Disclaimer: Not mine.


Chapter Twelve

Edward paced the length of his dressing room and checked his watch again. Gritting his teeth, he dialed Bella's number, and just like the last time, the call went straight to her voice mail. "You know, I didn't realize needing time meant you dropped off the face of the earth. I'm beginning to wonder if you lied. Are you done, Bella? Is this your way of telling me? Because it's not going to work. I―" He stopped speaking abruptly and ended the call when someone knocked on his door.

Breathing out a sigh of relief, he spun around, his face twisting into a frown when the person standing at the door wasn't Bella. "What are you doing here?"

"I get the feeling you were hoping for someone else. I can't help but wonder whom." Victoria moved into the room, the jacket the director asked Bella to design draped over her shoulder.

"Where's Bella?" Edward wasn't going to play any games with her. She knew damn well whom he was expecting.

Victoria wrinkled her nose and pulled the jacket from the bag. "You're kinda rude. Don't you know you can catch more bees with honey than vinegar―" she waved her hand in the air and rolled her eyes "―or however that stupid saying goes. Being a jerk will get you nowhere with me. I'm Victoria, by the way."

Edward sighed and raked his fingers through his hair. "I know who you are. But you still didn't answer my question."

"And you're still fishing for answers with vinegar. I'm not a fan of vinegar. Now lift your arms." She held out the jacket to him, her brow lifted expectantly.

Edward pursed his lips but did as she said. Apparently Victoria was just as difficult as Bella. He really wasn't surprised. He stood silently as Victoria moved around him, pulling pins from her sleeve and marking different spots. After several moments she finally spoke. "She's with Esme."

"What the fuck?" Edward's eyes were wide, his feet already carrying him to the door when Victoria hooked her finger in the belt loop of his pants and yanked him back. "What the hell are you doing?" He turned to face her, his expression both angry and shocked.

"What the hell are you doing is the better question. What's the matter? You don't like the idea of your girlfriends getting cozy?" Victoria crossed her arms and waited for him to answer.

Edward stared at her, his eyes hard. He knew Bella told her about them, but it was still strange having someone speak so freely about it. "I have one girlfriend. And she's currently with a woman I'm fairly certain she'd like to murder. I'd really rather her not go to jail."

Victoria laughed. "She wouldn't go to jail. I have a shovel." She smirked and jerked her chin in his direction. "Something you might want to remember."

"Fuck," Edward chuckled and shifted his weight. "You two are just alike."

Victoria hummed and stepped closer, then started tugging on the jacket again. "How does it feel? Is the fit comfortable? Can you move freely?"

Edward circled his arms and lifted them over his head before nodding. He pulled off the jacket and handed it to her, warring with himself about asking her anything further. He thought about how his calls to Bella had gone to voicemail all morning and shook his head. "Fuck it," he muttered. It didn't matter if he asked her questions at this point. Since she knew everything anyway, there was no reason he shouldn't benefit from it in some way. "Why didn't she come here? Is she mad at me?"

Victoria kept her eyes on her hands as she slid the jacket back on its hanger. She didn't need to see his face to know that his demeanor had changed. She just wondered how much of it was real and how much was him acting to get what he wanted. She didn't have a clue how Bella could deal with those types of questions on a daily basis. She'd never been happier that James was the shittiest liar she'd ever met. Well, next to Bella.

"The dress she's fitting Esme for is new. She worked really hard on it and wanted to make sure it was perfect. Her phone is off for obvious reasons. I'm guessing since you nearly bolted out of the room the moment I told you they were together which―" she scrunched her brows together "―what the hell were you going to do anyway? Storm in there and what? Make Bella watch Esme hang all over you? You're not very smart."

"Would you stop insulting me. I have no idea what I would have done. And I don't want Esme hanging all over me. She's like a fucking leech."

"And yet you agreed to a fake relationship with her. Again, not the smartest thing."

"Again with the insults. I don't have to explain anything to you."

"No," Victoria snapped. "But you do have to explain to Bella. And apparently you suck at that too. She didn't want to have to hide from Esme if you called. She hides enough for you. At least on the phone she'd like to be normal."

Her words hit exactly how she'd intended. Edward's eyes fell shut and he sighed. Fighting with Bella was exhausting enough. He wasn't ready for Bella two-point-oh. "I just don't want Esme to upset her. Things are strained enough right now. That's just adding shit on top of shit."

"Look, I want to like you. I do. You make that really hard, by the way. But for whatever reason, Bella does like you, sometimes. And that's enough for her right now. You need to work out whatever in the hell it is that's got you so fucked up." Victoria lifted her hand in the air when Edward opened his mouth. "No. Stop talking. You have issues. Something is wrong with you. Work it out. Bella's not going to put up with this shit forever."

"Did she tell you that? Why would you say that?" Edward's tone was sharp, his questions flying from his mouth in rapid fire succession.

Victoria pulled her head back and turned her face to the side, her expression clearly relaying that she thought he was crazy. "She doesn't have to tell me," she said slowly. "I know Bella, and I'm telling you to get it together."

