Bella's life is plagued by awkward moments.
It seems as though this has been especially true since meeting Edward. From tripping on the subway platform to their humiliating morning in Jasper's apartment, every one of their encounters has been tinged with incorrect assumptions and embarrassing misunderstandings. As she stares into his eyes from atop of his naked form, unsure of what to say in the aftermath of their most recent sexual encounter, she accepts the fact that there's likely no end in sight.
She says nothing. Edward groans as she slips away. "You're getting dressed already?"
"Well excuse me for being just a little self-conscious," she mutters.
He smirks. "You didn't act very self conscious half an hour ago."
"Half an hour?" Bella snickers. She can't resist calling him out. "That's being a little generous, don't you think?"
"What are you implying?"
"Oh, Edward, I think you know exactly what I'm implying."
A hint of embarrassment flashes across Edward's face. He was hoping she hadn't noticed. Edward doesn't typically fall short in the bedroom, but Bella catching him by surprise did a number on his stamina. Still, he didn't see his performance as that big of a letdown. After all it had been Bella's over-the-top orgasm that sent him over the edge.
He concentrates on removing the spent condom and defends himself to the best of his ability. "A beautiful woman just attacked me in her living room. What did you expect to happen?"
"I expected a stronger argument as to why I should consider your friends with benefits proposal." She tosses him his boxers. "Get dressed, buddy. I'm starving. Feel like going to get something to eat?"
He does, and they quickly decide on pizza. It's Chicago, afterall, and Bella can never justify ordering an entire deep dish for herself. They debate momentarily between carry-out and sitting down somewhere, but when Edward discovers that Bella has never been to Meyers he quickly changes his tune. The pizzeria is one of Edward's favorites, and it just so happens to be within walking distance of Bella's apartment. They arrive at their destination in no time at all.
There's a major league baseball game in progress nearby, and Meyers is packed. The atmosphere is what makes the place so great—or at least that's what Edward tells Bella. It's just like any other restaurant to her, but to Edward this place means the world. His dad used to bring him here before every game, and every booth is crammed full of nostalgia. He tells her so.
As the two wait in line to order, Edward catches the eye of a young waitress. He's too busy rambling to Bella about his fifth birthday party to notice, but Bella, only half paying attention to Edward's story, definitely does. Something ignites inside of her. She begins to feel possessive over her friend, and without even considering the consequences, Bella locks her fingers with his. Edward pauses mid-sentence.
Though the touch is juvenile, it catches Edward by surprise. Instinctively he flinches. His eyes go wide, and Bella assumes she's overstepped whatever boundary they've set. She sees his discomfort and pulls her hand back almost immediately. Edward is left reeling from the contact. He could kick himself; it wasn't his intention to make Bella retract. He momentarily considers reaching for her hand, but decides against further contact.
Their hearts pound. "I still can't believe you've never been here before," he says, as if resuming their conversation will make things any less awkward.
They argue for five minutes over pizza toppings.
There's no compromising. Every suggestion is disgusting to the other. Bella and Edward finally settle for splitting the pie in half. As with their first dinner out, Bella requests practically every vegetable on the menu. Edward sticks to the basics—pepperoni and sausage. They order everything up front, and when Edward pulls out his debit card to pay, he initiates yet another disagreement.
"Bella, I'm not going to not pay for your meal," he insists. They slide into the restaurant's only empty booth. "Not after, well, you know."
"So now we're trading off? Sex for goods? No way. That's crossing the line."
Edward looks around, worried that other patrons may have overheard. Luckily everyone seems engaged in their own conversations. His voice is hushed. "For fuck's sake, Bella. It's pizza."
"I don't care. We still need some sort of ground rules."
"Ground rules," Edward repeats. "You have got to be kidding me."
"Well, obviously you didn't like it when I held your hand earlier."
"It's not that I didn't like it," he insists. "It just caught me off guard, that's all."
"Right. Whatever. So PDA in public: yes or no?"
"Yes," Edward answers a little too quickly. "No. Fuck, I don't know."
"And when we're out together, I'll pay for my own meals." She doesn't leave it open for debate.
"Am I allowed to spend the night?"
She gasps. "Is that what this is about? Are you using me for my bedroom?"
"If that were the case, I'm pretty sure we'd actually have to make it to the bedroom."
Bella's face reddens. "Right. Okay. So you can spend the night, but only on the weekend."
"Seriously? What is this, middle school?"
Her eyebrow raises. "Were you having sex in middle school?"
"Only with my chemistry teacher."
It takes a few seconds for Bella to decide whether she believes him or not. "You're lying," she says finally.
"You're right." He smirks. "I definitely thought about it though."
"Whatever," she sighs. "What's next?"
"How do you feel about anal?" he asks casually, as if talking about something as trivial as the weather.
Bella's words catch in her throat. "Are you serious?"
