Title: The Cullen Enterprise
Author: Amethyst Jackson
Summary: Bella has no idea how she's going to continue supporting herself and her recovering father on her meager income…until a certain CEO waltzes in with an offer she can't refuse.
Disclaimer: The characters in this story are in no way mine, and that is why I am making absolutely ZERO dollars off this story. And the idea isn't all that original, either, so I'm really not making any claims here.
Chapter Twenty-Two: Hostile Makeover
On Thursday, Edward had to work late again. I spent the day checking up on my college registration and and working in the greenhouse. Edward hadn't been kidding about his lousy gardening skills. The place was a mess, and most of my time was spent disposing of the plants that didn't make it. By the time I was done getting the new plants in the earth, I was both filthy and exhausted.
I took a long, hot shower and heated up some leftovers for dinner. I decided to head straight to bed after that. I could always read a little bit or watch TV.
Of course, by the time Edward got home at 8:30, I was fast asleep. The weight of him sitting on the bed woke me.
"Clearly, I'm not letting you rest enough," he said with a wry smile. "Are you feeling okay?"
I nodded and rubbed my eyes. "I just worked really hard today. Wore myself out, I guess."
"Oh? What were you doing?" he asked with more than casual interest.
I grinned. "It's a surprise."
"I'm intrigued." He stretched out on the bed beside me, still fully clothed save his jacket, tie and shoes. "Well, whatever you were doing today, did you have fun?"
"I did." It came as a surprise, really, but I loved the sense of accomplishment I'd gotten out of setting up the garden.
"Good," he smiled. "I wanted to ask you, do you have any plans for tomorrow night?"
I shook my head. "No, of course not."
"Would you like to go out with me?" he asked, looking at me through his gold-tipped eyelashes. "I thought perhaps we could go out to dinner. I've decided I'm leaving work at six whether everything is done or not."
That he would bother to ask me on a date given our arrangement made my heart skip a beat. "I'd love that."
Edward's smile came quickly and easily. "I'll make reservations."
My eyebrows furrowed at that. Reservations? I wasn't used to the kinds of places that required reservations. For the past couple years, going to the one diner in Forks had been a luxury.
Edward noticed the change in my expression. "What's wrong?"
My cheeks flushed. I couldn't shake my embarrassment, irrational as it was. "I'm not sure I have anything appropriate to wear to a place where you need reservations. I'm not even sure what is appropriate."
Edward's eyes softened as his intuition picked up on what I wasn't saying. "Bella, that's hardly a personal failing. We can go somewhere more relaxed."
I felt like an idiot. "No, I want to do whatever you had in mind, really. And I definitely need to update my wardrobe. But I feel so out of my depth. I just need to suck it up and go shopping."
He tilted his head thoughtfully. "Why don't I send Alice shopping with you tomorrow?"
The thought of spending the day with someone I didn't know well and who might very well find my fashion inadequacies as ridiculous as I knew they were was...uncomfortable, to say the least. But I didn't say that.
"Won't Alice mind being sent out to help me pick out clothes? I mean, that can't be in her job description."
Edward let out an incredulous snort. "Are you kidding? There's nothing Alice loves more in the world than shopping. It'll make her whole week. And I'll make a confession here – Alice picks out all of my suits for me; I don't have the faintest clue. I just go in for the fittings."
"Really?" Edward always seemed so put-together, even when he wasn't in his work clothes. I couldn't picture him being as sartorially clueless as I was.
"Truly." His smile was a little shy. "When I started working at Cullen Enterprises, I was fresh out of college. I didn't have the slightest clue how to dress. With my mom sick and my dad focused on her, and my uncle focused on running a company, there wasn't really anyone to help me. Alice was working in the marketing department at the time, and once she caught sight of me, she initiated what I like to call a hostile makeover."
I snickered. "That...is a really bad pun."
"I know," he grinned, "But honestly, it's what she does. She loves dressing people. She'd be thrilled to get some time away from me and get paid to shop for someone else. And she likes you, so I know she'd do it in a heartbeat. If you'd like."
"She likes me?" Maybe I should take the offer. I could get the expansion of my wardrobe over with, and maybe I'd make a new friend in the process. Edward thought highly of her; I could hear it in the tone with which he spoke of her, and it made me feel a twinge of jealousy even after his assurances from the night before.