Edward huffed, thinking how fucking ridiculous this entire situation was causing him to act. "Just, tell her to call me, okay?"

Victoria rolled her eyes. "I'll tell her that you asked me to have her call you. But don't plan on a call tonight. We're going out."

"What? Out? What do you mean out?" Edward narrowed his eyes, his lips pinched together as he watched Victoria grab her bag.

"Out. You know, what normal people do with the people in their lives. She needs to get out, so we're going dancing. And I swear to God if you say some caveman shit like 'the hell she is' or 'Over my dead body' or anything remotely similar, I might be forced to cause you physical harm."

"So what? She's going out to hook up with some random guy? Is this her way of getting back at me?" Edward's fists clenched. Victoria wasn't the only one thinking about causing someone physical harm.

"Oh, my God. Of course that's what you'd think." Victoria rolled her eyes. "Not everyone goes out to hook up with someone. She needs to chill. I need to get James out of the house. I need to get out. We're having dinner and then dancing, which I'm sure she'll tell you about herself. She may call you tonight, she may not. I don't interfere in Bella's life like that. She's a big girl."

"Yes. I'm well aware." The walls that Edward had so carefully constructed around their relationship suddenly felt like they were closing in. All of the rules and restrictions he'd put on them made him feel trapped, not protected. He'd backed himself into a corner and still, he wasn't going to do anything to change.

"Well, this was fun." Victoria's smile was over-the-top and fake. "We should totally do this again."

"I'll pencil you in," Edward snarked. She'd told him more than he expected. He didn't like any of it.

He didn't try to call Bella again. His pride and stubborn mindset wouldn't allow him to look like any more of a pussy than he already did. He wanted her. She knew that. He wasn't going to baby and coddle her every time she was insecure about something. Which is why he didn't hesitate to call Carlisle. If she could go out with her friends, so could he. Like Victoria said, just because someone goes out doesn't mean they are looking to fuck someone.

His bravado was short-lived, however, because when Carlisle suggested they go to their normal hangout, Edward balked. He knew there was nothing but trouble there, and he had no intention of pissing off Bella any more than he already knew he was going to. His face twisted with annoyance when he realized he could look like more of a pussy than he already did.

When Bella texted him later that afternoon, telling him she was going out and would talk to him tomorrow, it only soured his mood. His teeth gnashed together as he thought about some prick dancing up behind her, grabbing her hips and grinding against her. Would that douchebag she went on a date with be there? Bella told him the guy worked for her brother. There was no way he wasn't into her. Laurent. What the fuck kind of name was Laurent anyway?

He met Carlisle a few hours later at a bar they'd gone to a couple of times. It was usually pretty low-key. What he didn't realize, until they walked through the door, was that tonight the place was showcasing a couple of pretty big local bands, and it was packed.

"Fuck," Edward muttered, his jaw clenched. He'd dressed down, opting for jeans and a t-shirt. It wasn't something he normally did. He preferred to look like the rich mother fucker he was. But he'd hoped it would help him stay off the radar a little better.

"No shit," Carlisle laughed. He clapped Edward on the shoulder and pulled him farther into the bar. "Don't worry, I called ahead. They have a table for us upstairs. It's not private, but it gives us the perfect view for all the pussy walking around down here. Can't ask for more than that. Fish in a barrel."

Edward shook his head but couldn't help the smirk that pulled at the corner of his mouth. "I don't know how I feel about the fish reference."

"You fucker. C'mon, let's get a drink."

Edward stuck to beer while Carlisle downed whatever was put in front of him. He'd wanted to sit back and relax, but over and over his mind drifted to Bella. Where she was. What she was doing. Carlisle noticed.

"What the fuck is going on with you?" Carlisle shouted over the music.

"Me? Nothing. I'm just hanging out, man."

"Fuck you. What do I look like, Edward? You've acted strange ever since that makeup girl fucked with you."

"She's the head costume designer for Sony." He knew immediately that he'd fucked up. His automatic response, his defensive tone, it spoke so much louder than his words.

"I'll be damned. She's got you all fucked up. I never thought I'd see the day. Especially after what happened―"

"I don't want to talk about that shit," Edward interrupted, his mouth set in a hard line.

Carlisle held his hands up in front of him. "Sorry. But you know I'm right. What are you doing, Edward? You don't let people in. You don't let people fuck with you. You need to end this shit."

"There's nothing to end." Even Edward could hear the lie in his voice. "Didn't you hear, I'm in an offscreen romance with Esme Platt." His lips pursed and his brow lifted, his expression awash with sarcasm.

Carlisle whistled low and shook his head. "How the fuck did they talk you into that shit?"

"Money. They distracted me with money."

"Of course they did. Told you how great it'd be for sales, dangled promises of bigger bonuses in front of you...I know the drill."

Edward nodded and looked down at the shot the waitress set in front of him. "I didn't order this shit."

The waitress smile faltered at the harsh bite in his voice. She lifted her hand and pointed at a group of girls on the other side of the room. "They sent it over."

"Take it back."

