A/N: Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! I love you all.
"Uh…" I said stupidly, racking my brain for a more mature, intelligent response than the troll-like grunt I was giving him. "Hi." Was my final approach.
"This is Edward Cullen." He announced himself regally, as if I knew anyone else that sounded as sexy and masculine as he did. I waited breathlessly for him to continue; why was he calling me? Did he just call on a lunch hour to chat about the weather, having no one else to pour his boredom off on? Was he calling to ask me on a date? Did I forget something in his car? "I have someone here with me that wishes to talk with you." And even though his was still businesslike, there was the hint of a smile in his tone.
My heart dropped to the bottom of my stomach was the second time in one day, which should have been some sort of entry for the record books. I was still elated to speak to Tony, but it was just plain foolish of my brain to begin all sorts of fantasy conversations with his father. I was, again, losing focus. Edward didn't have any real reason to phone me. "Bella?" His tiny voice piped up over the line.
I smiled broadly at the refreshing, young feeling his faint voice brought to me before switching the stove off and leaning back against the narrow kitchen counter. "Well, hello there! How are you feeling today?"
"M-much better, Bella!" I idly wondered how Edward pulled that off… Tony was a ball of exhausted, frazzled nerves before his abrupt slumber in the car yesterday evening. Perhaps I wasn't giving enough credit to his father, who respectively knew Tony five more years than I did. "I got c-c-candy and special pancakes and a n-n-new t-toy!" I immediately frowned at Mister Cullen's expert way of dealing with his emotionally upset son- was that really the set of values he wanted to raise his eldest (and perhaps only) child with? Edward needed to teach that money didn't buy love or happiness; young Tony should be taught that on a regular basis not fed gifts and sweets to keep him complacent! I wanted to tear his dad a new asshole but took the high road instead.
"Really now? That's… very nice of your dad. Have the two of you talked already?" I was sure Edward was monitoring every second of our conversation, as any involved parent would, so I had to be very careful about the angle I took when speaking to Tony.
"About w-what?" I could hear the plain confusion etched in Tony's voice. "Daddy is t-t-too busy to t-talk. That's w-w-what t-toys are for." My frown deepened at his childlike take on parenting; honestly, what was Edward thinking? When your very own kid says you're too busy to even talk to him, its just a crying shame!
"I think your daddy should make more time for you, don't you think?" There was dead silence on the other line for a few more seconds than I liked, so I leaned into the phone as if it would help me to hear any better.
"That is all for today, Miss Swan." Edward's tense voice sliced in with controlled ease. "And I will have you know that I utilize every breathing second with my son when my work permits me, so you can take your ignorant opinion and shove it up your-" I quickly hung up before he could finish his unruly sentence. I definitely struck a cord there, but I did have the purest of intentions starting out. How was I suppose to know what was okay to say and what wasn't? I assumed Edward was the open, sticks-and-stones type of guy. I threw my phone across the kitchen, into the living room, and stretched my neck out side to side. Perhaps he was offended that what I said was true and he knew it?
Kids and their fathers were so damn complicated, and it was exactly why I wasn't involved with either of those attachments! But my boss and her early Christmas party damned my life to a certain hell where certain opinions were off limits to express and I was left feeling lonely and confused. Maybe I was taking everything too fast too serious? I liked my single lifestyle, I only ever had to worry about me.
Since our explosive conversation almost two weeks before, Tony and I had talked more than a handful of times. Edward and I never once corresponded, beginning to end, but I sort of liked the exclusivity I had with little Tony. He was someone that would listen to my simpler problems, attempt to offer me solutions, and then brag about his most recent discovery. And his discoveries winded into full-blown stories of hardship, struggle, and costumed super heroes; it was just so nice to hear a person fully let themselves to be exposed without holding back. I hadn't realized until then that kids were braver than any of us adults, they let it all hang out and didn't blink twice. "Bella!" Alice called from her office down the way, so I held back my tired sigh and walked towards her voice. "Good afternoon, how are you today? Take a seat." She offered politely, glancing at me from over her stack of papers. It was normal to see her drowned in hotel paper work, but when she left her office Alice transformed into a different type of woman. She was funny and talked too much, but it was in the comforting type of way. You never had to worry about awkward silences or lack of topics with her, rather the opposite.
"I'm doing well, and yourself?" I sat primly and tucked my black pencil skirt under my thighs in one practiced motion.
Alice rolled her pretty eyes and slouched back against her chair. "My poor baby had the twenty-four hour flu, and it was just so awful! I hate seeing him sick, even if Marcus is already seven and Aro believes that makes him half way there to being a grown man. Plus, the renovations for the Whitely site are a bit over the top, which is completely my fault, but I have to go back in on the plans and tweak it a bit… but that's besides the point." Everything she said was "besides the point" but I didn't point that out. "Anyway, I called you in to see how you were dealing with everything."
Just what did she mean by "everything"? Was she referring to my job or my spot as Tony's pretend mother figure? "Well, uh, Misses Volturi, as far as I know the hotel is doing finely on the market side." My hands got a bit jittery as I rambled on to Alice, not for certain where exactly she was going with this.
She waved her hand dismissively and let out a small chuckle. Alice rolled her small shoulders back and forth, hiding a small yawn behind her hand before apologizing for it. "No, no… I was asking about you and my brother. And Tony." She added as an afterthought.
I blushed at her revelation, a painful humiliation creeping up my throat as I fought for the right words to describe our situation. "Tony calls about once a day for the last two weeks, though your brother and I did find ourselves in a sort of, heated interaction sometime before." I licked my lips out of habit and subconsciously fixed my posture to be board-straight once more. "I enjoy my conversations with Tony very much, and I actually took him to the Memorial Museum on 16th street last weekend. He really does have simple needs, not what I expected at all."