"She thinks you're good for me. I think she's right about that, too."
There was nothing I could say to that without giving myself away. "If you really don't think she would mind, I could use her help."
"I'll have her come get you tomorrow morning."
True to his word, Edward called me around nine the next morning to warn me that Alice was on her way. Fortunately, I'd woken early and had already showered and dressed, so there was nothing for me to do but wait. I killed some time watering the plants in the greenhouse, then spent the rest of my wait pacing the foyer.
Alice turned up in a sleek silver car sporting a wide grin.
"This is awesome, Bella. Do you know how long I've been waiting for the day I could get paid to shop? And in the company car, no less."
I smiled at her enthusiasm. "I'm happy for you, truly. But I should warn you...I'm really not that into shopping."
She shrugged and led the way to the car. "Edward said that. Don't worry, I'm a very efficient shopper."
We climbed into the car and Alice made quick work of pulling out of the driveway.
"So, let's make a plan of attack," Alice said, drumming her fingers against the steering wheel. "What kinds of things do you need?"
I looked out the window, embarrassed. "Well, everything, I guess. I haven't really bought anything new in the past couple of years."
Alice, bless her, didn't ask why. "So we'll have to start with the basics. Do you need new underwear?"
I blushed. My panties were the perfectly respectable white cotton kind that came in ten-packs, but they weren't exactly sexy. My bras were pretty much the same. "Yeah, I think so."
"Okay." Alice was thoughtful. "Underwear to start with. Edward said you'll be going back to school. So casual clothes – jeans and tops and stuff. And definitely a nice dress for tonight. And shoes, you can't forget shoes. What kind of budget are we working with?"
I hadn't really thought about that. "Well, I know I'll have to spend to get everything I need, but I want to be frugal about it."
"The good news is, I know how to shop on a budget," Alice said with a firm nod. "And the best news is, Victoria's Secret is having a big sale right now."
True to her word, Alice was a very efficient shopper. Mostly, she flitted around sale racks and brought me things to try on, which worked pretty well. She was good at picking things I would like, grasping quickly that I preferred to keep it simple.
Within just a couple hours, she had me loaded up with more clothing than I'd ever thought I would buy. We hadn't found a dress for tonight yet, but Alice said she had a plan for that and we could work on it after lunch.
We went to a local deli to eat. Once we were seated with our sandwiches, Alice began to ask the questions she'd surely been holding back all morning.
"So...how did you and Edward get together, anyway?"
I stalled by munching on a potato chip and taking a sip of Coke. "How much has he told you?"
"The bare minimum," Alice groused. "Men, I swear. I know he contacted you about your application to the Foundation and that he wanted to help you out, but that's it."
I shrugged. "That's basically it. He called me and wanted to meet with me, so we had dinner and things just sort of...progressed from there."
"Apparently, if you're already living with him," Alice teased.
I shifted uncomfortably, afraid she would hit too close to the truth. "It's crazy, I know, but..."
"Not crazy," Alice said. "When you know, you know. When I met Jasper, I knew right away that he was the man I was going to marry. And I did. Sometimes gut instincts are right."
I didn't allow myself to consider what my gut was telling me about Edward. He wanted the semblance of a relationship without the hassle...the last thing I needed was to complicate things for myself.
"So how is it working out so far?" Alice asked. "Living with him and all."
"It's great," I said honestly. "He's worked really hard to make me feel at home. He's kind of perfect."
"Even though he works all the time?" Alice said with a raised eyebrow, and I had a feeling she was testing me. Based on what I knew of Edward's past relationships, I didn't blame her for being protective.
"I'd love to have him around more, of course," I said, "but I know how he feels about his work. I wouldn't want to get in the way of that. And I don't mind being on my own."
Alice just nodded in response, but I had a feeling I'd passed her test.
"Alice...I have a feeling this store is a little out of my comfort zone," I said, eying the designer labels advertised in the window.
"Just trust me," Alice urged, pushing me through the double doors. "We can always go somewhere else."
I walked forward reluctantly, and Alice led me not to the racks of dresses but to the checkout counter.
