Notes: Thanks to Sunflower3759 and Ashes Ashes for beta-ing and Content1 for validating! Trust me, without them; you wouldn't want to read this.
You all seemed to really enjoy the last chapter. Who can blame you though? Frisbeeward is pretty delicious. And trust me ladies, if you can round up the guys, I will HAPPILY be the photographer and make a calendar for you all. ;)
Chapter 18: On Edge
The week following the 4th of July, Bella seemed less stressed out about things, yet more frustrated. After another unsatisfying phone call with the police, she seemed to grow impatient and restless to get her life back in order. I knew it was driving her crazy to not have a car, but the insurance company told her to expect a re-imbursement check within a week.
One night after work, we stopped at a few dealerships to look at cars. She was basically looking to replace what she had, but she wanted to test drive a few others to be sure. Her car had been a hand-me-down from her parents, and this would be the first car she was buying on her own.
I was happy to help with a few pointers I'd picked up over the years, and she finally settled on a black, two-door Civic.
"Are you sure you don't want a four-door?" I asked, looking at one longingly.
"Why?" she laughed.
I leaned in and whispered in her ear, not wanting the sales guy to overhear. "Because, Bella, it's going to be really difficult for me to cram myself into the back seat of this one."
She turned and gave me a puzzled look. "Why would you need to?"
"Oh, I don't know." I nuzzled her temple with my lips and kept my voice low. "Because, what if I couldn't wait another second to be inside you? You never know… having easy access to the backseat might be handy."
She laughed and rolled her eyes. "You're ridiculous, but I love you."
Thankfully, the guy at the dealership advertised in the Seattle Times. So, with a little bit of sweet-talking, I was able to convince him to hold onto the car for Bella until her insurance check came in. She didn't even have to leave a down payment.
I had hoped Bella would return to her normal, cheerful self, but if anything, Bella seemed more restless as the days passed. On Tuesday, she left the studio in tears.
The minute she walked out the door and I saw her face, I hastily scrambled to get out of my car. I wrapped my arms tightly around her and pulled her tightly to me. "What's going on? Are you okay?"
"All of the photos from my last shoot are totally fucked up." She sniffled and wiped at her nose with the tissue she'd had clutched in her hand.
"Any idea what happened?" I asked, wondering if it was a computer glitch or if it was an error she'd made herself.
"I have no idea; it's so weird. I just went in to the folder and they were corrupted."
"No way to restore them?"
"No. I mean, it'll be fine; we have backups of the originals on the external hard drives and on disc. I checked them and they're fine. I can re-do them, but I lost two days of work. Victoria was really nice about it, but I could tell she was frustrated. We probably won't meet the deadline we gave the client."
"You hadn't saved the edited photos to an external source?"
"No." She groaned. "I thought I did, but I can't find them anywhere. I must have forgotten."
"I'm sorry; that's really frustrating."
She sighed and pressed closer to me. "I'm just annoyed and feel like the better things go with you, the more they're starting to fall apart everywhere else."
I hummed my agreement, but it got me thinking; after the vandalism to her car and now her work, what if someone was targeting her? I'd been leaning away from that theory, but it was still possible. The corrupted picture files could have just been an odd coincidence, but what if they weren't? I was going to have to spend some time mulling that one over.
For now, Bella needed someone to vent to. I let her talk as I drove us back toward my place, stopping to pick up dinner at Hing Loon. Even Mei's cheerful greeting didn't do much to shake Bella from her dark mood.
Unfortunately, her streak of bad luck seemed to continue. A pen burst in her purse, leaving everything covered in black ink. Later in the week, she noticed that the jade elephant pendant I'd bought her went missing. And despite the hours she spent working to re-do the photos that had been corrupted, they weren't able to get them to the client on time.
It frustrated me that there was nothing I could do to make her feel better. Nothing I could do to fix the situation. I couldn't make it better for her, and I hated it.
It didn't help that I had my own deadlines to meet and had to work late several nights. The scandal with the mayor was still going strong, new information trickling out from my sources every day. I left the office everyday with more work on my desk than when I'd walked in.
Without a car, Bella was stuck either at work or at my place. Friday morning, on our way to work, I held out my keys to her. "Why don't you drop me off for a change? You can leave work whenever you want and come back here. I'll have Mike or Eric give me a ride home."
