Bella fidgets with her long, unruly bangs for what seems like the thousandth time. Perhaps getting a last minute haircut was a mistake. For the past hour she's been looking in the mirror, styling her hair, and applying generous amounts of make-up to an already gorgeous face.
It's all she can do to keep her mind occupied. She refuses to allow herself to consider the things to come. It's half past five on a Saturday, but today isn't like any other. Edward will be arriving in thirty minutes, and together they'll be attending a benefit for the Cullen Foundation. All of Bella's hard work is about to be on display for hundreds to see. Weeks of dedication has led up to this point, and everything, especially her appearance, has to be perfect.
She's anxious. Not only for the benefit, but to see Edward. Convincing him to accompany her hadn't been easy. When she initially asked him, he complained of the obvious: it wasn't his scene. Bella argued that Edward plays social events all the time; attending one would be no different. Her persistence only irritated him, and a disagreement between them escalated quickly. He wasn't her boyfriend. It wasn't his job, he had said. Finally Edward admitted to her that his mother would be at the benefit, and that their relationship is strained.
His confession caught Bella by surprise, but at the same time, it didn't. Hundreds of people were set to attend the benefit, from survivors and their families to area businessmen and pharmaceutical sponsors. She assumed Edward's mother would be attending in remembrance of his father and realized how difficult things must be for a mourning son. With that in mind, Bella was content on dropping the subject. She'd go alone, or she'd go with Jacob. Edward had his out. But the second she mentioned going with someone else, his mind changed. There was no way in hell he'd sit back and watch as she went with someone else.
Across town, Edward adjusts the knot of his tie. He feels like he's about to puke. Is it too late to bail? He checks his watch. It's five till six. If he doesn't leave now, he's going to be late. He takes one final glance in the mirror; his face is shaven, his hair combed back. It's been a while since he looked so together; his mom will be proud. Not only is Edward handsome, but he has a beautiful, smart date. She's not his girlfriend, though, but no one at the benefit needs to know that. It doesn't matter anyway. The chances of having any sort of relationship with Bella after tonight are slim to none, and before he can dwell on the thought, he darts out the door.
He's regretful of the rash decisions that led him to this point. What was he thinking? Walking into his own demise, only so he wouldn't see his girl with someone else, doesn't make a whole lot of sense. He should have stuck to his original plan and stayed home. But even then, Bella would still see Alice. She'd still make the connection. It was only a matter of time.
He was doomed from the start.
An abrupt knock interrupts the tense silence in Bella's apartment. Her anxiety level lowers, though only slightly. It's almost six-thirty. Edward is fifteen minutes late, but at least he's there. She opens the door, and each take a moment to stare at the other. It's hard to believe Bella once thought this handsome man to be homeless.
Hooded eyes rake over her every curve. She's stunning. Alice was right. Edward loves the blue dress. It makes his heart ache with both lust and regret. He allows his mind to wander for a moment, imagining their situation differently. If only he were taking her to one of his piano gigs, he might be able to help her out of that dress at the end of the night. She would welcome him into her bed with open arms, and he'd hang on to the promise of great things to come: of a real relationship with titles and commitments, of cum swallowing, taking her bare, and maybe, someday, even her ass.
He's realized he wants that. Not her ass; he started fantasizing about that before they ever spoke—a relationship. But it's too late, because he's taking her to the Cullen benefit, and soon everything between them will be over. The time for honesty passed long ago. Forget Bella's bed; Edward will be lucky to spend the night on Jasper's futon. He's worried that if he sees Bella's boss get handsy, or his perverted step-brother make a move on the sly, he might end up in jail.
Bella glances down at the bouquet of red roses in Edward's hands. The flowers had been an afterthought. Edward knows it's a cheesy, stupid gesture, but at least it makes her smile. Maybe she'll remember them when she's deciding whether to hate him or not.
He speaks first. "Sorry I'm late."
It's really not. He knows how important it is for Bella to arrive early, and his mother told him to do the same.
"Do you want to put these inside?" he asks.