"What?"

"Take it back. Do I look like I can't buy my own fucking drinks?"

"What the fuck, man? You've never turned down drinks before. You still wanna tell me there's nothing going on with you and the girl who plays dress up with people?"

"Shut the fuck up," Edward hissed. He wanted Carlisle to stop talking about Bella before someone overheard him, but he was also pissed that he was mocking her. He grabbed the shot, slammed it back, then threw the empty glass on the table. "Delicious." His face twisted in a sarcastic sneer, dismissing the waitress with one look.

"Well, at least one thing hasn't changed. You're still a fucking asshole." Downing his own shot, he turned his attention to the band on the stage below. Something was going on with Edward, but he didn't have any interest in the effort it would take to get him to talk about it. He'd rather spend his time figuring out which girl would be riding his dick later.

Edward watched the people on the dance floor below. He watched a guy move behind an unsuspecting girl, sliding his hands over her hips and pulling her against his chest. He saw how the girl's friend nodded her approval of the faceless man. He wondered if Victoria was doing the same thing with Bella. Or if the man was faceless at all. If the guy behind her would be a stranger or someone she knew.

Everything about him was tense. He'd only had the one shot, opting for a clearer head and sticking with beer. But it was only making things worse. Because his head was anything but clear. He'd let Bella crawl inside a part of him that he'd kept closed and hidden for years, and in that moment he wanted nothing more than to figure out a way to push her back out. He wanted to go back to the simplicity of fucking a girl hard and fast, then shoving his dick back in his pants and walking away.

But regardless of how much he wanted that to happen, he couldn't make himself do what would send her flying out of his life for good. It would be so simple. All he had to do was not chase her. Let her leave when she walked away. Fuck one of the girls eye fucking him across the room. He could fuck Esme.

"Fuck," he growled. He finished his beer and ordered another. His jaw ached from the tight set of his mouth, his frustration bunching his shoulders and stiffening his spine. He felt like he was going to explode, that he couldn't possibly be any more agitated or annoyed. He was wrong.

The vibration of his phone caused him to jump. Not bothering to play it cool, he ripped it out of his pocket and unlocked the screen. His fist tightened around his phone as he read Bella's text.

I'm a little drunk.

Why would she text him that? Was she teasing him? Was she trying to make him mad? Was she making an excuse for something she'd done or was about to do? He fisted his hair and ground his teeth together.

I'm sure there are plenty of guys more than willing to take care of you.

As soon as he hit send his stomach lurched and he wanted to punch himself in the face. He knew better than to goad her like that. Without waiting for a response he fired off another text, hoping to stop her retaliation text from happening.

It's a good thing I'm the only asshole who gets to have that job.

In the fifteen minutes it took her to respond, he considered driving to her house a dozen times. It didn't matter that she wasn't there. She'd eventually show up and he could deal with his fuck up in person. When she responded he couldn't stop the chuckle the rumbled in the back of his throat.

Nice save asshole. Meet me at my house in an hour so I can put you to work.

Edward laughed, his mind going to all the ways she could put him to work. It made his entire demeanor shift. And everyone, to his dismay, noticed. As soon as he claimed his seat, girls started approaching. He and Carlisle signed autographs and took a few fan pics. He had more than his fair share of offers for more, but he deflected as best he could. Typically he would have just been a complete asshole, but Bella's text had finally loosened the tension in his shoulders.

So when a girl stumbled over to him and asked for a picture, he grimaced a little, but nodded his head. What he wasn't expecting was her falling into his lap and planting her lips on his. She was drunk, Edward knew that. But it didn't make him want to knock her on her ass any less.

"Okay, that's enough. Carlisle, I'm out. You good?"

Carlisle's eyes widened in surprise at Edward's abrupt departure, but he didn't comment. He figured it had everything to do with that hot brunette Edward almost fucked in his kitchen. And while he thought he was a fucking idiot, he'd keep his mouth shut for now. "Yeah, man. More for me," he laughed, palming the girl's ass in front of him.

Edward smirked and shook his head. "More for you. Later, man."

As Edward made his way across town, James led a very drunk Bella up her front porch steps. "Oops," she laughed, grabbing the porch column next to her.

"You would think by now you and Vic would realize your limit."

Bella looked over her shoulder and giggled at Victoria. She was slumped over in the passenger seat with her mouth hanging open. "Well, it looks like you're going to have tons the fun."

James groaned and unlocked Bella's front door. "At least I don't have to take care of you both tonight." He moved to step back, nearly tripping over one of the ivy plants. "And why in the hell did you buy all these damn plants? It's not like you didn't have plenty before."

"I didn't buy them. He did. He gave me all the ivy. It's obnoxious, right? But that's what he calls me. Ivy this and Ivy that. I feel like these damn vines. Just twisted, twisted, twisted."

"Bella, did you smoke pot? Because you're acting like you did that time we got high."

"No. No pot. Wait, do you have some?"

James sighed and shook his head. "Are you sure you're okay?"

"Yup. I'm purrrfect."