"You sure?" she asked dubiously. "I feel bad taking your car."
"It's fine," I reassured her. "It makes much more sense this way."
"It would be kind of nice," she admitted. "I wanted to stop at the bookstore after work."
"Perfect. Enjoy." I handed the keys over and she took them
She slid into the driver's side and moved the seat forward. It wasn't until she'd started the car that she paused with a gasp. "What if something bad happens to your car?"
"Then we'll know you're being targeted. I have full-coverage insurance; it would be a pain, but it's not a big deal. My car is replaceable; I'm more worried about you. I couldn't live with myself if something happened to you. Promise me you'll be careful."
I cupped her cheek in my hand and she smiled tremulously at me. "I'm scared, Edward."
"I know. But we'll get through this. It's been several weeks and nothing else has happened. Maybe it was just a fluke," I reassured her.
She nodded and kissed me quickly before putting the car in drive. I could see from the set of her shoulders and the way she pressed her lips tightly together that she was still worried. Unfortunately, I didn't know what else to do to reassure her.
Bella seemed a little more relaxed that night when I got home from work. I was exhausted; it had been a grueling day, trying to chase down leads and confirm facts. But I met my deadline and turned in an article I could be proud of.
Eric dropped me off at my place, and when I walked in the door to see her curled up on my couch, I let out a sigh of relief. She was asleep with her hands tucked under her cheek as she lay on her side. She'd been sleeping restlessly lately, and it was good to see her able to unwind enough to fall asleep. I gently covered her with a blanket and pressed a kiss to her forehead. She let out a sleepy murmur that sounded like my name but didn't stir.
I showered quickly and changed into pajamas. Bella was still sleeping on the couch, and I wandered into the kitchen, trying to decide what we should do for dinner. Although I'd urged her to eat without me, when I'd called to let her know what time I'd be home, she had declined. She insisted on waiting until I got back.
To my surprise, there was soup simmering on the stove. It smelled amazing when I lifted the lid, and my stomach growled. I glanced at the time to see that it was after nine p.m. As much as I wanted Bella to sleep, I wanted her to eat dinner, too. I walked back in the kitchen to see that she was already awake and blinking drowsily.
"You're home," she said, her voice scratchy from sleep.
I sank onto the couch beside her and she curled up against me, looping her arm around my elbow and leaning in to press her cheek against the top of my shoulder. "How was your day?"
"It was okay. I finally got those photos done."
"Good. How was the bookstore?"
"It was nice. I just wandered around for a while and sat down with a cup of tea. Nice and relaxing."
"I'm glad." I kissed the top of her head. "I see you made soup."
"Oh, yes." She scrambled to get off the couch. "It's vegetable tortellini. I'll just throw the pasta in and we'll be able to eat in a few minutes."
"It smells great. I'm really looking forward to it. Thanks."
"You're welcome. I knew you'd be exhausted when you got home; it was the least I could do after you let me borrow your car."
I followed her into the kitchen, taking in a deep breath of the fragrant air. I knew Bella didn't love cooking the way Alice did, and I really appreciated that she'd made an effort for me. "Thank you. You definitely didn't have to, but I'm eager to try it."
After turning up the heat and dumping the pasta in, she threw together a salad and tossed some rolls in the oven to warm while I got out plates and bowls. When dinner was ready, we took a seat at the counter and ate. We were both quiet, but it was reassuring to feel her warm thigh pressed against mine and our elbows occasionally brushing.
We went to bed early that night, both of us too exhausted to even think about doing anything else. With my arms around her warm, naked body, and my head buried in her soft, sweet-smelling hair, I thought maybe it didn't matter. Just being with her was enough.
Saturday was another wedding photo-shoot for Bella, and it was warm and muggy. I dropped her off at the studio at an ungodly hour of the morning, cursing the bride who just had to have a photographer at the salon while she got ready. Secretly, I thought Bella and Victoria probably agreed.
They both looked a little groggy when Bella slid into the passenger seat of Victoria's Red Mustang and Victoria mutely handed her a large cup of coffee from the coffee shop down the street. I followed them out onto the street and then turned in the opposite direction, heading to the Seattle Times building. I had a long, Bella-less day with hours of work ahead of me.
