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May would be largely uneventful if it wasn't for the weekend when we celebrated Dad's birthday. As usual, it was a family event; and as usual, I cooked because there was nothing Dad loved more than Roast Spring Lamb and homemade Tiramisu. After dinner, I helped Sue carry plates into the kitchen and then paused in the living room doorway, watching Seth playing tag with the twins. Their exhilaration was so infectious that I couldn't help but laugh.
"I'm not sure who is the youngest in this family." Dad chuckled, placing a hand on my shoulder. I covered his hand with my own and gave it a light squeeze.
He sighed. "How I wish I could see your kids playing here."
I shuddered a little. "Dad, please."
"You sound like Mom."
"Well, at least we still have something in common," he muttered.
"I'm seeing someone," I said after a pause.
"Yeah, Leah told me. Why haven't you brought him over? Am I that scary?"
Dad caught my chin with his finger, forcing me to turn and look into his worried eyes. "He's not married, is he?"
"Jesus," I groaned. I wondered if that was Leah's idea or he had come to this conclusion on his own. "Of course not. Who do you think I am?"
"I'm sorry, kiddo. I'm just a stupid moron who had too much whiskey."
"It's okay." I buried my face in the flannel of his shirt and sighed. "I'm sorry I make you sad."
Dad patted my back. "Do you cook for him?" he asked suddenly.
I gave a laugh. "No."
"You should. Trust me, if you do, he will be at your feet. Listen to your old man."
"Come on, old man." I tugged him into the kitchen. "I think there is some Tiramisu left. Let's get to it before the others do."
Leah asked me to come with her to IKEA on Sunday morning—she was planning to redecorate the twins' room—so I stayed with Dad and Sue overnight. It had been years since I slept in my old bedroom and they had turned it into a guest room since. I was trying to fall asleep, but for some reason I couldn't. Maybe it was the uncomfortable mattress or the fact that I wasn't used to sleeping alone anymore—Mr. Puss usually kept me company—but I tossed and turned until the first light of day. Needless to say, in the morning I felt like shit.
After breakfast, Leah picked me up in her old Chevy. My hopes that our trip would be limited to visiting only the Children's department were shortly dashed. She dragged me through the entire store, stopping every now and then to look at some items and make notes as if she were in the museum. Finally, we reached our destination, and I tried my best not to be cranky while I helped her choose new duvet covers, rugs, and curtains.
She filled her yellow bag to the brim and I was just about to relax when I heard a familiar voice behind me.
"Bella! What a surprise!"
I turned and froze as though I saw a ghost. Well, in some sense, it was a ghost—a ghost of the bad relationships past, my ex-boyfriend Jared. He had a new haircut and wore a self-satisfied smirk, but that wasn't why I gaped. Next to him stood a petite girl with light brown hair and big blue eyes. She was pretty. And heavily pregnant.
"Hi, Jared," I said, forcing a smile. "How are you?"
"Fine, I'm fine, you?"
"Not bad." Murphy's law never failed me—if I was wearing old jeans and a hoodie, my hair was dirty, and I didn't bother with make-up, I was sure to bump into someone I hadn't seen for ages. Just my luck, this time it happened to be my ex, of all people.
"Hi, Jared." Leah's voice was laced with acid as she practically towered her six-foot frame over Jared and the poor girl who instantly tensed, looking even smaller under my sister's piercing gaze. "Will you introduce us?"
"Sure." He shifted from one foot to another, clearly intimidated by Leah. "This is Kim, my fiancée. Kim, this is Bella and Leah."
"Nice to meet you." Kim nervously fiddled with her engagement ring, preventing me from taking a closer look at the object.
"When is the happy day?" Leah asked with a wicked grin.
"May 30." Jared took Kim's hand. "We hope to move into our new house by then."
"New house?" I raised my brow.
"My parents bought us a house here in Jersey," Kim said with a shy smile.
"Alright, guys," Leah said. I could feel her patience drawing dangerously close to an end. "It was nice meeting you, but we're in a real hurry. Bye." With that, she turned on her heel and headed to the cafeteria.
"It was really nice meeting you, Kim," I said to the girl before turning to Jared—the person who shared one roof and one bed with me for two years, and now a complete stranger. "And good seeing you." My heart was suddenly unbearably heavy in my chest.
