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I've gotten three drink offers, four 'oops, it's really crowded in here' body gropes, and a marriage proposal from a girl out for her twenty-first birthday by the time it's my turn to head to topside bar. I've also made a shit ton of money and sold out my shot tray twice. I pass Rosalie on the stairs on the way up.
"They keep taking my change!" I have to shout over the classic rock music and the drunks in the crowd. "How do I get more?"
"Topside bar can give you change," she says, hollering over the din. "But if they're too busy, go ask Edward. He's got a ton of cash up there."
Well, I declare.
I don't have as much time to think about how best to approach him as I'd like, because a table full of thick-necked jocks waves the two of us down and buys out both our trays. They also try really hard to convince us that the proper way to thank them for their generosity would be for us to kiss each other, with tongue, while they make a little video for Instagram. Yeah, no. I haven't had a single thing to drink yet, and Rosalie isn't going to be the first almost-member of the Cullen family I get to feel up. That's not happening. No, siree, Bob.
"Enjoy, guys!" Rosalie snatches my tray and makes toward the swinging kitchen doors. "Here." She pushes her little purse at me. "You go get us both more change and I'll get more shots from Erik and meet you up front."
She's gone, her sheet of blonde hair swinging behind her, and I am left with my own nerves and a long walk to the front of Cullen's.
I can see him, a glimpse here and there, as I fight my way through the madness. He's so tall and whenever he isn't slinging beers like pancakes at a fire department fundraiser, he drapes his long arm over the top of the line of booths behind him.
"Where you going, baby? You want a drink?"
The man at the high top table next to me is closer to Emmett's age than mine. He's holding court with a group of younger guys and a few girls. I'm boxed in. The crowd has stopped cold here, gridlocked by the press of more bodies than I would've believed could possibly fit into this section of tables and booths.
"I'm working." I shake my head and hold up the two bags. "Just getting change, but thanks anyway, man."
"You don't look like you're working." His eyes, dark and deep set, overshadowed by a prominent forehead and a hawkish nose, follow a line from my throat to my hips. "Come have a drink with us, sweetheart. Let's get acquainted."
Several of the younger guys at his table stand and move forward, and I just cannot with this crap. Really? We're gonna play this way?
"I said no thanks." I tap a guy behind me on the shoulder. "Hey, dude, can you move? I need to find a doorman to throw these pricks out." The guy blinks at me from behind black-rimmed hipster glasses but nods. I'm under his arm and squeezing on through the crowd before the group of losers behind me can get out the cuss words they're probably thinking.
I'm so thankful when I finally make it to Edward that I forget he didn't recognize me earlier. I shove my way through the circle of people around him buying beers, my fingers curling over the cold edges of the ice-filled tub on the table beside him. "Jesus, am I glad to see you. Is it like this every weekend? Because these people ain't playing with a full deck."
"Give me two, Edward," the guy I cut in front of says, and Edward, whose timid smile is such a contrast to the absolute gluttony of this place, obliges him. The guy, nearly as tall as his beer purveyor but thin and wiry, hands me a Rolling Rock. "Here, girl. Have a drink."
"What? No." I try to push the beer back to him. "I'm working. I can't drink. Why does everybody keep trying to buy me drinks?"
"Maybe they want an excuse to talk to you." Edward is selling, smooth and quick, taking rumpled bits of money and handing back faced cash and dripping bottles of beer. His plaid flannel is rolled up to mid arm and his forearms are covered in water. His fingers look pruny.
"Well, that's stupid. I don't have time to talk. I gotta work."
Rolling Rock Guy eyes me, sipping his own beer. He seems to toggle between Edward and I, his feet shifting slowly. "You're talking to Edward."
"What?" Oh, a wise guy. "I came to get change." I produce the two bags. "And anyway, that's different." I roll my bare shoulder toward Edward. "He's not interested in me. He didn't even know who I was earlier."
Rolling Rock snorts. "Imagine that." He ducks his head toward Edward. "Who is she, anyway?"
"I'm the new bartender. And the shot girl." I stretch out my hand. "Bella Swan. I'd let him introduce us but he never seems to remember my name around company."
"You don't say?" Rolling Rock has freckles and ginger hair and a scraggly beard, a la Ron Weasley in Hermione's dirty dreams. "I thought this guy was the picture of good manners."
Edward has probably sold half a case while we've been shooting the shit. He looks up from his latest sale and shakes his soaking wet hand in my direction. "Look at that, your dress is wet."
That water is cold. "What the hell?"
He grins. "You said I didn't have any manners."
"Oh, my God. You're ornery." Ahn-rey.
"Sometimes." One dark eyebrow is up and the pair of eyes below it are trained somewhere between my neck and my nipples, which are trying to wave at him from beneath my water-splattered dress. "What can I get you, ladies?"
He sells a pack of sorority girls a bunch of Amstel Lights before turning back in my direction. Rolling Rock claps him on the shoulder and wanders off. "Good luck with this one, man. She's a firecracker."
His lip turns up. "I've noticed."
I produce my cash. "The hell. You haven't noticed anything to do with me that doesn't involve ice or Diet Coke." I shove a stack of twenties at him. "Could I get some change, please? Rosalie said to get it from you if the bar was full."
He reaches into his front pocket, under his apron, and stows the larger bills before beginning to cut ones and fives out of another stack from his apron pocket for me. "I know who you are, Bella. I just didn't recognize you earlier. You look, um…" He stops. "Different. You look different without, without your uniform on."
"Yeah, well." I draw closer to him, partially to hide his hands from the crowd around us while he flips through so much cash, and partly because he pulls me in. I need to be nearer. "Is this the part where you tell me I clean up pretty good?"
He hands me back the first stack of ones and I trade him for Rosalie's big bills. He starts counting. "You always look nice." He's still holding a stack of bills as he reaches up suddenly, running one cold finger, quick and startling, over my bones. "Such pretty clavicles."
"Oh." There's nothing but intimacy in that single breathy word on the air between us. We are charged and ready. He pulls his finger back, and looks long, right into me, and I am standing there, back to the entrance, my bare legs nearly against his jean and white apron-covered thighs. "Oh, hey. Hi, there." I'm a wreck. "I'm, uh…" I sigh. "I'm a mess." I lean forward and I drop my forehead against his bicep. He's laughing. I look up at him and he is smiling, and I…what do I do? "This isn't funny. I'm me and you're, you're–"
His eyes are shining. He looks happier than I've ever seen him. "I'm here all night." He hands me the last of the money. "You'll be back around to talk, right? I mean, you'll need a break." He points to the corner of the table the beer cart doesn't cover. "I'll save you a seat."
"Now that sounds like a plan."
"What kind of plan?"
I turn, lifting my head off Edward's side, to find Rosalie coming in the topside doors with two big platters of Jell-O shots in her arms. Her Cheshire grin is completely ruined for me by the scowl on the face of the man pushing through behind her.
"I thought you were working?" He's pissed.
I step out of the warm circle of Edward and reach for a platter. "Well, hello to you, too, Jake."