James lifted his brows in disbelief, especially since she'd just purred like a damn cat, but said nothing. He'd come back and check on her in the morning. "Okay, then. Good luck with that hangover."

Bella groaned and stumbled into her kitchen. Kicking off her shoes, she filled a glass of water and popped a couple of aspirin. She looked between the living room and bedroom once before deciding to unlock the front door first, then change her clothes.

Once in her bedroom, she managed to pull her shirt off and push her pants halfway down her legs before the room started to spin. Falling on the bed, she threw her arm over her eyes. All she needed was a couple of minutes and she could finish undressing. A couple of minutes would be all she needed.

Edward checked his watch to make sure he wasn't early and knocked on Bella's door again. Like he'd done the last couple of minutes. Her car was in the driveway, but that didn't mean she was home. He reached out and twisted the knob of her front door, his eyes widening when he realized it wasn't locked. "Bella?" When he didn't get an answer he stepped inside. Her purse was thrown on the couch, but there was no sign of her.

He walked farther into the room toward the hall, his eyes landing on a pair of shoes lying in the middle of the kitchen floor. Once he made it to her bedroom door he couldn't help but laugh. "Bella." He leaned against her door frame before saying her name again, only much louder.

Bella startled when she heard her name, then lifted her arm from her eyes and blinked. A slow smile spread across her face as she propped herself up on her elbows. "Edward Cullen. Mr. Big Shot movie star in my house." She looked down at her legs and laughed before kicking them out in the air. "And here I am, pantless. Mostly."

Edward pushed off the door and walked to the bed. Lifting her legs on either side of his hips, he wrapped his hands around her pants and pulled them the rest of the way off. "You looked like you could use a little help."

"Whatever. You just wanted to take off my pants."

Edward toed off his shoes and fell on the bed beside her. "Of course I did. Was that ever really a question?" When she didn't answer he turned his head to face her. Her eyes were focused on the ceiling, the corners of her mouth turned down. He nudged her with his shoulder. "Hey."

Bella turned to face him, her eyes glazed and tired from the alcohol she'd consumed and the late hour. "No. No question about your motives. At least not in that respect."

It went against every instinct Edward had not to roll his eyes. Of course he wanted her naked. He hated how things had been the last couple of days, since the whole Esme fiasco. Their constant push-pull was wearing him down, but it also kept him coming back for more, again and again. Was that the appeal? When the fight finally drained out of her would that be the end of it? He could only hope. "Don't start this shit tonight, Bella. I'm here with you, no one else."

"Yeah, you are. I'm still waiting for you to tell me why that is. Because every time I ask, you deflect. You're worse than a politician."

"I was class president in high school."

Bella rolled her eyes and lifted her arms in the shape of a field goal post. "He shoots, he deflects, but he sure as hell isn't going to score."

Edward chuckled and wrapped his arm around her waist. Tugging until she was on her side facing him, he looked into her eyes, his face serious. "Bella. You know football?"

"Ugh," she groaned, trying to pull free from his hold.

But Edward only tightened his grip, his chuckle turning into a full laugh. "Okay, okay. Stop before you hurt yourself." He waited until she stopped squirming before he spoke again, and this time there was no playful undertones to his voice. "Bella, I don't have answers to the questions you're asking. You're stubborn and short-tempered. You disagree with me―even if you secretly agree―just to piss me off. You don't believe a word I say, and you call me asshole more than you call me by my name. But for whatever reason, I like having you around. Maybe Victoria is right, maybe I am fucked up."

"If you're trying to make me feel better, your failure is epic."

"I just basically insulted you about ten different times, didn't I?"

"More or less. You're going to be able to add that I hit you to your list if you keep talking."

"See?" Edward sat up in the bed and pulled Bella with him. He grabbed her shoulders and gave her a light shake. "That's my point exactly. We're terrible. Who the fuck would put up with either of our bullshit? And here we sit, being complete assholes to each other, and neither one of us has made a move to leave."

"Well, technically this is my house, so I'm not going anywhere. I'm also pantless."

Edward dropped his hands to her thighs and brushed his fingers over her skin. "Yeah, you are pantless."

Bella rolled her eyes and snapped her fingers in his face. "Focus, asshole." Edward grabbed her wrist and bit down on her fingers, causing a small grin to tug on the side of her mouth. "So to recap, we basically suck at being a couple."

"By whose standards?"

"Normal people, apparently."

Edward thought about his girlfriends in high school. He thought about the few girls he'd dated when he first moved to L.A. He thought about Tia. "Fuck that. If what other people do is normal, I don't want any fucking part of it." Regardless of the fact that he had little hope of him and Bella lasting, he'd learned one thing for being with her. He'd rather have whatever was between them than any of the other bullshit he'd dealt with. Maybe if he'd controlled his relationships more in the past, things would have turned out differently for him. He wouldn't have been so foolish.

Bella covered her face with her hands. Edward Cullen was the most confusing man she'd ever met. He was nothing but a headache, covered in secrets and half-truths. He was flawed and damaged. Every time she had tried to push him out of her mind earlier, every time a guy offered to buy her a drink or dance with her, he bulldozed his way to the forefront of her mind. Even in her head he was a pushy jerk.

