the phone. "I had to change my clothes, then Edward and I ended up kissing and taking a shower together."
I had started pacing by now and noticed that on a small table by the window, was the welcome bottle of Chardonnay on replenished ice. Yes! I put the phone on speaker and struggled with the corkscrew.
"So that was stupid?"
"No! It was wonderful," I said sadly. "He was wonderful. And then he asked me to spend the night, and I found the condoms you guys left for me. And no, it wasn't stupid!" I yelled in exasperation.
I finally got some wine in the glass and took a large gulp. The cold, oaky liquid quenched my thirst. Oaky liquid? I was even thinking like Edward.
I could tell Alice must be fidgeting in her seat in the car, so I continued. "I had the most wonderful night with him. I woke up and left him a note, saying it was the best night of my life and left without waking him."
"That's not stupid, Bella. You had to go to your meetings at the winery. I'll bet he'll call," she said, trying to reassure me.
"I didn't leave him my number! Or my last name!"
"Okayyyy, that was stupid."
"I knowwww!" I whined. I could hear Emmett in the background saying girls always complain that guys don't call and she didn't give him her number.
"Quiet, Em! Maybe we can find him, Bella. Don't worry. We'll start at the hotel..."
I cut her off. "He's here!"
"He's a contestant. He's the heart surgeon with the sexy voice."
"That's great then! You found him."
"No. He heard me talking to you earlier. I said I made a big mistake last night. He thinks he was the mistake."
"So, all you have to do is talk to him." I hated Alice's peppiness and optimism.
"You didn't see his face. He looked like he hated me, with some hurt mixed in. What am I going to do? I'm supposed to be worrying about the contest, and I'm just distracted by Edward."
They passed the phone around the car, each talking to me, giving me advice and encouragement, while I continued to drink. Finally I hung up, feeling exhausted. They seemed to think I was overreacting, and I should just go up to him and tell him what happened.
After washing my face and finishing half the bottle of wine, I laid down for a nap. I set my phone alarm and plugged it in the charger. I had to get a grip.
I awoke feeling a bit better, revived. Since the dinner was outdoors, I wore skinny jeans and a jacket. The boots pulled the look together. I let my hair fall in soft waves and carefully applied makeup to cover the lingering effects of my earlier crying while not looking too overdone. I put my phone in my pocket, not wanting to keep track of a purse.
I walked to the front and joined the small group taking the van over to the culinary center. I slipped in the seat next to Angela, noticing the frown on Mike's face in the next row. "You're Angela, right? I saw you compete in the Gilroy Garlic contest."
"That was me. It was a fun one. Not much money, but it's prestigious."
"I competed there a few years ago," Mike interrupted. I stopped listening as Mike gave us the play by play from that contest.
Finally free from the prison with Mike, we headed to a table where we were greeted, and given our plastic engraved nametags which were to be held with a strong magnet on the inside of our shirt. These were much nicer than adhesive ones, and I didn't have to worry about a pin damaging the fabric.
I took a glass of Merlot and looked around to see if Edward was there yet. Many of the contestants brought a spouse or companion, and they seemed to stick together. The few of us singles wandered by ourselves. I was so glad Mike had found some poor server who seemed interested in his ramblings.
I stood in front of a large table that was set for about forty. It was completely sheltered by grapevines that turned it into a covered patio. It was beautiful.
"It's nice, isn't it," stated a server who came up next to me. I exchanged my empty glass for a full one.
"This is where we hold lots of small wedding receptions or rehearsal dinners," he said. "It's very popular."
"I can see why," I said, running my hands up the entwined vines.
It was dusk, and the candles twinkled in the dimming light on the table. Each place setting was set with china with the Volturi winery logo on it. There were several glasses placed for white, red and dessert wines.
I looked at the time on my phone. It was almost time to gather, and Edward was still a no-show. He must have one of the bungalows here, since I didn't see his rental car back at the winery, or maybe he was just out. I guess I'd turned into a stalker now. But I wanted to talk to him before we went in to check and approve our ingredients.