The day passed quickly enough, and once my work was done, I met Mike and Eric. We met for pizza and beer in the early evening, knowing it would be hours before Bella was done.
I had been home for a couple of hours before the door to the apartment opened. I sat up in surprise; I'd expected her to call me on her way home so I could pick her up at the studio. I knew it had to be Bella though; she was the only other person who had a key to my apartment.
I'd given it to her a few days ago, just in case she ever needed to get in since we were essentially living together now. I knew it was too early to officially ask her to move in—we'd only been dating for two months—but a part of me really wanted to take that step.
I met her in the hallway and took her camera gear from her. She let out a relieved groan as she kicked her shoes off by the door. "How was it today?"
"Awful." She sighed. "The bride was a wreck; she was absolutely devastated by the weather. She spent the whole day complaining that her hair was messed up, and the pictures were going to suck, and that her day wasn't going as perfectly as she'd planned. And then, I found out that my battery on my camera was dead, even though I was sure I had charged it. And I couldn't find my back-up one. Luckily, Victoria had some extras, or I would have been screwed."
"I'm sorry. That must have been frustrating." She rose up on her tiptoes and kissed me quickly. I looped my arms around her and pulled her closer, deepening the kiss.
"Nah, I'm the one who's sorry," she said when I pulled back a little. "I shouldn't dump it all on you the moment I get home."
It didn't escape my notice that she'd been calling my place home, a lot lately. I smiled and kissed the top of her head. "That's what I'm here for."
"How was your day?" She asked, tugging my hand to get me to follow her as she headed down the hallway.
"Long, boring, but productive, I guess. I got everything done that I needed to, and Mike, Eric, and I went out for pizza."
"That's great you got out with the guys."
"Yeah, it was good," I agreed. She had been heading toward the bathroom, and I willingly followed.
"Want to take a shower with me?" she asked.
"Sure," I agreed, always eager to spend any chance to spend time naked and wet with Bella. We showered together and the stress of the day seemed to melt away. Especially after I spent a long time teasing her with my mouth and fingers, making her come over and over until she was weak in the knees.
My poor girl was exhausted and so sleepy her eyes kept closing involuntarily. I scooped her up, dried her off and carried her to the bed. She was asleep by the time I got back from making the nightly rounds of the apartment to be sure the door was locked and everything was put away.
We had a typical Sunday morning, sleeping in late, eating breakfast in our pajamas and lounging. Bella pulled out the book she'd bought on Friday, and I found one that I'd been wanting to read for a while. We sat with our legs tangled together, her toes wiggling against my thigh every so often.
She pretended to be immersed in the story but as the hours passed I could see her growing restless. I put my book down on the couch beside me and peered over at her. "You okay?"
She sighed. "I think I want to go back to my place this afternoon."
"Okay. We can go whenever you're ready."
She looked down and fiddled with the hem of her shorts. "I think I want some time to myself."
"Oh." I was surprised, and a little hurt. "Yeah, I guess if that's what you want …."
She crossed her legs under her and leaned forward. "It isn't that I don't want to spend the day with you. But I haven't been to my place in almost two weeks. I've hardly seen Alice, and I haven't had a moment to myself except at work and my trip to the bookstore."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to smother you." My voice came out sounding more hurt and a little harsher than I'd intended, and I winced, hating that I came across as being so needy.
"You're not smothering me, Edward," she said, the frustration in her voice evident. "But I need a little space. I just need some time by myself. It has nothing to do with you. I'm feeling overwhelmed, and I want to go back to my apartment and have a girly day with Alice."
"Fine." I tossed aside my book and stood up. "I'll get dressed and take you over there."
"Edward …" She reached for me and I brushed her off, going into the bedroom to throw on jeans and a T-shirt. We didn't speak as she got ready, throwing her stuff into her travel bag. I was glad to see she left the toiletries that had accumulated on top of my counter. At least she wasn't planning to stay away for long.
I didn't know why it hurt me so much that she wanted some space to herself, but it did. It made me feel panicky and anxious. I stewed about it as I drove her to her apartment and fully expected her to bolt out of the car. I didn't speak until I pulled up behind her building and put the car in park.