She didn't accept any drinks when offered, and when guys got too handsy on the dance floor she shifted away. Bella knew things were changing for her. Feelings she'd never felt before were beginning to surface. And even though Bella's mindset wasn't as negative as Edward's about the destination of their relationship, she was realistic. She knew of all the things she wanted to experience in life, having her heart broken wasn't one of them.

"So this is us?"

"This is us." Edward leaned forward and pressed his lips to Bella's. He'd had enough talking for one night. Right now he just wanted to feel her. He pushed her back on the bed and crawled over her, his hands sliding up her sides.

"Stop." Her plea was muffled, but her hands pressing against his chest made her intentions clear.

"What? Why?"

Bella's eyes watered and her vision blurred as her throat tightened. "Because I'm going to be sick."

Edward's face twisted with disgust as he rolled off her. "How much did you fucking drink?"

"It's not how much," she choked, stumbling to her feet. "It's what." Bolting from the room she made it to the toilet just before she lost the contents of her stomach.

"I'm not holding your hair!" Edward yelled from the other room. He covered his mouth with his hand and gagged when he heard her vomit again. He didn't have the stomach for that shit.

Bella groaned and spit into the toilet. "Shut up, Edward!"

His stomach rolled, but he wasn't sure if it was from second-hand sickness or the fact that she sounded like she was in pain. So he kept talking, trying to convince them both that he had no business in that bathroom with her. "Who really wants someone to hold their hair while they puke anyway? Don't girls with long hair keep one of those hair tie things on their wrist? I'm sure you have one close. Do you really want me to see you vomit?" He coughed and moved to the bedroom door, needing more distance between them.

"Just stop talking. Oh, my God." Bella moaned and felt around on the countertop for a hair tie. She pulled her hair back then pressed her palm flat against her forehead. "Just leave. It's fine. You're right, I don't want you in here."

"What? No. I'm not leaving. I can―do you want some water? I'll get you some water. And flush the toilet," he called over his shoulder as he took off down the hall.

"Christ," Bella mumbled. She reached up and flushed the toilet before pulling herself to her feet and moving to the sink. Splashing some water on her face and in her mouth, she looked at the mirror and grimaced. She looked like shit.

By the time Edward made it back with water and aspirin, she'd brushed her teeth and washed her face clean. He extended his arm tentatively, like he was unsure if it was safe to get too close. "Thanks."

"Are you done?" His eyes darted over her face and to the toilet before meeting her gaze again.

"What are you, five? You act like I have cooties."

"I'm just not a fan of vomit. If you want a guy to hold your hair and rub your back while you lose your lunch, well, we have a whole new set of issues to deal with."

"Great. We should start a list of all the reasons we're not compatible. It'll make us look even more nuts." Bella pushed passed him and flipped off the light in the bathroom.

"Wait, you actually want that?" The shock and revulsion on Edward's face when she glanced at him over her shoulder made her laugh.

"No, Edward. You're in the clear. No vomit duty for you."

She crawled into bed and looked over at him as he stood in her doorway. "It's really late. You can―you wanna stay?"

Edward shifted his weight and looked down at his watch. It was nearly four in the morning, and while he knew he should leave and not take the chance of someone seeing him, he didn't want to. "Yeah." He pulled off his pants and crawled in bed beside her, his arm wrapping around her shoulder and pulling her into his side. They were both asleep within minutes.

Morning came much sooner than Bella hoped. The pounding in her head and the light filtering in through her bedroom window made her burrow farther under her blanket. Extending her arm, she frowned when she grasped nothing but cool sheets. She sat up in bed the same time the smell of burnt coffee hit her nose. With her face wrinkled in disgust, she climbed out of bed and slipped a shirt over her head.

"Do I even want to know how you managed to burn coffee?" She walked into the kitchen and fell on a bar stool, watching as Edward poured the coffee into the sink.

"I'd blame your coffee pot, but after the abuse I just inflicted on it I think I'll give it a break."

Bella chuckled, then winced as a stabbing pain shot through her temple. Edward leaned against the counter and shook his head. "A little hungover, I take it."

"Just a touch," she snapped. She was in no mood to deal with a taunting Edward. Just as she stood to get something to drink, there was a knock at her front door. Both of their eyes widened in alarm. Edward backed toward the doorway of the kitchen as Bella tried to smooth down her hair.

"Bella! You awake?" James voice was muffled as he yelled at the front door.

Edward's eyes narrowed as he looked over at Bella. "Who the fuck is that?"

"It's my brother," she hissed. Her hands shook as she pulled in a deep breath before answering James. "Yeah. One second." She walked over to Edward and pushed him toward her bedroom.

"Just stay in here for a few minutes. I'll get rid of him."

Edward's brows pinched with confusion as he grabbed her arms to stop her from pushing him any farther. "You want me to hide? Why? He knows about us, doesn't he?"

Bella shook her head. "No. Vic does, but not James. I haven't told him anything."