"Of course," she replies, taking the flowers from him and heading into her kitchen. Doing so allows Edward to gawk at the flawless skin on her back. The dress is lowcut, and the way it accentuates her ass makes his heart accelerate.
He definitely wishes he'd gotten some of that ass.
He'll definitely go to jail tonight.
"You look nice, baby."
Nice. That's one way of putting it. It's better than being honest about what's on his wandering mind.
"Thanks," she says. "You too."
He fakes his best smile. "Whatever."
"No, seriously. Is that Hugo Boss?" She teases, "Was Men's Wearhouse having a sale or something?"
He can't help but laugh. She thinks he rented a tux. Of course she'd make that assumption. "Ready to go?" he asks, steering the conversation away from his attire.
Obviously they aren't taking the subway. In the parking lot of Bella's apartment building, she expects a yellow cab to be waiting. Instead there's a shiny silver Volvo, and it catches her by surprise when Edward opens the passenger door and guides her inside. Like the exterior, the interior is in immaculate condition. Bella gets situated by putting on her seatbelt as Edward climbs in on the driver's side. He presses a button below the steering column to start the ignition.
"Dude. Is this a rental?" Bella asks. "You could've gone with an economy car, you know."
Edward stares at her with amusement. "I'm sorry?"
"Those damn counter agents cornered you with the upgrade, didn't they?" Her eyes roll. "Don't tell me you got the extra insurance coverage too."
"Baby," he scolds playfully. He leans over the center console for a kiss, intertwining their tongues and holding out for as long as he can get away with it. He's wanted to kiss her since he first laid eyes on that blue dress. With every touch, every brush of their lips, Edward knows their relationship is coming closer to the end.
If only he would have told her, this wouldn't be happening.
"Just make sure you don't smoke in here," Bella warns. A smile flashes across her face as she recalls a memory. "My dad did that when we went to California once. He had a nice five hundred dollar fine smacked on his credit card by the time we got back to Washington State."
"This is my car," Edward blurts out. The anxiety boils beneath his skin as he gauges her reaction. If anything, this will be the easiest admission of the evening. It's good practice.
"What?" Surprise is evident in Bella's voice. "Seriously? I don't believe you."
He laughs nervously. "Of course you don't."
"If this is your car, why do we always take the subway?"
"Driving in the city is a bitch." He shrugs. "And I like it."
"How can you afford it? Jesus, this has to be at least a thirty thousand dollar car."
He doesn't correct her. In reality it's closer to forty. "Being homeless has it's advantages."
"You're such a liar," she says. She's teasing now. "Gotta invest extra money in your residence, I guess."
He shrugs. "Maybe I should live out of it. It beats Jasper's living room, right?"
"I still think it's a rental."
She opens the glove compartment in search of anything: registration, insurance verification, a rental agreement. Buried beneath an ice scraper and owner's manual, she finds what she's looking for. Before Edward can fully grasp what's about to happen, it's already too late. Her eyes skim on the printed slip before he can yank it away.
"Esmeralda Cullen," she reads the name below Edward Masen's on the insurance verification. "What the fuck?"
Bella can hardly believe her eyes. There's no way the two—Esmeralda and Esme Cullen—are one and the same. What are the chances? And why would she be on Edward's vehicle policy?
Edward is silent. He grasps for something to say, anything, but the words never come. His head hangs in shame. "My mother."
"Esme Cullen is your mother."
He nods. The tension in the car, though playful only a few seconds ago, is thick as she processes their connection.
She's silent. A minute passes, followed by another. They still haven't left the parking lot of Bella's apartment complex. The benefit doesn't technically begin until 7:30, but with each second that passes, Bella loses a little more time to iron out last minute details.
She couldn't care less.
"Bella, baby, I'm so sorry." He hopes she'll hear the sincerity in his voice.
"You told me your mom would be at the benefit." She raises her voice, "You didn't say she was hosting it!"
"Do you see now why I was so reluctant to go."
"I thought I could trust you!" she seethes. "I thought you understood!"
"What are you talking about?" he asks. "I do understand!"
