"It's so beautiful. I love it."
We were at an art gallery and I was staring at the painting of a sunlit poppy field, unable to take my eyes off the perfect harmony of bright colors. It was a rainy Saturday in the end of October and the landscape was practically brimming with summer heat.
"You can have it." Edward wrapped his arms around my waist from behind, locking our intertwined hands on my stomach. "It's not sold yet."
I snorted. "Sixty hundred bucks? Let me check my balance."
"Well..." He leaned in, placing a quick kiss on my right cheek. "I still owe you a birthday present."
"What?" I turned my head to meet his eyes. "No, you don't. Don't even think about it."
"Bella," he began, but the ringing of my cell interrupted him.
"Sorry," I said, digging into my purse. "It's my mom"
He stepped back, giving me some space.
"Hi, Mom! How are you today?"
We talked with Mom every day. She was significantly better—grief management had been helpful—but she still felt very lonely. Being single by your own choice was one thing; losing your other half was something entirely different.
"Hi, honey." She sounded cheery. "I'm good. Just got back from my session. What are you up to?"
"Um... hanging out at galleries, swooning at pretty pictures. Just the usual." I still hadn't told her I had a boyfriend. She hadn't asked about my personal life for a while and I wasn't sure if pushing my happiness into her face was the right thing to do just yet.
"I see." She paused. "You know, sweetie, I've been thinking... And today I've made a decision."
"I'm moving back to New York. I want to be near you."
Not that it was completely unexpected—I had considered such possibility—but she still managed to surprise me. "Oh!"
"Just imagine: we will spend so much time together!"
"That would be awesome," I managed.
"I need to wrap up some things here," she said excitedly. "I think I'll be ready to move by mid-November."
"Something's wrong?" Edward asked softly as I hung up.
I looked into his eyes. "Not really. I don't know."
"What is it?"
"Mom has decided to move here. Don't get me wrong; I know it's the best thing for her. I miss her, too—but I don't think I can live with her." I took a deep breath and exhaled loudly. "I'm 30 for Christ's sake. I love her and I really want us to be friends, but—"
"Bella." He rested his hands on my shoulders, sudden determination in his gaze. "You don't have to explain. I can understand how you feel."
"I just need to rant," I said, exasperated. "I don't know what to do."
"Why don't you move in with me?"
"What?" I gaped at him.
A smile crossed his features and he lightly squeezed my shoulders. "I mean it. I'm tired of sleepovers."
It had been less than a month since we started a new routine. We would have dinner on Wednesdays, then we would meet on Friday nights either at his or my place and spend weekends together. Deep inside l wanted more, but all things considered, it was great progress. I didn't expect Edward to be ready to jump to the next level so quickly. "Are you sure?" I mumbled. "Isn't it tad early?"
He chuckled. "Early? I've known you since February. Long enough to become aware I want to wake up with you every day."
"I have a cat." I didn't know why I had said it.
"And we get along pretty well." He caressed my cheek. "He enjoyed his stay, and I thought you said the week you spent with me was the best time of your life."
"That's true." I gave a slight nod. "But moving is a different thing. I'll invade your territory. I'll occupy your bathroom cabinet with my... err... girly stuff. I'll cook in your pristine kitchen."
"I'm looking forward to home-made dinners and I have a large closet." He cupped my face, gently causing me to tilt my head up, locking his eyes with mine. "I want you with all your girly stuff and your Tigger pajamas and your cat. What should I do to make you believe that?" There were notes of desperation in his voice.
"I believe you," I whispered. Because I did.
And that was it.
The next Saturday, I found myself sitting on my living room floor, trying to fight both the feeling of deja vu and overwhelming panic. My things were scattered all over the carpet, refusing to organize themselves into take, leave, and maybe piles. My mind was racing as I aimlessly moved stuff from place to place, and the fact that couldn't get any sleep last night wasn't helpful either.
The buzz of intercom brought me back to earth. I pushed the button and unlocked the door, waiting for Edward to come up.
"Hey." He smiled as he took me in. "Ready?"
I wrapped my arms around his waist, burying my face in his chest. "No."
"Need any help?" He caressed my hair.
With a deep sigh, I pulled away and motioned for him to follow me into the living room, sitting cross-legged on the floor.
"I have plenty of towels," he said, picking one, my favorite, from the floor and placing it neatly on the chair. "Hmm," he hummed at my red satin bra. "I like this." The bra went to my large suitcase.
I watched impassively as he continued dealing with my belongings in the same fashion; soon there was no more clutter but a few orderly piles and two full suitcases. "There you go," he said, zipping the suitcases up. "It's not like you're moving to another country. You can always come back here and take whatever else you need."