"So tell him." Edward didn't understand why it pissed him off that she'd kept them a secret. He knew he was being a hypocrite, but he really didn't give a flying fuck about that at the moment.

"Oh, no. You're not going to pull this shit with me right now, Edward. You want everything a fucking secret about us. You don't get to change the rules because for once you're the secret." She pushed him into her bedroom as he stared at her with barely contained anger. She pursed her lips and shook her head before moving to close the door. "Stings doesn't it."

She didn't wait for an answer as she pulled the door shut behind her. Edward fell on the bed and stared at the wall. He tried to not focus on the voices outside the door. He tried to keep his mind blank and clear. But he couldn't, because she was right. It did sting. A feeling Edward hadn't experienced in a long time began to bubble to the surface as he sat there, and it only seemed to fuel his growing agitation. Because for the first time in a very long time, Edward's feeling were hurt.

He tried to brush it off, blame it on his lack of sleep, but the feeling nagged at him. Even when he fucked Bella later that afternoon in her shower, he couldn't make it stop. It was eating away at him, and as a result he was more short-tempered than usual. When he left Sunday morning, things were better, but the underlying tension was still there.

Bella knew he was pissed. She knew it bothered him that she was keeping secrets of her own, but she couldn't find it in herself to care. And she sure as hell wasn't going to apologize. For once, she wasn't the one getting fucked over by his rules and restrictions. Maybe now that he knew how it felt, he'd see her side of things a little better. At least she'd hoped he would.

It didn't matter how much she was around actors, she still didn't grasp their lifestyles. She couldn't understand how they dealt with fake relationships, shady exchanges, and fabricated stories to hurt or help someone's career. Her life was simple. At least it used to be. James would never understand why she was with Edward. And until she figured it out herself, there was no point in telling him.

When Edward stepped on the set Monday morning, his demeanor hadn't improved. He'd spent the majority of the night before trying to get a hold of himself. To lock down all the bullshit swirling around in his head. He needed to stop letting her in, stop letting her actions affect him. The hair on the back of his neck pricked as he crossed the set. He could feel Esme's eyes tracking his every move, just like she'd done for the last hour. Normally, he wouldn't think anything of it. People watched him all the time. But the way she studied him was different. It made his skin itch and his barely contained temper flare. And when it happened, everyone suffered.

"Cut!" the director yelled, his eyes pinched shut in frustration. "Edward, take five and get your head out of your ass. We're shooting this one more time or I'm calling in Seth to read your fucking lines."

Edward scoffed and ran his hand through his hair. "Bullshit. You and I both know that won't happen. I'll be back in an hour. You'll get your shot then."

"I said five fucking minutes."

Edward turned and smirked. "And I said an hour. You can wait or you can film utter shit. That's up to you."

He didn't wait for a response as he stalked across the floor and made his way to his dressing room. It took less than five minutes before his door opened and Esme stepped inside. She smiled when their eyes met. "You seem tense, Edward. You would think after your night of fun you'd be much more relaxed." The underlying anger in her voice was hard to miss, and it only served to piss off Edward more.

"I have no idea what the fuck you're talking about. But I've no doubt you have every intention of enlightening me."

"Ouch." Esme flinched and stuck her bottom lip out in a pout. "You're in a rotten mood. I can help with that, you know."

Edward sighed and fell onto his chair. "I'm sure you could, but I'm going to have to take a rain check."

Esme dragged her finger along the surface of his vanity and nodded. "Yes, as I said, I'm sure you had those needs taken care of this weekend."

Edward stiffened and his eyes narrowed. "What are you talking about?"

"The pictures, Edward. I saw the pictures of you and Carlisle out on the town this weekend. I must say, I didn't know you were so fond on blondes."

"I wasn't with any blonde this weekend."

"Well, the pictures of that girl straddling your lap says otherwise."

"Fuck," Edward exhaled, his hand going immediately to his phone. He wondered if Bella had seen them yet. His shoulders slumped and his eyes fell shut when he realized he never told her that he'd gone out with Carlisle.

"Exactly. How do you think those pictures make me look?"

"You? What the fuck do you have to do with anything?" Edward didn't care that he was being an asshole. And he sure as fuck didn't have any idea what she was going on about. The only person he was worried about was Bella and the fight they were going to have because―yet again―she was going to be pissed.

"Excuse me? We're supposed to be dating. Your little romp with that slut makes me look like a fool. I didn't sign up for that."

Edward's eyes flashed, a dark look crossing his face as he stood slowly from his chair. She was worried about how she would appear in public? Worried about how his actions would make her look? A memory of Tia draped over his arm and smiling for the cameras flashed in his mind. It made his chest tighten and his fists clench. "And I didn't want to do that shit in the first fucking place. But I really didn't have a choice did I?"