"Is this some sort of joke to you?" she demands. "You told me your dad was dead! You didn't mention anything about him being one of the most prominent cancer physicians in the midwest!"
He's quick to correct her. His voice is cold. "Carlisle is Alice's dad. Not mine."
"Alice." The mention of her name causes another flood of emotions to overcome Bella. "This entire time I thought she was my friend."
"Leave my sister out of this," he warns. "It wasn't her place."
"Right," Bella agrees. "It was yours."
"I'm the asshole." His tone is apologetic.
She has no arguments there. "What were you thinking? Did you honestly think I wouldn't find out?"
No. He didn't think that. "I'm sorry," he says again.
She's too occupied by her rant to even acknowledge him. "And when were you planning on telling me? Why didn't you?"
Tears are coming now, and fast, but they don't stop Edward from becoming defensive. "When would have been a good time, Bella? The first night we met? I had a hard enough time convincing you I wasn't homeless!"
She opens her mouth but doesn't respond. He's right. She wouldn't have believed him. Besides, it wouldn't have mattered. There's no way either of them could have made the connection then.
He continues, "How about when you bought me a fucking guitar because you thought I couldn't afford one myself?"
Again, Bella has nothing to say.
Anger radiates from Edward as he adds one final scenario to the list. His fists are tight. "Or when my fucking step-brother tried to get into your pants? And you wonder why I don't want anything to do with them," he adds sarcastically.
Bella isn't listening. "How much was your guitar?"
Edward doesn't want to say. "Baby," he pleads, his tone much softer than it had been moments before.
His first instinct is to lie, but he knows better. "Carlisle paid five."
"Five?" she asks.
"Five grand," he clarifies.
Bella turns away and stares out the window, her jaw tight. She's officially done with their conversation. With Edward.
He's not. "Bella, look at me."
"Please," he begs, desperation in his voice.
She turns her head slightly. "What?"
He reaches across the console for her hand, but she pulls away. "Buying that guitar was probably the nicest thing anyone's ever done for me."
She rolls her eyes. "Sure it was. It's the thought that counts, right?"
"It's perfect." He laughs. She's perfect. For him, at least. "I mean, come on. What kind of an idiot takes a guitar worth five grand onto the subway?"
Bella almost cracks a smile. "Do you really want me to answer that?"
Edward looks into Bella's watery eyes and smirks. Losing the guitar wasn't one of his finer moments. There are a lot of things that he regrets, but leaving his guitar unattended isn't one of them. He can't regret any of the things that led him to Bella.
Reaching into his pocket, he pulls out a handkerchief for Bella to dry her eyes. There's no time for her to run back inside to adjust her make up; she'll be late if they don't leave soon. "We need to get going," he explains, shifting the car into gear. "Don't let whatever's going on between us ruin this for you."
She scoffs. "Us? There is no us."
"You and I both know that's not true."
"Whatever," she mutters.
"I don't have to go," he offers.
"Yeah right," she says. "You apparently have more of a right to be there than I do."
"I wouldn't go that far."
"Just take me to the goddamn benefit, Edward," she snaps. "But after tonight, I don't want anything to do with you."
The rest of their ride passes in awkward silence. Bella stares out the window, her expression blank. She doesn't make idle conversation, and Edward doesn't force her to. A million thoughts fly through her head. Never in her life has she felt so humiliated, so betrayed. Not when her mom left her as a child—she was too young to know any better then—and not when she caught her ex in bed with someone else. As far as she's concerned, it would have been easier to stomach if Edward had been fucking some other girl. At least if that were the case, she might understand his motivation. What did he have to gain?
For whatever reason, she knows she's been played. Not only by Edward, but Alice too. And when she said she didn't want anything to do with him, she meant every word. Whatever "us" meant, whatever had been between them, it's over now. They're over. Tonight she would put on a face, just as he had, and pretend she knew all along.
And tomorrow, the benefit will be over. She'll never have to think of the Cullen Foundation or Edward again.
a/n: a very big thank you to ooza, livieliv79, julie and abadkitty for their input on this chapter. thanks for reading!