He came over and reached out his hand to help me up; it was then the emotions stirred within me, turning into a huge lump in my throat, and I let out a constrained sob.
Slowly, he squatted down in front of me, his anxious eyes searching mine. "What's wrong?"
I closed my eyes and rubbed my face, taking deep calming breaths. "I'm afraid," I croaked into my palms.
"Afraid of what, exactly?" he asked gently.
I pulled my hands away from my face and began picking at my cuticles. Anything to avoid looking at him. "I've lived with a guy before," I confessed. "It didn't work out."
When I finally lifted my eyes, he was wearing a small smile. "I dare to presume it simply was the wrong guy," he said, mirroring my position on the floor.
I shook my head. "That's not what I mean."
"Then what do you mean?"
I paused, trying to find the right words to express how I felt. "I'm afraid to lose myself in you."
He furrowed his brow, clearly missing my point.
"I don't like your place," I blurted out the first thing that came into my mind. "It's cold and gray and just so depressing. There is nothing me about it."
"You can change that." He chuckled, unclasping my hands. "We can do it over. No big deal."
"Really?" I asked in disbelief.
He shrugged. "I can't see why not. Do what you will."
I sighed and pointed at my mug sitting lonely on the coffee table. "This is my favorite mug."
"Bella." His expression became serious. "Perhaps I know shit about relationships, but one thing is crystal clear to me—it won't work out if you keep things to yourself. How am I supposed to know this is your favorite mug if you won't tell me about it? You just watch me put it aside and say nothing, bottling that shit up."
I lowered my eyes, staring at our entwined hands on my lap. I felt like an idiot. I had always let my boyfriends decide for me, too afraid to voice my opinion, too afraid to lose them that I ended up losing myself in them. It had been my problem all along.
"Look at me, please."
Drawing in a breath, I bit my lip and met his gaze.
"Talk to me."
"Sometimes I need some "me" time," I said timidly.
He chuckled lightly. "You know I work a lot, don't you? I'm afraid you'll have more "you" time than you need."
I sighed. "True. What if I want to meet with my friends and family?"
"Is there any problem? I thought your friends liked me."
"Can they come over for a drink?" My heart missed a beat.
He nodded. "Sure."
"Can Jacob come?"
His jaw visibly tensed. "Yes."
"I still regret telling you about him, you know," I muttered.
I tried to think of something, but my mind was like a blank page. My fears were anything but rational. He was right—it simply was the wrong guy and instead of bringing my negative experience into our relationship, I should learn from it. We both had our issues, but he was ready to deal with his; it was right about time I started dealing with mine. And in the first place, it meant being honest instead of bottling shit up—if anything, we wouldn't have been here at all if I hadn't been honest with him about my feelings. If I could tell him I loved him, surely I could tell him what movie I wanted to see and where I wanted to go on a weekend. Not to mention that it had never been a problem because he was a giver more than a taker.
And then it dawned on me. I used to think it was so easy to be myself with Edward because we'd had a casual, uncomplicated by commitments relationship. But what if it worked that way because he liked me for who I was, with all my girly stuff and silly pajamas and the cat? What if he simply was the right guy?
The right guy who cocked his head, staring at me questioningly.
"I love you," I gasped, throwing my arms around his neck. "Take me home."
When we entered Edward's apartment, I put Mr. Puss's carrier on the floor and unlocked it. The cat didn't hesitate; he emerged with his tail up, sniffed the air, and headed straight to the kitchen, looking confident as if he owned the place. We both laughed.
"You should learn from your cat," Edward said, taking my coat. I kicked off my shoes and followed Mr. Puss into the kitchen to discover with amazement that there were boxes of his favorite dry food sitting on the counter and two bowls similar to the ones I had at home in the corner by the window.
"I'm going to take care of you both." Edward leaned against the door, watching me intently.
"I need to unpack, I guess," I breathed, definitely lacking my cat's confidence.
He nodded. "I have a surprise for you. Let's get to it first."
I took his outstretched hand and he led me to the bedroom, pausing at the door. "Close your eyes. Don't cheat."
Feeling anxious, I did as he said. The door squeaked.
"Five steps, Bella. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Now, open."
I blinked, and again, my eyes widening. "Ah. Oh... Oh my God," was all I could manage.
On the wall above the headboard of the bed—the wall that used to be bare—now was a picture. The picture of a sunlit poppy field I had admired at the gallery.
"I'm afraid God has nothing to do with it." He laughed, plopping down on the bed and resting his back against the headboard, his eyes shining in excitement.