Esme cocked her head to the side and smiled. It was small and calculating. "What's the big deal? It's not like you're dating someone for real. And until this very moment, I was under the impression that I'd be naked and bent over in front of your mirror as you fucked me from behind by now. I thought you were just playing a little game of hard to get. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe there's more to your avoidance than I realized." Esme was the picture of calm on the outside, but on the inside jealousy burned through her veins like poison as she thought about someone laying claim to him. She hadn't wanted to be stuck in Italy for months, filming a movie she didn't give a shit about. She wanted to be in L.A. with Edward so she could do what she'd wanted to do for over a year. She wanted to tame him. She wanted to claim him. And the thought of someone else doing that made her blood boil.

Edward's breath stilled in his chest as anxiety slithered up his spine. His anger faded away as his old friend fear wrapped its hands around his throat and squeezed. His relationship with Bella had changed, shifted. He knew that. But fear was very seldom rational, and years of avoidance, building walls, and molding himself into someone who would never be fucked over again wasn't going to change overnight. In the back of his mind, he wondered if he had any intention of ever truly trying. Falling into the person he'd become, though, letting his body sink into a hole of apathy about anyone other than himself...it was as easy as breathing.

"I think the pictures should prove to you that I'm not attached to anyone, Esme. C'mon," he smirked, "you know better than that. Now, what can I do for you to make up for those pictures?"

Esme dragged her tongue over her lower lip and stepped closer to him. "We should go out. We need to be seen together. Being seen in public will overshadow some shitty trash mag's picture of you with that slut."

Edward's jaw ticked as he tried to keep the smile on his face. It didn't go unnoticed that she didn't ask him to fuck her. She asked to be seen in public. And even though he had no idea what he would've done had she asked, at least then he would have felt less used. His mind flashed to Bella. Even though she hated having to hide, it felt different. It didn't feel like she wanted to go out just to put on a show. She just wanted to go out period. His stomach twisted when he remembered the pictures again. He needed to get to Bella. He needed to tell her what happened before she drew her own conclusions. He needed to get Esme the fuck out of his face.

"When?" he asked, his eyes darting to the door, his distraction causing all of his focus to shift beyond the room.

"I'll text you?"

"Awesome. I've got something I need to do. I'll see you back on set." Not waiting for her reply he crossed the room and was out the door. He pulled out his phone and called Bella's number. It rang twice before she answered.

"Hey, you."

"Where are you?"

"In my office," she replied, her words slow and measured.

"You alone?"

"Yeah."

"I'll be right there." He was relieved she didn't sound angry when she answered, but Bella had a way of appearing completely unaffected by something when she was really ready to tie a plastic bag over his head.

Bella straightened the papers on her desk and shifted her eyes to the door. Edward sounded on edge, agitated―and nothing good ever came from that. She'd talked to him earlier that morning and everything had been fine. But obviously something had happened, and she was more than a little sure she wasn't going to like it.

As soon as he walked through the door and shut it behind him she knew she'd been right. "What's the matter?"

Edward tilted his head back as he studied her. The set of her shoulders and the slight frown on her face looked more concerned than angry, and it gave him confidence that she hadn't seen anything yet. Of course, he held no delusions that her demeanor wouldn't change as soon as he told her why he was in her office.

"So I kinda fucked up," he chuckled, his hand raking through his hair as he fell into the chair across from her.

Bella lifted her brow. "Oh? How so?"

"So the night you went out Victoria," he trailed off, prolonging the inevitable as long as possible.

"Yeah?"

"I might have forgotten to tell you that I'd been out with Carlisle when you texted me."

Bella's stomach bottomed out and her face smoothed. "And why are telling me now?"

"I wasn't trying to hide it from you." His tone was defensive and his posture rigid.

"Edward, we were together all weekend. You had a million opportunities to tell me."

He sat back in the chair and smirked. "Really? Should I have told you while you were vomiting your guts out? Or how about the next morning when you were hung over and hiding me from your brother? Because I can tell you, with all that excitement it kind of slipped my mind."

Bella's faced heated with embarrassment and anger. "Oh, my God, you're an asshole. It's one thing to be like oh hey, remember that one time you threw up because you were drunk? That was great. It's another thing to use it to deflect you being a jerk and keeping shit from me. Obviously whatever you did that night is going to piss me off, so just spit it out already."

Edward wanted to argue, but he knew she was right. He was trying to deflect. Pulling in a deep breath, he told her about going to the bar. How he'd just wanted to relax and hang out. How he'd signed some autographs for fans and was getting ready to leave when a drunk girl fell into his lap and kissed him.

Bella tried to hide the hurt she felt, but when she spoke, the tremble in her voice gave her away. "She kissed you on the mouth?"

Edward was out of his seat and around her desk before she even finished speaking. "Bella, it was less than two seconds. I swear. She literally fell in my lap and kissed me at the same time. I pushed her off and was out of there right after." He cupped her jaw and tilted her face until they were eye level. "I just wanted to see you. You have to know that much at least. C'mon, Bella, you know that, right?"

Bella let out a heavy breath and dipped her chin. "Yeah."

"Hey." He hooked his finger under her chin and tugged until their eyes met. "Come over tonight. We can have a Honey Boo Boo marathon. We can even order some fried chicken and cornbread. Get the whole experience."