"Why does it feel like I've just been slapped in the face?" I asked, taking a small sip of lingonberry drink as we settled at a table.
Leah pricked a meatball on her plate with her fork so fiercely like it was her worst enemy. "Honestly? It doesn't feel like that for me at all. Look at them—they're pathetic."
"How far along is she, you think?"
She shrugged. "The end of the second trimester, I suppose."
I narrowed my eyes, calculating.
"Stop it," she suddenly snapped. "Is that what you want? A shotgun wedding? A dork for a husband? A house in Jersey? Oh, for fuck's sake!"
I sighed. "I don't know. It's just..."
"It's just you being stupid. Leaving this prick was the best decision you've ever made. You can do so much better. In fact, you are doing so much better." She smiled at me reassuringly. "Nice earrings. If I buy stuff at IKEA, it doesn't mean I can't tell real diamonds. What was the occasion?"
I bit my lip. "Err... a small anniversary," I lied. The actual occasion which led to Edward buying me those earrings was still an unpleasant memory, though it strangely made us closer.
"Quite generous, isn't he?"
"He is." I smiled. The mere thought of him made me feel better. "He sends me flowers, too."
"I'm beginning to like this guy, after all." Leah chuckled. "Looks like you have finally found someone who can appreciate you. It's the most important thing. Congratulations!" She raised her glass and clinked it against mine. "The rest will come; just give it some time. Not too much time, though."
On the train on my way home, I was thinking about Edward. Our routine hadn't changed much, but it wasn't boring; it was comfortable. We were spending Friday nights together; we would have dinner and then breakfast the next morning, and sometimes he fed me. We would relax and watch TV, cuddling on the couch—who would have thought he was the one to cuddle? And we talked. I found out that he liked modern art, especially photography. What I had taken for photos of the sea in his study appeared to be the pictures of Lake Michigan taken by someone famous; he had paid an exorbitant price for them on eBay. Our physical relationship was getting better and better, as if my body had somehow synchronized with his, sharing the connection that didn't require words. And it wasn't just sex; it was something that transpired when our eyes met or our hands accidentally brushed against each other. I had never felt anything like that before. I wondered if he felt the same; for some reason, I wanted him to.
I mulled over Leah's words. I didn't want to entertain hope that would once again be shattered by the reality. I didn't want to believe in fairy tales only to get disappointed. I kept my expectations low. Even though Edward was gradually opening up for me, it still felt like he was surrounded with an invisible shield. More than once did I face cold glass walls that I couldn't penetrate, and I began to think I never would. So maybe we would never be more. But for now, it was enough.
Then I remembered what Dad had said, and it suddenly made perfect sense. I had been clueless about what to give Edward for his birthday, and now I had the idea: I could cook for him. My culinary talents would hardly impress someone who was a frequent guest at Cipriani, but I could bake him a cake. He had a sweet tooth—a cake would definitely make him happy.
So on the evening of June 20, I entered Edward's building, fancied up in the ice blue dress and new five inch stiletto sandals I paid 400 bucks for last Saturday. I was slightly nervous because I was going to surprise him—what if he hated surprises? When we talked on the phone earlier, he said he would be working late as usual, so I was hoping to find him home and alone.
"Good evening, Peter," I greeted the doorman.
"Good evening, Ms. Swan."
"Err... is Mr. Masen home?"
"Yes, Ms. Swan. Would you like me to call him?"
"No, thank you." I showed him a carton with the cake and smiled. "I want him to be surprised."
"Of course." He smiled back politely.
I turned and quickly headed to the elevator, suddenly impatient.
"Ms. Swan, take care please, the floors are wet," I heard his voice behind my back, but it was too late. My right foot slipped; I felt I was losing my balance and before I knew what was going on, I was lying face down on the marble floor.
Shit, cake, was my only thought.
I was numb at first. Then, after a few seconds, the excruciating pain sharply hit my right ankle. It was so bad that I didn't feel the rest of my body at all.
"Ms. Swan, are you okay?" The doorman hurried to my side. "Can you get up on your own?"
I bit my lip and managed to sit on the floor, wincing in pain as I moved my feet. "My ankle... argh... I think I injured it."
"I'm so sorry." His face creased in concern. "I'll call Mr. Masen."