"Edward, this is so..." I gasped, pressing my hand to my chest that was suddenly overfilled with emotion. "Thank you."
"Come here." He patted on the bed beside him.
I ignored his gesture, climbing into his lap instead, straddling him. "I'm really speechless."
"It's good to know I can still impress a woman." His lips twitched, hiding a smile and sending a shiver down my spine. "And it's even better to know you're my woman." His hands found my waist, pulling me closer to him, our noses touching. I had to grip onto the headboard either side of his head because I'd lost my balance; I was reeling from his words, his generous present, and the most of all, from the fact that I wouldn't have to leave his side. Because I was his woman and he wanted me here.
We didn't leave the bed for the rest of the weekend.
On Sunday night, I braced myself and called my mom.
"Mom, I need to tell you something important."
"Tesoro mio, don't scare me."
"It's good news, I think." I chewed on my lip, not really knowing how to start. "I have a boyfriend."
She was silent, making me nervous.
"How long have you been hiding this fact from me?" she asked quietly, sounding so hurt I wanted to slap myself for making her feel that way.
"For a while," I admitted.
"I wasn't sure how serious it was. I didn't want to give you false hope."
"And just how serious is it?
I took a deep breath. "I've moved into his place. I love him, Mom," I was pleading with her to understand. "I should have told you before you decided to come and stay with me, but please don't change your mind. Please. I want to see you more often than two times a year... I miss you. I want us to be friends. Please don't be angry with me." I was once again a ten year-old girl begging her mom not to leave her.
"Oh, sweetheart," she exclaimed. "Of course I'm not angry with you." Her light chuckle made me finally relax. "I'm relieved, actually. And a bit pissed, too—I'm your mother and I'm the last to know my baby girl has fallen in love. What's his name?"
"Edward," I mumbled.
"Well, I can't wait to meet Edward."
A new work week started with a new routine. I had to wake up earlier than I used to because it would take me longer to get to work now. Edward was waking up even earlier than that—he went for a run and to the gym afterward. By the time he returned, I was showered and had breakfast ready. Then he watched CNN while getting dressed and I applied my make-up in the bathroom; we would appear to be perfectly synchronized. At eight sharp, we left the building and shared a cab.
It was a busy week for us both; I would get home at eight and he at nine, tired and hungry. We would order take-out and eat it in front of the TV, and it was good. Normal. Comfortable. On Wednesday, I dozed on his shoulder and he carried me to our bed and I was suddenly not tired anymore. We made love and afterward I couldn't sleep because he was spooning me and it was too hot but I couldn't reach for the air conditioning remote, unwilling to wake him.
Next Monday morning as I stood in front of the open bathroom cabinet, musing at the fact that my stuff now occupied most of it and Edward really didn't freak out, I had an idea. Even if I had somewhat acclimatized to his apartment, I still wanted it to be more cozy. It was right about time to take him on his word and decorate it a bit. So I decided to start with a simple thing—to hang nice curtains in the living room.
"Remember we talked about doing your place over?" I asked timidly when we were waiting for the elevator.
"Sure. Any particular ideas?"
"Well, I..." The elevator doors opened and we stepped inside. "I was thinking about hanging curtains in the living room."
"Okay." He took his phone out of his pocket, checking his calendar. "Do you need my help or—"
"I think I can cope with it," I said. "I revamped my apartment last year."
"Well, good then," he said distractedly.
We walked through the lobby in silence. "I'm not coming with you today," he said as we were on the street. "I have a meeting uptown. It's going to be another crazy week—we're bidding on a contract, and I'm afraid I'll have to work on Saturday, too."
"Oh." I frowned.
"Anyway, you'd better find someone to help you." He placed a fleeting kiss on my lips.
"Do you have any color preferences?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. It's up to you."
Wednesday morning, I called Jacob and asked for his help. After work, we met downtown at the home decor store where I used to buy stuff for my apartment.
"Bells, are you sure this is a good idea?" Jake asked as we were strolling through the drapes and curtains section.
"Why, you don't trust my choice?"
He shook his head. "I do. But it's not my condo."
"Well, he told me he couldn't be bothered, basically. Hmm." I stopped by a peach-colored organza curtain with subtle golden pattern and pulled it from the rack. "I like this. It's so warm. Perfect for winter. What do you think?"
"Um, isn't it a bit too... girly?"
"Bullshit," I snapped. "It's sunny. It will brighten up the room. It's Italian, too."
He nodded with a small smile. "If you say so, Bells. Martha Stewart would be proud."
I punched him playfully in the shoulder. We quickly chose a drapery rod and proceeded to the cashier.