He shrugs. "You know what? Fuck ground rules. We don't have to decide everything today."
Before Bella can respond, the pizza comes. It's a relief. Not only is Bella starving, she's also extremely uncomfortable with the direction of their conversation. She wonders what kind of a girl he thinks she is. Does he assume she does that? And more importantly, does he do that? Bella isn't sure she wants to know the answer to either of her questions, nor does she allow her mind to wander. Would she do that? With Edward?
Bella isn't the only one grateful for the interruption. Edward is frustrated with himself for even joking about something so taboo. It wasn't his intention to make Bella feel uncomfortable. He knows he overstepped, and it's obvious she got the wrong idea. It was only a joke. Or was it? Edward's never done anything like that before. One night stands don't exactly leave room for experimentation, but he's willing to admit it's always been a fantasy.
"You know, I've noticed something," Bella finally says, pulling Edward from his thoughts.
His mouth is full. "Hmm?"
"You seem to know a lot about me, but I don't really know anything about you. That seems kind of unfair, doesn't it?"
He swallows. "I do?"
"Hell, I don't even know your last name. Meanwhile you've probably memorized every last bit of information on my driver's license."
His face is very serious. "I had to. It's only a matter of time before you go home with the wrong hobo. Who do you think is going to fill out the missing persons report?"
"Wow. Such a good alibi." She smirks. "The caring friend who swears if he were going to kill me, he would have already done it by now."
He winks. "Exactly."
"They'll never suspect a thing." She rolls her eyes. "You know, maybe prison won't be so bad. I mean, if you like anal. I hear they're into that there."
"Fuck that." He pulls the wallet out of his back pocket, slides out his identification and throws it across the table. "There. Are we even now?"
"Edward Anthony Masen." She studies the picture of a well groomed, short-haired Edward. The collar of his black polo is barely visible at the bottom of the photo. He doesn't even look like the same person. "Are you sure this is you?"
"Like what you see?"
"A douchebag?" she teases. "No, not particularly."
"Whatever," he argues. "You think I'm hot."
She does. As much as Bella likes Edward's scruff, she wouldn't be opposed to seeing him freshly showered and clean shaven. The way he looks now suits him, though, and she assumes he won't be reverting to his former self any time soon.
Bella can't deny the attraction she feels toward Edward. She doesn't even try. It's obvious by the way she blushes from across the table and after dinner when she suggests they watch a movie at her apartment. They spend the rest of the weekend together; Edward grinds Bella's nerves, and Bella grinds, well, other things. It isn't until Sunday evening that he reluctantly returns to Jasper's apartment, respecting her request to spend work nights alone.
Neither worry about when they'll see the other again. Edward assures Bella she'll be seeing him on the platform, new guitar in hand, very soon. And sure enough Edward is there. She sees him Monday morning during rush hour and again on Tuesday afternoon. They don't speak; Edward has a living to make, and Bella doesn't want to interfere. In the same manner Edward doesn't distract Bella from her own career. He notices she works late often, and they've yet to have a repeat of their weekend rendezvous.
By Thursday they've established a routine: one that starts in the morning with nothing more than eye contact and a smile, and ends with a phone call before bed. Edward is usually the one to call Bella, and it's usually over something trivial. He finds any excuse he can to hear her voice. She doesn't mind; the only thing Bella enjoys more than talking dirty with Edward is seeing him play on the subway platform.
His performances are always stellar.
Thursday afternoon is particularly trying for Bella. Her workload is already heavy when Jacob barges into her office to explain his predicament. He's been trying to win over a new client for weeks to no avail, but they've finally come around and presented him with a last minute invitation to play golf. It seems too promising to refuse, and as far as Jacob's concerned, even in the worst case scenario it's an afternoon away from the office.
Unfortunately in order to woo the potential client, he must skip an important meeting with another. Jacob doesn't worry. He knows he can trust Bella to carry out his responsibilities at the office. But Bella has her own duties, and the boss's definitely aren't a part of her job description. He takes advantage of Bella's inability to say no and emails her a last minute list of talking points before leaving the office without giving her a second thought.
Bella scrambles to mentally prepare herself for the meeting with the Cullen Foundation. Impressing Jacob becomes her number one priority. She pushes all other work aside, and when her phone vibrates with an incoming call from Edward, it's ignored. She doesn't have time for flirtatious banter. The Cullen doctors are due to arrive any minute, and when they do, Embry & Black's administrative assistant quickly shuffles them into the conference room where Bella awaits.
Her eyes first land on the younger Doctor Cullen. Fresh out of med school, Emmett Cullen looks less like an oncologist and more like an underwear model. Most women would fall to his feet—or onto their knees, as he would prefer it—but not Bella. She's too preoccupied with maintaining professionalism to even notice his attraction. She does, however, take note of the way he devours her as if she were a piece of meat.