I suddenly realized I was still gripping the carton with the cake, the red ribbon gone awry. If I weren't crying from pain already, I would definitely start now that I saw it. No way would it have survived. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the bright yellow Caution Wet Floor sign. God, what an idiot.
"Mr. Masen, it's Peter," the doorman spoke on his phone. "Ms. Swan is here... Yes, I know she is, but she fell and hurt her ankle. Badly, I think. Okay."
Barely a few minutes later, an elevator chimed behind me and I heard the footsteps of someone running.
"God, Bella," he gasped, crouching down beside me. His face was pale like never before.
"Edward, I'm sorry," I whimpered. "I wanted to surprise you. I made a cake, here, I—"
"Fuck the cake. How badly are you hurt?"
"I slipped... my right ankle hurts like hell."
"I'm going to take a look. I'll be very careful, okay?"
I nodded, finally letting go of the cake and resting my palms on the floor. Very cautiously, he unfastened the strap of my sandal and slowly took it off; even the lightest touch caused me to jerk in pain. I noticed my ankle had already started swelling, which made me feel insufferably worse.
"Did you hear anything when you twisted it?" he asked.
I shook my head.
"I don't think it's broken, but the ligaments could possibly be torn. I'm taking you to a hospital," he said decisively and turned to the doorman. "Peter, please hail a taxi."
I don't know if it was his stern voice or the mentioning of a hospital or the possibility of having a severe injury, but I broke into sobs. He froze, and in another moment he was clasping me to his chest. "Bella, baby, don't be scared. You'll be fine, honey, sweetheart." He pressed his lips to the top of my head. "It will be okay."
I had no idea he knew all those terms of endearment. "I'm sorry," I whimpered into his white shirt.
"What are you sorry for?" he asked softly.
"It's your birthday, and I—"
"Don't be ridiculous." He pulled back and wiped my cheeks with his thumb, then moved to take off my other shoe and handed them both to me. "These are lovely, by the way." He winked, smiling.
"The taxi is waiting," the doorman interrupted us.
"Ready?" Edward's hand rested on the small of my back.
I gave him a slight nod, expecting him to make me stand on my uninjured foot, but instead he slid his other hand under my knees and pulled me up into his arms. My heart leapt in my chest. If I weren't writhing with pain, I would squeal with delight. He carried me outside and helped me to the back seat of a yellow car, climbing in beside me.
He held my hands during the short ride, rubbing my knuckles. When the car stopped by a hospital ER entrance, he carried me into the waiting area, muttering a curse because it was crowded. Luckily, someone gave up his seat to me.
"I'll be right back," Edward told me.
I watched him stroll to the front desk and talk to a receptionist. Then he pulled his phone out of his pocket, made a short call, and returned to me.
"Hey." He smiled reassuringly. "It's okay. They'll attend to you soon."
I raised my brow. "But how—"
He shook his head, frowning at me. "Later."
Miraculously, less than half an hour after I had filled out the papers, a nurse approached us and he carried me into an examination room. He refused to leave and sat there on a chair in the corner, watching me closely while the calm and tired-looking doctor checked and prodded my ankle, my foot, and even my knee. After the X-ray, broken or fractured bones were thankfully ruled out and I was diagnosed with a grade 2 ankle sprain. I was given Advil, a compression wrap, and a pair of crutches and I stubbornly made my way out of the room on my own feet. Or, rather, foot. At the end of the hall I stopped, having run out of breath.
"You'll feel better when the painkillers kick in," he said, tenderly tucking my hair behind my ear.
"Thank you." I wanted to put my arms around him, but I was gripping the damn crutches. "So how did you manage to make them see me so fast?"
He chuckled. "I happen to know their chief of staff. Actually, the whole ER wing of this hospital has been my project."
"Oh." I felt a pang of conscience about all those people in the waiting area, but then decided the universe owed me a piece of luck after all.
"If you don't want me to carry you, I'm afraid you've got to man up and take the remaining few steps to a taxi. The faster we get home, the faster you can lie down and apply an ice pack, and we have yet to pick up your things."
My eyes flicked to his. "What do you mean, pick up my things?"
"We are going to your apartment so that you can change and pack the stuff you need. You're staying with me for a few days."