"I hope your boyfriend owns a power tool." Jake snickered as we entered the apartment.
I rolled my eyes at his silly pun. "He sure as hell does." I motioned for him to hang his jacket on the rack and opened the closet door to produce a plastic tool box, wondering if Edward had ever used it.
"It's very nice in here," Jake commented, looking around the living room. "Very light and spacious. And Venetian blinds are quite fitting, you know."
"Are you helping me or not?" I was beginning to feel annoyed with him.
"Sure. Can you bring a ladder?"
I brought a three-step stool and spread the curtains on the sofa, admiring the color.
"Last chance to back out, Bella," Jake said, climbing up, the power tool in hand.
I opened my mouth to say something really snarky when I heard a loud bang of a front door. I froze; we both did. I didn't do anything wrong—why was I suddenly so nervous?
"Bella, you home?" Edward's voice sounded from the hall. The living room door opened, and he froze with his hand on the handle, too. His perplexed look shifted from me to Jake then to the curtains and back to me; his other hand rested against the door post and he took a long breath. "What the fuck is going on in here?"
He didn't shout; his voice was even softer than usual, but his tone was so biting my mouth became dry and my blood ran cold. The air instantly became thick with tension.
"Jake's helping me to hang the curtains," I stammered, unable to place what exactly was off or how to fix it.
"Hi." Jacob saluted.
Edward let out a dry chuckle, and here they were—glass walls and sharp edges. Long time no see. "And this is going to be what, a fucking Barbie house?" he hissed, cold gray eyes penetrating mine.
I stared at him in disbelief. "I bought the fucking curtains because you fucking told me to," I retorted, pointing my index finger at him. "Because you were too fucking busy and just didn't fucking care." I didn't mean it, really, but my defense mechanism worked that way—I wanted to slap him. Hard.
He closed his eyes and took another long breath, then pinched the bridge of his nose and turned quickly on his heel. The study door slammed so hard I thought the walls would collapse; I heard something fall with a hollow thud.
"I think I should go." Jake looked at me apologetically, stepping onto the floor. "I'm sorry."
I nodded, feeling like the air had been punched out of my lungs. When I saw him off to the door, I returned to the living room and stopped by the window, unable to understand what the hell had just happened. We'd never had a fight. Ever. I had absolutely no idea what had gotten into Edward and why it was seemingly my fault. I felt deflated but at the same time so damn pissed.
My train of thought was interrupted by the ringing of my phone. I reached for my purse and glanced at the screen: Alice. Pushing the offending peach-colored material aside, I sat down on the sofa. "Hi, Alice."
"Bella, Jake called me. You alright?" Her voice was concerned yet calming.
"No." I ran my hand down my thigh, straightening my skirt. "I don't know what to do. He's locked himself up in his study and I don't even know if he will talk to me. He's acting like a toddler. Damn it, my nieces are five and their behavior makes more sense."
Alice sighed. "We have already established that Edward has a lot to catch up on the emotional side and from what I know, he's been doing just fine until now. Can you tell me what exactly happened?"
I rubbed my face with my free hand. "I wanted to buy curtains for our living room. I told him about it; he said he was busy and suggested I ask for someone else's help. So I asked Jake because I needed someone to drill the fucking wall..." Realization hit me so suddenly that I gasped. "Oh, shit. Shit."
"It's not about fucking curtains," I mumbled. "He's always been so... weird about Jake."
"You think he's jealous?" she asked.
"I'm sure he is, though it makes no sense at all because he knows Jake is gay." I bit my tongue. It sure as hell made a lot of sense in the light of what he knew about our history.
"Hmm... that could be it. Jealousy is blind—it doesn't know ifs and buts. He could be jealous of the deep connection you two have. Simply because you are somewhat closer to another person. Think about it."
"Awesome," I muttered. "So what do I do now?"
"You need to talk to him. If there is someone who can break through his walls, it's you. Tell him about your feelings and make him do the same. That's the only way to make it work." She sounded quite passionate.
I sighed. "Easy for you to say."
"Nobody said it would be easy. But it's worth it. Go to him. Go to the man you love and talk to him."
After we had hung up, I sat on the couch for a while, mustering the courage to enter the lion's den. Finally I rose and strolled into the hall, cocking an ear to the study door. I heard his muffled voice; he was talking to someone on the phone. It was a good sign—he must have been over with his sulking. I waited until it became quiet and knocked twice.
He didn't reply.
I waited, my heart increasing its rate, then knocked again. Still no reaction. I drew in a breath and pushed the handle.