"Hi, how are you? I'm Doctor Cullen," he says, emphasis on the doctor part.
"It's nice to meet you," she says.
"You weren't quite whom we were expecting." The older doctor's demeanor is slightly more professional.
"Yes, well, Mister Black had something come up," Bella explains. "He sends his apologies."
"Are you his secretary?" Emmett asks. He'd rather ask outright if they're fucking but assumes if the former is true, so is the latter.
Bella laughs. "Oh, no," she says, holding out her hand. "I'm the primary executive assigned to your account, Isabella Swan."
Emmett's eyes light up. His voice is suave. "I could say the same. I'd rather we conduct all of our meetings with beautiful women."
"Emmett," his father scolds. "I'm sorry, my son is a bit of a ladies' man. I suppose I've rubbed off on him over the years."
Bella, clearly embarrassed, attempts to steer the conversation back on track. "In more ways than one, I can see. Are all of the men in your family doctors?"
"It depends on how you define family," Emmett explains. "But yes. I knew from a very early age that I wanted to follow my father into medicine."
"My father was a doctor as well," Carlisle says. "It's to be expected of the men in our family. We have achieved great success, and we love to help people."
"And the charity is an excellent way to do so," Bella gathers.
The three take a seat at an oversized conference table, and Bella immediately begins to tackle the topics on Jacob's outline. The meeting quickly progresses, and as it does Bella's discomfort with the younger Doctor Cullen increases. More than once she notices as his hands fidget under the table. He's constantly adjusting himself. Emmett isn't nearly as subtle as he believes or, as Bella concludes, maybe he doesn't care. Either way it's obvious as to why the Cullen Foundation is in need of public relations. While Carlisle Cullen conducts himself in a mostly professional manner, Emmett does not. She makes a mental note to check through the company's database, curious to see how many times he's been rescued from bad press.
"So, that should wrap it up," Bella finally says. The meeting lasted a little over an hour and a half, and all she can think about is escaping the conference room. Her mind keeps drifting to Edward. Bella intends on calling him as soon as she gets back to the office. Her nerves are shot, and she hopes he's in the mood to blow off some steam.
"Excellent," Dr. Carlisle Cullen says. "I'm very optimistic about the benefit. You've assured me that we are in very good hands."
"Absolutely," Emmett echos. "The best."
Bella stands and extends her hand to each of the men. Emmett's grip is firm, but she's more apt to notice the ring on his other hand. She's even more disgusted than before; he could have at least taken it off. Men like Emmett do not amuse Bella in the slightest, and she's not the least bit excited to see him again when he steps into her office unaccompanied a few minutes later.
"Did you need something else?" she asks, setting down her cell phone. Edward didn't answer, but Bella assumes it's because he's playing underground somewhere.
Emmett looks around her office, gathering his confidence. "I have a condo downtown," he says. "It has a great view of the city, if you ever wanted to stop by."
"Are you fucking kidding me?" Bella asks, all professionalism aside. "And how would your wife feel about me 'stopping by'?"
He chuckles. "Bella, my marriage is a convenience."
"And so is your PR agent, apparently," she quips. Emmett might be handsome, but his sense of entitlement is not attractive at all. It's obvious from his excess of nerve that he's used to getting whatever he wants, and the longer Bella stares at him, the more she finds him utterly repulsive. "Are you trying to get me fired?" she whispers.
"Of course not," he mimics her tone. "This can be our little secret."
"Or not." She shudders. "Sorry. I don't date my clients."
"I wasn't asking for a date." He smirks.
"I don't have time for this," she seethes. "So, please, get out of my office."
Emmett complies, but he's hardly deterred. He leaves her office fueled by the challenge, knowing it's likely she won't reject him forever. Why would she? He has it all: looks, charm, and most importantly money. What Emmett doesn't know is that Bella has Edward, and as long as that's the case, she's hardly interested in seeking romance elsewhere.
Bella tries to concentrate on the stack of folders splayed across her desk, but the more she dwells on Emmett's inappropriate request, the harder it is to focus. It doesn't exactly motivate her to know the cancer charity she's promoting is merely a front to make womanizing assholes feel better about themselves. The fact that they're exploiting other people's tragedies makes her sick, and knowing her father is dying from the exact same disease they're capitalizing on doesn't drive her to work harder.
She knows that Edward is the only person who could possibly understand the way she feels.
Every attempt to contact him is in vain. Her phone calls go straight to voicemail. Text messages remain unread. When the clock finally hits six, Bella gives up on accomplishing anything else at the office. She rushes to the subway feeling optimistic that Edward will be waiting, but as she approaches the platform, there's no music to be heard. Her eyes scan the platform. For the first time since the week began, Edward is nowhere to be found.
Busy. I'll call you later.