"Do you need me to pick you up in the morning?" I asked gruffly, as she reached for the door handle.
She turned to face me and her eyes were glistening with tears. I swallowed hard, hating to see her so upset. I put my hand on her arm to stop her from going anywhere so I could apologize. "I'm sorry; I'm being an asshole."
She relaxed back against the seat a little, and I reached over to brush the tears off of her cheeks. "I think—" I swallowed hard "—Look, I'm worried, and I think I'm taking it out on you. I'm sorry"
"I just don't know what I did wrong," she said.
"You didn't do anything. I'm just on edge because of everything that's happened, and I hate you being away from me. I feel like if you're with me, I can keep you safe."
She reached out and took my hand, squeezing it tightly. "I appreciate that, and I do feel safe with you. I just need a little time to decompress and sort out my thoughts. It has nothing to do with not wanting to be with you at all. I'm an only child; I'm using to being by myself more often than not. I'm just not used to spending every minute of every day with someone. You have been perfect about this whole thing, pretty much anticipating anything I could possibly need without me even having to say it. I'm just trying to let you know what I need right now."
"Okay," I said hoarsely, feeling terrible about being so short with her when she had done nothing to deserve it. "Just be careful. If you and Alice decide to go out or anything, please be aware of what's going on around you. I don't think you have anything to worry about, but I want you to be safe."
She nodded and gave me a tiny smile. "I'm able to handle myself better than you'd think. My dad arms me with a new can of pepper spray every year; he even made me take self-defense classes before I started my freshman year at UDub."
"Wow," I said. "I'm impressed. I guess I should be glad I didn't piss you off more."
She chuckled and scooted closer to me. "You didn't piss me off—just confused me, mostly."
"Well, I'm sorry."
"I know." She brushed her lips lightly across mine. "Not too bad for our first fight, huh?"
I chuckled and wrapped my hand around the back of her neck and pulled her closer to me. "No. Not bad at all."
I kissed her goodbye, trying to apologize without words for the way I'd acted. I'd been an ass.
After an afternoon to myself, I grudgingly had to admit that some time apart wasn't necessarily a bad thing. We had been spending every spare second together, and although I'd tried to squeeze in a handful of workouts, I'd been slacking. Bella would no doubt still love me if I was out of shape, but to be perfectly honest, I enjoyed the way her eyes wandered my body in appreciation. I was feeling frustrated by the lack of progress on Bella's case, and a good, hard workout usually cleared my head.
An hour and a half later, when I was dripping with sweat and exhausted, I did feel better. As I trudged up the stairs from the basement-level workout room in my apartment building, I realized that I'd been a monumental idiot. Not just about the stupid disagreement we'd had earlier, but because I hadn't been putting all of the resources I had into figuring who had vandalized her car.
For a while I'd tossed around the idea that maybe it was connected to my investigation and reporting of the scandal at the mayor's office, but that didn't seem to fit. It certainly wasn't out of the question that Bella would be targeted because of me, but it made no sense that I wouldn't have had something happen to me directly, as well. After all, anyone threatening me would be trying to get the message across that they wanted me to stop investigating. Smashing in Bella's car didn't really fit with that.
I was still hopeful that it was a random prank or some kind of misunderstanding, but a nagging instinct told me there was more to it. The car had been utterly destroyed, and yet, not a single belonging of hers had been taken. I'd been on edge ever since, waiting for something else to happen.
Sometimes I felt myself wishing something would happen; that way we would know for sure that Bella was being targeted. Not that I wanted her, or her possessions, to be harmed, but waiting and wondering was difficult. And all of the little odd things that had been happening to her at work couldn't be ignored either.
After a shower and lunch, I got comfortable on the couch with my laptop and began searching. Checking the police blotters revealed that there hadn't been a recent increase in vandalism throughout Seattle; in fact there had been a decrease in the six months prior. The odds of it being a random event were that much less likely then.
I was still immersed in research when Bella called. Surprised, I glanced at the time to see that I'd spent nearly four hours trying to find anything that would help track down who had done this, and why. I felt like all I hit were dead ends. I'd tried everything I could think of and had come up empty. I put my laptop away and focused on her.
"How was your day?" I asked, happy to hear her voice.
