"I miss you too, Daddy."
The conversation drags on, just as they usually do. Bella collapses onto the couch next to Edward and rolls her eyes, signaling to him that she'll be off the phone soon. He waits patiently. Quietly, too—it might be eight in Forks, Washington, but it's two hours later in Chicago, and something tells Edward that Bella's father might not take too kindly to a male presence in his daughter's apartment so late at night. Charlie's a police chief, Bella had said. Sick or not, his profession alone is enough to scare the shit out of Edward.
She leans her head against Edward's shoulder. His hands find their way to her waist. It's not that Bella doesn't like catching up with her father. She loves their every now and again phone calls, but Charlie can be a little overbearing. He worries. Unnecessarily. She knows that. Lately it seems that once she gets on the phone with him, it's almost impossible to end the call.
"I hope you're locking up at night," Charlie sighs into the phone. "I still don't understand why you had to move to one of the most dangerous cities in America."
Bella grins. She gets the same lecture from Edward on the rare nights that they're apart. "Relax. I'm fine. I can take care of myself."
"Still got that pepper spray?" he asks.
"Same bottle you gave me in high school."
"Had to use it yet?" Charlie jokes. "Your new boyfriend does know how to keep his hands to himself, doesn't he?"
"Dad!" She hopes to god Edward doesn't overhear. He looks at her, curious and clueless.
Her father laughs. Clearly he's hit the nail right on its head. Bella's vague reply confirms exactly what Charlie has suspected for weeks. She must be seeing someone. "Don't act like I haven't noticed. Recently your phone calls are becoming few and far between."
It's true. When Bella first moved to Chicago, she was lonely and called home often. This hasn't been the case since meeting Edward. "I've been busy."
"Too busy for your old man?"
"You know that's not true." Bella quickly changes the subject. "How's Sue?"
Charlie's wife is no replacement for Bella's biological mother, but she does her best. Sue has two kids of her own. Seth and Leah are older than Bella, though not by much. Their father died while they were still in high school, and their mother only started dating Charlie after Bella left for college. The two married a couple of years later, just before discovering Charlie's illness.
It comforts Bella to know her dad isn't alone. Sue is the only reason Bella could fathom moving so far away. She would never leave him to fend for himself, but with Sue around, Bella knows he'll be taken care of. Sue makes Charlie happy.
His only worry is who will take care of Bella after he's gone.
Bella doesn't speak much when she and Charlie finally end their call. She flips absent mindedly through the television channels, unable to find anything that catches her attention. She's distracted. It's been a few months since she moved away from home, and while she doesn't miss it nearly as much as she used to, it would be nice to visit sometime soon. Charlie mentioned that he's sleeping on the couch now. The stairs are too much.
It won't be long.
"Are you okay?"
It's only after he asks the question that she allows the tears to well in her eyes. Bella hates feeling vulnerable, but she can't force herself to keep her guard up. Edward sighs, pulling her close for a hug. She buries her face into the crook of his neck and softly cries. They remain in an embrace as Edward decides the best course of action. Comforting a crying girl isn't exactly his forte.
"Need a distraction?" He's joking. Sort of. His eyebrows wiggle, as if what he's implying wasn't already obvious.
Despite it all, she laughs. "Period, remember?"
"Right." How could he forget? "No wonder you're such a fucking basket case."
"You're the one who insisted on spending the night with me anyway."
"Well, I'm not really a fan of all those stupid pillows on your bed, but it's still better than sleeping in my cardboard box."
"It's all about the goddamn sheets, isn't it?"
"Not entirely." He smirks. "Because even though I wish you'd swallow, I still like it when you suck my dick."
Bella playfully slaps Edward's shoulder but doesn't comment otherwise. Her lips are too busy elsewhere. Being so late at night, Edward has already stripped down to his boxer briefs. She presses her lips to every inch of his exposed skin—from his neck to his thighs, neglecting only what's covered by thin fabric that leaves little to the imagination. He groans, too wrapped up in the anticipation of pleasure to feel guilt over the fact that the beautiful girl who had been crying only minutes ago is somehow trying to make him feel good.
"Jesus Christ," he breathes. His hands instinctively go to the back of her head as she takes him deep.
Within minutes he's guiding her, thrusting his hips and willing himself to last for as long as possible. He knows he's close. No matter how many times Bella sucks his dick, she still makes him feel as if his stamina is lacking. This woman is his weakness. And when she gags from being fucked too rough, too fast, there's nothing Edward can do to hold back. He comes hard, biting his tongue to keep the noise low.
Obscenities flow from Edward's tongue as Bella looks up at him with hooded eyes. She tucks his dick back into his underwear, saying nothing and carrying on as if what happened is nothing out of the ordinary. As if it's something she's always done. For a split second he wonders if he's lost his mind or slipped into some sort of alternate dimension. If not for the sound of his heart racing in his ears, he might wonder if he's dead.