His text message is vague. It comes in as Bella eats dinner alone. She doubts the same is true for Edward. He's probably out fucking around, she assumes. Even more worrisome to Bella is the possibility that he might be on an actual date. He's just like Emmett. All men are... or so she thinks. Discouraged, she sends Edward one final message before crawling into bed with a book.
Don't bother. This isn't working out.
Across town Edward's fingers drift to the final notes of Clair de Lune. Tonight's gig was offered to him on short notice, but he's never one to turn down a performance. Edward typically plays upper class events—weddings, galas, benefits. And while Jasper would be quick to tease him for being such a piano nerd, Edward enjoys getting lost in the sound. He's mindless when he plays, usually able to forget about all that surrounds him. Though tonight is different. He thinks of Bella.
He'd called her earlier in the day to invite her along. It had taken him an hour to work up the courage, but when the call went straight to voicemail he lost his nerve. Around Bella, Edward is calm, cool, collected, but the fact of the matter is that she scares the shit out of him.
He isn't sure how he's able to keep up the front.
Edward pulls out his phone as soon as the performance is over. He expects a few missed text messages and maybe even a voicemail. He doesn't, however, expect to be broken up with—if it can even be called that—over text message. His heart falls into the pit of his stomach.
He doesn't reply.
Instead he goes straight to Bella's apartment, not even bothering to change clothes beforehand. The thirty-minute trip is excruciatingly long. It gives him plenty of time to mull things over. He wonders what he's doing; what he wants. Every feeling is foreign to him, and he isn't sure what it is about Bella that drives him so insane. In the beginning he blamed it on the challenge, and more recently, the convenience. Now he's confused again, and only one thing is certain.
He doesn't want it to be over.
"What do you want?" Bella mutters as she opens her door to a disheveled Edward. He wears black slacks with a white button-up shirt and tie, though the tie is loose and many of the buttons have been torn open. His hair is a mess. Every aspect of his appearance leads Bella to believe one thing. She's convinced he's been out with another girl.
Edward storms into the apartment, every profound statement he concocted in transit forgotten. "Do you mind telling me what's going on?"
She points to his clothes and begins the acquisitions. "I should ask you the same. Did you have a nice date? Get lucky? Apparently not if you're here, right?"
His eyes go wide. Hurt turns to anger. "What are you talking about, Bella?"
"You've been avoiding me all night!" Tears well in her eyes. She begins to cry.
"I've been working all night!"
She pauses. "You were working?"
Edward can't help but laugh. "Does that surprise you?"
"But I didn't see you in the subway," she says.
"I wasn't working in the subway, sweetheart. I had a gig."
"A gig," she repeats. "You told me you didn't play shows."
He grins. "I don't play rock shows, Bella. I'm a freelance pianist."
"A pianist?" She snivels. "So... you didn't have a date?"
"No date," he says. "Now will you please calm down?"
"But that's even worse," she wails, launching herself into another fit of sobs. The unreasonable explanation that follows is almost inaudible. "I expect you to date. I may not like it, but I know it's bound to happen eventually."
"Didn't you think maybe I wanted to go to your show? To see you actually play— and not just screw around in the subway?"
Edward nervously runs his hand through his hair. Bella's heightened level of emotion is nothing short of terrifying for the twenty-five year old male. He's dumbfounded. "I—"
"I've had such a shitty day," she sobs, throwing herself into Edward's arms. He pulls her close, unsure of any other way to diffuse the situation.
"I'm sorry," he says after a moment, guiding Bella to the sofa and pulling her onto his lap. He litters her cheek with soft wet kisses. "Do you want to tell me about it?"
"I was swamped at work. My douche bag boss doubled my workload so he could goof off. I had to meet with the Cullen doctors alone, and it was obvious they didn't take me seriously at all. One of them hit on me and—"
Edward's entire body tenses. His interruption is harsh. "What?"
"He told me he had a condo downtown. That I should 'check out the view,' whatever that means."
"Please tell me you're joking," he seethes. Suddenly Edward is the one finding it difficult to keep his emotions in check. "What did you tell him?"
"I told him no! Obviously," she adds.
"What did this guy look like? Was he young? Old?"
"Young." She finally stops crying and even manages to laugh. "Why? Are you going to beat him up for me?"
"Want me to?"
"Not worth it." She kisses his cheek. "I was so passionate about what I was doing. Because my dad has cancer, you know? And I thought in some roundabout way, I was helping him. Or honoring him. But instead I'm confronted with how shitty human nature really is. It makes me sick."
"I know," Edward says. "It's not right." He runs his hand through Bella's hair, soothing her with a simple touch.
"I kept thinking that you were the only one who would understand. But you weren't here."
"I'm here now," he reminds her. "Though I have to warn you, I'm not allowed to spend the night."
She pulls back. "Says who?"
He shrugs. "It's in the rules."
"Screw the rules," she says. "Who said we needed rules?"