"It was good. I spent a while just doing things around the apartment. I know Alice doesn't really care, but I feel bad that I haven't been pulling my weight around there. So I cleaned the kitchen and bathroom, vacuumed and dusted. It sounds weird, but cleaning can be very calming."
"That is weird," I agreed, and she laughed. "But feel free to clean my apartment any time you're feeling stressed."
She laughed again, so hard she nearly snorted. "Nice try, Edward," she finally choked out. "But you're still doing your half of the chores."
"Damn, I thought I had you there," I teased. It was good to hear her laugh and I relaxed a little, glad she'd enjoyed her afternoon. I was totally teasing about the cleaning; honestly, we'd pretty much fallen into a rhythm with taking care of my apartment together. If she cooked, I cleaned up after, and vice versa. And we'd been taking care of the rest of it together. "What did you and Alice do today?"
"After she got home from Jasper's place, we talked. And then she made me delicious food and chocolate for dessert, and then we watched movies. It was disgustingly girly and sappy, and we had a blast."
I smiled; glad to hear the relaxation in her voice. "Sounds great. I'm glad you guys had fun. You were right, having a little time apart today was good."
"Yeah, what did you do today?" She asked. "Watch porn?"
I snickered. "Bella, if I'm watching porn, it's going to be with you."
"Hmm, that sounds like fun," she purred. "I'll keep that in mind for tomorrow night."
"God, you're going to kill me," I groaned.
"So, if it wasn't porn, what did you do?"
"Worked out until I wanted to die, took a shower, and spent some time digging around online, trying to find an angle on the vandalism," I said.
"Any luck?" She aimed for calm, but I heard the slight tremor in her voice.
I sighed. "No, unfortunately not. I checked Victoria out to see if maybe she was involved in something shady, but I didn't come up with anything."
"How would you even get access to information like that?" Bella asked, sounding baffled.
"You are dating an investigative reporter, Bella," I reminded her. "This is what I do. I can't believe I didn't think about it until today. You were right; some time apart did help."
"Oh!" She laughed. "God, I didn't even think of that. Well, I'm sorry you weren't able to come up with anything, but thank you for trying."
"Of course," I reassured her. "I haven't quite given up yet. I want you to give me the last names of your co-workers as well, just in case they're mixed up in anything shady."
"Bree and Angela? I can't imagine either of them being involved in anything like that."
"It won't hurt to check," I pointed out.
"True. Um, it's Angela Webber and Bree Tanner."
"What about clients? Were there any clients that made you uneasy or anyone who said anything that seemed unusual? Any weird phone calls?"
"No," she said slowly. "Nothing that I can think of."
"Anyone you encountered at a store, or a restaurant? Someone who was paying really close attention to you, or someone who seemed angry or frustrated."
She paused for a moment to think. "No; nothing like that."
"Think back over the last few weeks. Is there anyone that seemed off to you at all?"
"Well, like I told you, Bree has been acting kind of strange—sort of distant. And it was a little weird the way she seemed to know all about your modeling career."
"That was odd," I mused. "Okay, I'll look into her first. Anyone else?"
"I feel bad even saying this, but James—Victoria's husband—he made an odd comment the other day about me having a boyfriend. He's very odd in general. One of those super smart people with terrible social skills. He kinda gave me the creeps when I met him, but he's been nothing but nice until the comment he made recently."
"Hmm. Is his last name Winters, as well?"
"Yes. And I know he works for Boeing as an engineer."
"I'll check them both out. It can't hurt to do a little digging for our own peace of mind."
"Okay," Bella said quietly. We talked for a little while until she started to grow sleepy. I wished her goodnight and promised her I'd pick her up first thing in the morning.
I stayed up for several hours after that to do further research, but unfortunately, I still came up blank. Worried and missing the feel of Bella in my arms, I eventually fell into a restless sleep.
Notes: So, E&B had a bit of a fight. Perfectly normal, don't you think? Stress can be rough on a relationship. And it's always a little tricky trying to find the balance between spending all of your time together in a new relationship and needing a little space. But the good news is that they worked it out, and although it won't be the last argument in their lifetime, it will be the only one for this story.
What about the corrupted picture files? Very odd, huh? Lots of other little things going wrong as well. Do you think it's because Bella's stressed and distracted, or because someone is out to get her?
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