"Hi, I'm Alice Brandon," she said to the clerk. "I called earlier. Do you have it?"
"We do, Ms. Brandon," the tall, leggy, blonde clerk said. Just standing near her made me feel about two feet tall. "Right this way."
Alice and I followed the clerk in her little black dress back to the dressing rooms, where she gestured us into a room that was entirely too large to be justifiable as a changing area. There were multiple armchairs in the room, for goodness' sake.
"Let me know if you need anything, Ms. Brandon," the blonde said before leaving us to it. I turned in a circle, taking in my surroundings, and stopped when I saw a dress hanging on the wall.
It was knee-length, a lovely deep purple combination of lace and what looked like silk to me, but I couldn't be sure. What I did know was that it was exactly what I wanted.
"Alice? What is all this?"
"Just try the dress on, and then I'll explain. And don't forget to try the shoes with it. The shoes are everything."
I glanced down to the floor beneath the dress and saw a pair of shoes the exact color of the dress waiting for me. The heels were higher than I would normally feel comfortable with.
"I'll try it," I conceded, but I didn't know if I could commit to those shoes.
Alice ducked outside, and I reluctantly took off my clothes to try on yet another garment. The dress went on easily, and it blessedly had a side zipper that saved me from doing contortions to get it fastened. It fit like a glove, and I had to admit, I felt good in it. It was rare that I felt anything other than shapeless in my clothes, but this dress gave me actual curves.
I did as I was told and put on the shoes as well before looking over my reflection in the mirror.
Alice was a horrible manipulator. She had to know I'd want this dress as soon as I put it on. The problem was money. Even though I was very well taken care of for now, thanks to Edward, I wanted to be prudent with my funds. I had no contract with Edward; there was no guarantee of how long our arrangement would last. Even I wasn't sure how long I wanted it to last...every day I grew more conflicted. But either way, the money he'd given me was a blessing, and I wasn't about to waste it on a dress I would wear only once.
I looked the dress up and down for a price tag, but I couldn't find one.
"Alice?" I called.
She peeked her head in the doorway. "Oh, Bella, it's perfect on you," she gushed, stepping into the room. "Do you like it?"
"I love it. But it seems to be missing a price tag."
Alice crossed her arms over her chest. "Okay, let me just say first off that this is almost entirely Edward's doing. I just picked out the dress."
I waited, eyes narrowed. "Yes?"
"Edward already paid for the dress. And the shoes. He said he wanted you to have something nice and that you weren't used to spending money on yourself, so he told me to pick out a dress for you and put it on his card."
I opened my mouth to protest. This was just too much.
"He also said that you would probably have a problem with that, and he wanted me to tell you, and I quote, 'Just wear the damn dress, Bella.'"
I closed my mouth and looked in the mirror again. Edward was right that I wouldn't want to splurge on myself. It just wasn't something I'd ever been at liberty to do. I wished I knew why that was a problem for him.
"I guess I wouldn't want to embarrass Edward tonight," I mumbled.
Alice shook her head at me. "Bella, that's not what this is about."
I shrugged. "I guess it's time to change and go home, then. I need to get ready for tonight."
"You do need to get ready, but you're not going home."
Alice took me to a salon which, she claimed, was also on Edward's orders. I wasn't sure I felt any better about it than I did the dress, but Alice not so subtly told me Edward's feelings would be hurt if I kicked up a fuss, so I submitted with as much grace as I could muster while stylists tried to make me pretty.
Manicure. Pedicure. Make-up. Hair. I felt like a human Barbie doll.
By the time all was said and done, it was close to six, and Alice took me back to the office with her so I could meet Edward there. I felt ridiculous walking around all done-up in this dress and the heels, and the stares I garnered as we went didn't make me feel any better.
When we got into the elevator, I realized I was nervous as hell. After all the gussying up Edward had put me through today...what if he wasn't satisfied with the result?
The elevator dinged and my stomach twisted.
A/N: I'll get back to Q&A the next time I post. As you can see, there wasn't a fantastic place to end this chapter, but I didn't want to keep you waiting. Probably won't have a post for you tomorrow, what with it being BD-Day, but I'm definitely trying for Friday.