"Come on, Hobo. Time for bed."
Bella turns off the television and heads straight for her bedroom. She leaves Edward dumbfounded and alone, and for the first time, it occurs to him that he might be in love with her.
The realization is accompanied by another: he's a fucking asshole. His pulse is starting to slow, and all of the guilt he was too worked up to feel moments ago begins to set in. Bella was hurting. She needed comfort, not a distraction. And to make matters worse, there hadn't even been anything in it for her.
"Fuck," he sighs, rubbing his hand over his eyes. He stands and makes his way through the darkness to Bella's bedroom, willing to be whatever she needs.
Edward asks the question as Bella emerges from her en suite bathroom, teeth brushed and ready for bed. She turns on the ceiling fan before crawling next to him and wastes no time snuggling close. His question catches her off guard, but Edward's concern is genuine. Lips brush against her forehead. Affectionate touches mimic the soft tone of his voice.
"Not good," Bella says. It's much easier to hold herself together now. "It sounds like the chemo is taking a lot out of him."
Edward nods. "Treatment is hell."
"He says he sleeps on the couch a lot. It's hard for him to make it up the stairs."
"Does he have someone other than your stepmom to help him?"
Bella shifts her body even closer to his. She knows how much Charlie hates asking for help. "My stepbrother is usually around."
Edward kisses Bella's forehead again. "Can I ask you something?"
She sighs, feigning annoyance. "I suppose."
"Don't take this the wrong way, but if your dad is so sick, why did you move here?"
Bella proceeds to open up, explaining to Edward her motivation for taking a job so far from home. She tells him about her childhood and the hardships Charlie faced as a single dad: the cold nights they went without heat, living on a steady diet of frozen juice and ramen noodles. Some secrets she's never told anyone. Edward listens intently. He tries to understand, but the reality of poverty is somewhat of a foreign concept to him. It's hard to relate.
She needed to see a different life. Getting an education had been so important, not only to Bella but to Charlie as well. When graduation came around, finding a career to support herself wasn't something Bella could be afford to be choosy about. Charlie's illness gets worse everyday. The last thing she wants is to burden him or her stepmom.
With a degree in public relations, finding a job in Forks was pretty much out of the question. The small town she grew up in doesn't even lay claim to a McDonald's, and needless to say its job market is lacking. She first searched in the Seattle area for work but kept coming up dry. It took weeks for Bella to get a call back, and her lack of experience made landing an interview almost impossible.
Desperation set in. When she began looking outside of the state, Embry & Black was the first company to extend an offer. She accepted the job without hesitation. It didn't matter that she knew nothing about Chicago, or that Charlie disapproved of its high crime rate. It was a job. Graduation came and went, and before she knew it she was on a plane.
"I do get homesick sometimes," she says at the conclusion of her story. "I miss my dad. And I miss living in Seattle. The things I would do for a cheeseburger from Red Mill..."
"The place must have a good homeless scene if you miss it so much."
"It does, actually." She bites her lip. He's never going to let it go. "You'd fit right in."
"I'll bet they have an awesome local music scene. Is Seattle far from Forks?"
"It's about two and a half hours. You have to take a ferry."
"Yeah. Why do you ask?"
"Just wondering." He shrugs. After a few seconds of silence, he works up the courage to continue. "You know, if you're homesick, maybe we should get out of town for a weekend."
Bella scoffs. "Yeah, right."
"Why not? You've been complaining about work being slow all week. And Black gave you those extra hours of vacation for all the work you put into the benefit."
"Well, for one, if I brought you home to meet Charlie, one or both of us probably won't live long enough to catch our return flight." She pauses. The mere thought brings butterflies to her stomach. "And besides, I'm broke. I'll be lucky to afford groceries after I pay rent next week."
"But I'm not. So let me worry about the tickets," he insists.
"No, Edward. I couldn't."
"Don't be ridiculous."
"I'm not even sure Jake will let me off."
"Just ask. What's the worst he could say?"
The next day, Bella does exactly that. She arrives to work early and fires off several emails before cleaning her desk, intent on convincing herself that there's too much going on at the office to justify leaving for an extended weekend. But after twiddling her thumbs for the better part of the afternoon, she can no longer find excuses. Rather than convince herself to stay, she's done the opposite.
Why not leave when it's not busy? If Bella doesn't leave now, she's not sure when she'll get another opportunity. Christmas is three months away, but that's enough time for her entire world to turn upside down. Charlie is so sick. She can't fathom the thought that she may not get another opportunity to see her father alive again. And if she doesn't introduce him to Edward now, they may never get a chance to meet.
Not that it matters anyway.
Maybe Edward will like Washington. The music scene is certainly enough to keep his attention. And he deserves to get away. Everyone needs a break every once in a while. Bella decides she can always pay him back for her ticket, and it's with all those things in mind that she timidly walks into Jacob's office before leaving for the day. It's worth asking, she repeats to herself. Jake can always say no.