I was lucky I got the microphone off my collar without breaking it. I all but ran to my car, wanting to get as far away from Bella as I could.
Twenty-four hours ago I was calmly getting on a plane, and it seemed inconceivable that I had gone through so many highs and lows since then. Somehow I arrived at the bungalow, and I quickly changed into my running clothes and headed out, foregoing my usual stretching.
Any other day I would have soaked up the beauty of the landscape, the neat rows of vines with rosebushes planted at each end rushed by me in a blur. But it took a while for the rhythm of my footfalls to calm me.
I thought about the whole evening, replaying our discussions and our meal. Had I imagined how easy we were together? Then the shower, the most erotic one I'd ever had. After she found the condoms, we used two in the bedroom.
I picked her up and carried her to the king-sized bed. Our hair was still damp and our bodies slightly moist, despite drying off with towels. She smelled fabulous.
I dropped her down on the bed and immediately hovered over her, crashing my lips to hers. She opened her mouth, her tongue tasting me and swirling around mine. Her hands gripped my hair and pulled me closer, then one slipped down my neck dragging her nails lightly over my back.
"Stop it," I yelled to myself. I came to a stop, hands on my knees and tried to catch my breath after my jog had changed to a dead run.
I stood up and started a slow trot back. I had to stop obsessing about Isabella and focus on the contest.
When I walked into my room, I vowed to separate myself from her as much as possible. It would be as if last night never existed.
I collapsed on the bed and fell into a fitful sleep.
I woke to the sound of my phone ringing. I grabbed it and saw it was the hospital.
"Hello," I said.
"Edward? How's it going, son?"
"Uh ... hey, Dad. It's fine. I was napping," I replied.
"Sorry to disturb your sleep. I just wanted to let you know, our flight has been delayed into San Francisco due to fog. It'll be late, so your mom and I will stay there, and drive up in the morning."
"That's fine. We have a dinner tonight and need to okay the ingredients they provide for us. I hope the venison is good quality," I said.
He chuckled. "I'm sure it'll be fine. You worry too much, Edward. Just relax ... this isn't heart surgery. Your mom is so excited to come up and watch the competition. She invited Kate. How was the dinner at Twilight, by the way?
"The food was fantastic as usual," I said. I wasn't going to elaborate on the evening with Bella. I only hoped Kate wouldn't tell Mom about her. But once they see each other, it would probably come out. Years of concentrating on med school had given me little time to date, and Mom thought it was her job to set me up. I sighed.
"Look, Dad, I need to get going. I went for a run and need to take a shower."
"Okay. We'll see you in the morning."
I walked into the bathroom and glared at the shower and turned on the water. As it heated up, I opened the Merlot left in my room. Ignoring any pretense of swirling and tasting, I gulped a large glass. I stalked into the stall and slammed the glass door. It would take more than a glass of wine to forget about Bella.
I threw on black jeans and a dark green cashmere sweater over a grey button down shirt. I took a deep breath and left the bungalow. The culinary center and outdoor venue was about a hundred yards away. There was a party atmosphere, music playing and waiters passing around food and drink. I headed in that direction.
As if waiting for me, Bella was standing on the outskirts of the area lit with lanterns. She took a step in my direction. I tried to keep my face from showing any emotion as I changed my direction slightly away from where she was. She moved again to intercept me as I walked.
Fine, I guess we're going to talk. I held her gaze and closed the distance.
A/N I wrote this as a one shot for a contest. With over 100 entries, a few people read it. Later, I decided I needed to move it to my author site. I got a few more readers. Duh, I had my alerts off and didn't realize anyone was reading. So, thank you! Because of you, I am finishing this. (I was working on a new multi-chapter fic to post, when I discovered my readers. I post that when I finish this.) See you soon. Let me know what you think. I promise to reply now.