He was sitting at the desk, his shoulders slumped, his face in his hands. He didn't lift his eyes to acknowledge my presence; the knot of his tie was hanging low, revealing the undone top buttons of his shirt. Now that his walls weren't in place, he looked strangely fragile.
I came over to stand in front of him, resting my palms flat on the desk separating us. He flinched slightly.
"I'm sorry," I exhaled.
Slowly, he moved his hands away from his face and rested them on his lap. His eyes met mine cautiously, burning with something akin to remorse. "What are you sorry for, Isabella?" he asked in a hollow voice. "You did exactly what I told you to."
So I was Isabella again. I shifted from one foot to another, suddenly feeling so small. "I'm sorry for making you angry."
He closed his eyes with a muffled groan and pushed his chair back, increasing the distance between us. "I'm not angry with you. I'm angry with myself. I shouldn't have behaved like a caveman. I had a shitty day at work and I was on edge; I didn't mean to pour it on you, but when I saw someone's jacket on the rack, my heart sank... and then I saw you and him in my—our living room, and I just—" He trailed off, rubbing his eyes.
"You just... what?" I asked quietly.
"I don't know." He wouldn't open his eyes. "My blood boiled and then something burst inside me and I fucking lost it. It was something I couldn't control. I've never felt anything like that before. I'm sorry."
I walked around the desk, leaning against it. Closer but not touching him. "I didn't mean it when I said you didn't care. But you did hurt me."
His eyes finally snapped open, green like the ocean after the storm. "I'm awfully sorry. I have absolutely no excuse. I'm sorry I snapped at you and I'm sorry because it should have been me."
I furrowed my brow at him, confused.
He moved forward slightly. "I should have gone with you and helped you choose the goddamn curtains... this color is awful, by the way." A small but arrogant smile tugged at his lips.
"You think every color is awful as long as it's not black or white," I sneered.
In one swift movement, he was up and his hands found my waist, making me sit on the edge of the desk, his eyes locking with mine. "I beg you to understand. I've been living in a shell for so long. It's not easy for me to let it go even if I really want to. In fact, I didn't realize it would be this hard. Please grant me some patience. Please."
I felt a pang of guilt stabbing my chest. How could I be so selfish? In a struggle for my own comfort, I had completely dismissed the fact that he might want different things."You don't have to give anything up because of me. I don't want you to."
He shook his head. "I called Esme and she told me one thing... she said a relationship is not a sacrifice. It's a compromise. I'm still wrapping my head around her words."
"Compromise, huh? Do you even know the meaning of it?"
He chuckled lightly. "I might not be as smart as you, Ms. Swan, but my vocabulary is quite extensive."
"And what does it mean to you?" I asked in a small voice.
"It means we should make decisions together. Negotiate. We're good at it, aren't we?" His eyes never left mine as his hands rested on my knees, my pulse quickening instantly.
"Negotiate what?" As much as I wanted to be over with it, we needed to talk.
"What exactly you want to change about the interior. Actually, Esme has offered her help. How about we meet at our office and discuss it?"
I nodded. "Sounds good. She knows your taste better than I do, obviously, so we could carry it out without distracting you from work."
He sighed, a deep crease forming on his forehead. "God, Bella, you have no idea how much I want to take a break. I love my job, but I wish I could slow down a bit and spend more time with you. I wish I could."
I reached out and caressed his face. "It's okay. You're here now." His tension was still palpable, reminding me of another issue we'd had. "Please don't be jealous. Please." I leaned closer to him. "I've only lost my virginity with him," I whispered. "With you, I'm losing my mind."
His eyes widened and in another moment, his lips were molding into mine, hungry and desperate; I could taste his fear and his longing. His frantic hands twisted in my hair, releasing it from the clip, then ghosted down my shoulders, my arms, cupping my breasts. When my hips moved of their own volition toward his, a growl deep in his chest made my insides melt and waver. He pulled back abruptly, taking short breaths. "You. On my desk. No one has ever—" His hooded gaze flickered from my face to the Mac display on my right and back and he smirked. "You'll have to be very still."
Later, when I was trying to fall asleep with weary Edward wrapped tightly around me, his words came haunting back to me. He could actually slow down. He could enjoy his work instead of being exhausted by it. There was a decision to be made—the first decision that we would have to make together.
I reached for the nightstand, my movement making him whimper in his sleep and cling to me even closer, pulled the top drawer open, and felt for the key.
THANK YOU to everyone for taking your time to review, rec, or tweet about this story. You guys are amazing. I wish I could thank everyone personally. No matter if you express your love or rant, your words always make me smile :)
Katie1824, you are my hero. Always remember that.
And just a quick reminder that there are 20 chapters and an epi. We're almost there.