"Problem, Bella?" He peels his eyes away from the computer screen long enough to acknowledge her entrance.
"Not at all. I'm not interrupting anything, am I?"
Jacob shakes his head. "Of course not. What's up?"
"So, I was wondering, since it's been slow, if I could use some of my vacation and cut out of here early next week."
Jacob nods. "Sure thing. Are you going out of town?"
"That's the plan," she says. "My dad's been really sick."
"Cancer," Jacob remembers.
"Right." Bella continues, "So I was going to fly to Washington. Surprise him for a weekend."
She omits the part about going with Edward.
"When will you be gone?"
"If it's okay with you, I plan to leave on Thursday. Don't worry—I'll fly back in time to be at work on Monday."
Jacob smiles. He grabs a pen and marks the dates on his desk calendar. "Sounds great. I'll make sure the hours get added onto your check."
A rush of excitement causes Bella's heart to flutter. "Great. Thank you so much, sir. I really owe you one."
She turns to exit his office but doesn't quite make it out the door. "Hey, Bella?"
"How much do you know about baseball?"
Considering she was raised by a single father, a lot. "More than you'd think. Why?"
"I've been trying to land a contract with Newton's Sporting Goods for months now. There's a Cubs game the Monday you return and we've got box seats. Think you can help me close the deal?"
It's an opportunity Bella can't turn down. "Of course."
"Awesome." Jacob flashes Bella a cocky grin. "And if it goes well, maybe we can talk about your promotion."
"Do all women pack, like, weeks in advance?"
Edward has teased Bella for the better part of the week, but she can't bring herself to mind. Ever since she left Jacob's office over a week ago, she's worn a permanent smile on her face. The tickets are booked. Her bags are packed. In two days she'll be surrounded by lush green and familiarity. And the best part is that her father still has no idea.
Bella re-arranges her neatly folded shirts for the hundredth time. Her packing skills exhibit a firm example of obsessive compulsive disorder. "We're leaving the day after tomorrow, Edward. I hardly call that excessive planning."
"Do you think my shopping cart will count as a carry on?"
She turns around and pushes him. Hard. "Please, for the love of God, do not tell my father you're homeless."
"Got it." He leans in and presses his lips to hers. "I'll use a politically correct term, like displaced or residentially flexible. Wouldn't want him to think I'm uneducated."
Their conversation only makes Bella wonder what she's going to tell her father. She has no idea how to introduce Edward. If she had it her way, they would have established their relationship status a long time ago. But Edward still hasn't brought it up, and Bella is afraid to.
Edward assumes it's obvious. The status of their relationship has clearly moved past the initial arrangement. If he's being honest with himself, he knows that they were never really friends with benefits to begin with. It's always been more. But there's a serious conversation to be had between them, one he's been putting off for weeks. Being in a conventional relationship is one thing. Telling his girlfriend just how strongly he feels for her is something else entirely. It's nothing short of terrifying. Showing her is much easier, and that's exactly what he's been doing—sometimes twice a night.
He plans to tell her in Seattle.
The familiar ringtone of an iPhone fills the room, interrupting their playful banter. Edward and Bella immediately reach for their cell phones, but Edward comes out victorious. It's Jasper. He quickly slides his thumb across the screen and hits the speakerphone icon.
"My sister's not here," Edward says.
Jasper's tone is smug. "Oh, I know exactly where your sister is."
Bella laughs to herself. Edward rolls his eyes. He walked right into that one. "What do you want?"
"I need your help, man," Jasper says. "Adam's in rehab. He overdosed."
Adam plays drums in Jasper's band. Unfortunately he also has a bad habit or two. Women and alcohol are his weakness, but he's never shied away from experimenting with other, more volatile substances. For this reason Edward can't stand the guy. He's not exactly the poster child for clean living, but at least Edward's never stuck a needle in his arm to get high.
"It's about goddamn time."
"Shut the fuck up, dude. We've got that show on Saturday night. Label reps are coming. I need you to fill in or I'm fuckin' screwed."
"I can't," Edward says. There's no hesitation in his voice. He takes the phone off speaker. "Bella and I are going out of town, remember?"
"Can't you go another weekend?" Jasper asks.
"She's already got the time off."
"I need you, man. Everything I've worked for over the past three years has led up to this point. This show is going to make or break me."
"We already bought the plane tickets."
"You're the only one who knows the songs."
Edward stares straight ahead into Bella's eyes. He can see the heartache etched across her face. She knows exactly where this conversation is going, and it isn't good.
"Let me call you back," Edward says, playing on her worst suspicions. "Right. Okay. Bye."
"Bella..." he trails off. There's a lump in his throat. Her eyes sting.
"We can still go," he insists. "We can get our tickets changed. Fly back Saturday afternoon."
"What's the point?" Bella sighs. "We'll spend more time in transit than we will there."
"You can still go," Edward suggests. It's the best solution he can come up with. "Go without me."