"What?" I gasped, panicking for some reason. "No. I can't. I can perfectly cope on my own—"
"Isabella, were you even listening to what the doctor had said?" he hissed. "Your ankle needs to heal properly or the joint may become unstable and it will get sprained over and over again. You need rest. And I know that you can cope on your own, but trust me, you don't want to." He pointed at my crutches. "It won't be as easy as you imagine."
"How do you know so freaking much about injuries, by the way?" I asked, annoyed with his condescension. "How did you know what to look for when you examined my ankle?"
"I told you I used to play baseball. I know quite a lot about torn ligaments and broken bones." He rested his hands on my shoulders. "This is why I can take good care of you. Trust me. Please."
I sighed. Arguing with Edward had always been pointless. "So my dad was right," I said. "He told me if I cook for a man, he will be at my feet. It worked better than I expected, really. You didn't even get to taste it."
He burst into a hearty laughter. "I bet it was a damn good cake. What kind was that?"
"A Lemon Meringue one."
"Mmmm..." He closed his eyes, as if savoring the taste. He'd make a real deal of an actor.
"I'll bake you another. I promise."
"I'm taking you at your word. Now let's go, please. Slowly. One step at a time." He led me outside, hailed a cab, and gave the driver my address. Above all, he had a good memory.
He was right, of course—functioning with crutches turned out to be rather tricky and painful. Climbing up the stairs to the second floor was so challenging that I was holding back the tears. When we finally reached the door of my apartment, I felt equally thankful to Edward for offering his help and guilty for making him change his plans because of me.
I opened the door to be met by yet another complication.
"Meow," the complication said, inspecting us warily from the kitchen doorway. Mr. Puss didn't like strangers.
I turned to Edward who was looking somewhat awkward, holding my shoes as if they were his prize possession. "So this is where I live." My voice was suddenly high.
He smiled, carefully placing my shoes on the shoe rack. "I see."
"Come on in." I motioned for him to enter the living room. "Let's rest for a moment."
He followed me and held my crutches as I took a seat; my own couch had never felt so comfortable. He settled beside me, wrapping his arm around my shoulders and nuzzling into my hair. It was pure bliss even if the pain in my ankle hadn't subsided yet.
"I totally forgot about my cat," I said. "I can't leave him here alone."
He sighed. "Where do you usually leave him when you go on vacation?"
"I haven't had to—I've only owned him for a few months."
"Ask a neighbor, perhaps?"
"I don't really know anyone; most of them are tenants—they come and go." I pondered for a moment and a simple solution dawned on me. "Oh, I can ask Jacob."
He pulled back and stared at me, knitting his brow. "You mean, that Jacob?"
I took a deep breath. "I mean, my best, gay friend Jacob. He lives in the loft; we've known each other since we were four, for God's sake. I shouldn't have told you anything."
"I'm sorry." He closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I'm tired. Call him and let's go already."
Thankfully, Jake was home and agreed to take care of the cat. When he came to take my spare keys, Edward's stern look made me shiver. What the fuck was his issue?
Now that the cat problem was solved, I hobbled into my bedroom and changed into a t-shirt and yoga pants. Then I grabbed my sports bag and paused by the dresser, trying to decide what I might need for my few days' stay at Edward's place. I put the provocative items aside—sex was obviously off the menu and it wasn't like I planned to parade in front of him in my underwear in any case. I rolled my eyes at myself for even thinking about those things when I could barely stand at all and picked out my navy blue cotton pajamas.
On returning to the living room, I found him by the bookshelf, looking at the numerous photo frames I had there.
"Your grandparents?" He pointed at one of the photos, noticing me.
"Yes. This one was taken at their silver anniversary."
"Wow." He chuckled and pointed at another photo, the one of me and Alice at our graduation. "Who's this girl?"
"My friend Alice. I told you about her."
He nodded. "I met her once. She's Esme's niece. It's a small world."
I watched for any signs indicating that such coincidence bothered him; there weren't any and I felt deep relief. Maybe he even wouldn't be opposed to meet with Alice and Jasper someday.
"Nice pants." He smiled, closing the distance between us. "I take it you're ready to go."
"Uh-huh." I steeled myself for making one last effort.
"You'll feel better soon. I promise." He kissed me softly and carried me downstairs, ignoring my protests.
Evil to leave it here. I know :) But I promise to give you some answers in the next chapter. Some.
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