Bella smiled, her eyes pinching at the corners. Her pulse fluttered when his smile matched hers. Because these were the moments. These were the things that made the blood race through her veins and set her body on fire. Those unguarded moments when she saw more. "Will you drink Budweiser and stick your hand down your pants?"

"I'll stick your hand down my pants." He laughed, kissing her quickly before standing. "I have to get back." Edward hesitated and shifted his weight. Squaring his shoulders he shoving his hand into his pants pocket and pulled out his keys. Twisting his house key off the ring, he stared at it for a second, wondering if he'd lost his fucking mind, before handing it to her. He'd get it back. He was just making things easier for tonight. That was all.

Bella stared at the key like it might bite her. She lifted her eyes to Edward, her expression a mix of shock and curiosity. "Um."

"I don't know if I'll be running late. You can let yourself in. You still have the codes I texted you, right?"

Bella reached out tentatively and pulled the key from his fingers. "Yeah."

"I'll see you later then?" He walked backward while he spoke, a small smile on his lips.

"Yeah." Bella's expression was still dazed and unsure, like she was waiting for aliens to land and give her back the Edward who'd barged into her office minutes earlier.

Edward chuckled and reached behind him to open the door. "Bye, Ivy."

She smiled. "Bye, asshole."

His laugh echoed down the hall.

Bella spent the rest of the day with a smile on her face. He was trying. He sucked at it. But he was trying, nonetheless. Because nothing said I really like you like a Honey Boo Boo marathon.

She took a little extra time getting ready that afternoon. She even conned James into making her a pan of cornbread to go with the fried chicken she'd decided to pick up on her way over. It felt strange being in his house alone, but at the same time the enormity behind the gesture was unmistakable. He was slowly trusting her. Letting her in. She felt like she was beginning to matter to him more, that it wasn't only her that felt things were changing. Which was weird considering earlier she was preparing herself for the worst. Maybe in their own ways, they were both fucked up.

Edward groaned as the director changed the scene again. They'd shot eight different takes so far, and nothing seemed to please him. He yelled for them to take five while he spoke with the lighting crew. Edward moved to the edge of the set and pulled out his phone to text Bella that he was going to be late when Aro and Esme appeared in front of him.

"Edward, having a rough night?" Aro's smile was indulgent and patronizing.

"Nope. Things are perfect. It's a beautiful thing watching the director learn the difference between his ass and a hole in the ground."

"Pleasant as ever," Aro murmured, a fake smile stretched across his face. "Here." He stuck out his arm and handed Edward a slip of paper.

"What's this?"

"It's reservations for your dinner tonight with Esme. We need to do some damage control after your weekend exploits."

"Excuse me?" Edward blinked as he stared at Aro in shock, his eyes drifting to Esme briefly.

"We've arranged your first date with Esme. It's tonight. We can't afford to wait after those pictures of you that surfaced."

Edward's jaw clenched as he realized what he was being told. "I have plans tonight."

"Oh?" Esme smirked. "Hot date?"

Edward glared at her and looked to Aro, who was staring at him with a bemused expression on his face.

"Then cancel. This is important, Edward. And you did agree, after all."

Edward sighed and nodded his head. He didn't want to cancel on Bella. But he didn't seem to have much of a choice. With a resigned sigh he excused himself and pulled out his phone.

Bella chewed on a piece of cornbread, her socked feet tucked under her and a blanket that smelled of Edward draped over her as she flipped through the channels. She reached absently for her phone, her eyes still glued to the television. When she looked down a feeling she'd never experienced before washed over her.

I can't make it for dinner. They're making me go out with Esme. Wait for me?

Irrational or not, she felt like she was second best. Discarded and unimportant. She wiped off her hands and turned off the television before cleaning up her mess and putting away the food she'd brought over. She slipped out the front door and drove back to her house in silence. She didn't want to sit at his house and wait for him knowing he was on a date. Something burned in her chest, something that made her heart hurt, and she wondered if she was right to try to put up her own walls. To protect her heart. Pulling out her phone, she fought to hold back the tears threatening to spill down her cheeks as she typed out a reply.

Raincheck.

She dropped her phone to her side and let out a heavy breath. Her emotions were swinging from one extreme to another. But the one thing that remained constant was the burning question bombarding her mind. Could she really do this?


A/N

I won't bore y'all with excuses. Life has been really crazy and I got behind. This chapter was HARD to write. There won't be an update tomorrow, but I promise to be back on track next week.

The reviews I got for the last chapter? My mind has been blown. Seriously. You guys are freaking AHHHHHHHHH-MAZING!

Ooza beta's this craziness. She also perfectly summed up my thoughts about this chapter- "no wonder this chapter was hard to write. this shit is exhausting to feel w/your characters."

Joo, Ash, and Deb are nice enough to preread this trainwreck. Thanks you guys!

Last thing! For those of you who read my collab Dirt Roads, it's up for fic of the week over at tehlemonadestand. There are only a few hours left to vote, so if you guys wanna show it some love it would make me day!

See y'all next week!

~Liv