"With Edward being his dad you'd think he'd be an awful, spoiled brat, right?" Alice said with very little reserve. Without much opposition, I nodded curtly and blinked over at her. "Well, Tony is a good kid. I'm sure you see that for yourself, but he does have another side to him. Just like my brother." My boss laughed easily, a big smile on her small face. "You know, Edward can be the sweetest gentleman you've ever met… and then he can turn into this gruesome monster of a man in a flash. Unfortunately, his quick temper transferred over to my only nephew as well." I couldn't imagine growing up with Edward in a home as children; he seemed like he would hold your hand and stab your back at the same time! "Tony has told my parents of your existence in his life, and while they see this as an unorthodox stunt by my brother, I've reassured them you were purely of Tony's picking."
I swallowed the lump forming in my throat at the mention of his grandparents; I never met or heard of them except when Tony mentioned his mean grandpa awhile back, but I didn't assume they were the nicest people in the world. "Oh… well, thanks for that." I replied stiffly. What was I supposed to say to that?
"Yes, but I don't think they're all that convinced you exist. You see, Tony doesn't open up to people and definitely not strangers." She rested her chin on her folded hands, looking at me with mild curiosity. "But he picked you, out of every other woman at that party." Alice let out a free laugh, and it sounded akin to tinkering bells at the strike of a new hour. "Anyhow, they mentioned that they would like to meet you. Aro and I are throwing a joint Christmas dinner on the twenty-third- some of his family, some of my family, and some friends. Do you reckon you're free that day?" My mouth flew open like a cave on the dark side of a mountain, and I scraped together the last of my dignity to close it.
I looked down at my crossed ankles and folded hands. "Um… Mrs. Volturi, I'm not sure that's such a good idea. I'm not anyone important in Tony's life to be meeting his grandparents. And besides, Edward and I aren't exactly on speaking terms currently." I let out a small breath I wasn't aware I was holding in when I finished my confessional.
She stared at me, not blinking once. "I think it will be in everyone's best interest if you participated in the dinner. Little Tony will enjoy having you there, and Edward is an idiot at the best of times. He says things he doesn't mean, I can speak for that. And stop calling me by my last name, Bella, we're friends." Alice smiled over at me. "Practically family now." Her eerily knowing smirk sent a cold, lone shiver down my spine.
For the rest of my day, I thought little about work and more about the level of hot shit I was getting myself into; Alice had me by a thin cord when it came down to it. When Tony's house phone called, I hesitated none in answering with an endearing tone. "It's Edward." I almost hissed at the mention of that despicable man, the one that was very close to telling me to shove my opinion up my ass just weeks before.
"Yes?" I replied testily. To be completely fair, he caught me at a tough time of the day; I just walked home in three inch heels and skipped lunch to clock in more hours on the time clock. I kicked off my offending shoes and threw myself on the old, comfy red couch Angela let me have when I moved in.
"How has your week faired?" It almost seemed forced, or perhaps uncertain, but I sighed at his lame attempt at friendliness anyway.
"Not so horrible since I do have the rest of the week off. Yourself?" If he had enough guts to call me, I could at least be cordial and answer his questions, right? I mean, I wanted us to be friendly with one another even if that meant awkward, tense conversations.
"Fine, I suppose. A bit backlogged, but it's always like this around the holiday season." I crinkled my nose at his tone when he said "holiday season"; he was the modern day scrooge! Who didn't love Christmas time- it was full of cheer and joy! It was the most wonderful time of the year. And then I wondered… where did he work, anyway? Not that it was any of my business, but he sort of knew where I lived and worked now. "I called to apologize, Miss Swan-"
"Bella!" I exclaimed, but took another second to school my voice. "You should call me Bella, there's no need to be formal." I laughed nervously.
"Yes, Bella," he tried my name out on his lips and I reveled in the way he twisted every letter, "and in return I would hope you'd take the same privilege." This was our way of flirting, or the most I would ever get out of someone like Edward. He was posh, sophisticated, of the upper echelon… I was a city girl from a small town no one even heard of.
"Sure." I slapped my forehead for giving such a small, stupid response. Was I ever going to be capable of formulating an intelligent string of words that blew him away? If I could, I definitely would have in that moment. "And there's no need for an apology, I obviously overstepped my boundary." I wasn't a stubborn child, I could admit when I did wrong as long as he could.
"No, that's another reason I wanted to talk to you personally. You're taking time out of your day to entertain his ramblings, you give him the motherly advice he needs, and most importantly you stand in when I find myself… too busy to deal with him." I narrowed my eyes into slits at his final admission. Tony was not a house pet or school project, he was his son!
"Stop talking about Tony like he's not your son, Edward." I replied with mild outrage. "Perhaps if you treated him with more attentiveness and sensitivity, you'd find yourself less able to walk away from him for work." It was stiff to say over the phone, but I had to put it out there.
"Bella, I'm a single father in the city of Chicago." Edward barked. "I don't have the privilege of spending all of my time cooing over Tony, but it's a small sacrifice to make for the better of his future. He will understand when he's older." I shut my eyes against the pang that struck me when he said that.
"Why?" My lower lip wobbled and my tiny brown eyes filled with the unshed tears of that Tuesday night. "Why did she leave? Why hasn't she come back?" I asked him for the hundredth time since her disappearance. I was a lonely six year old little girl, confused by the harsh realities of life- but Charlie had better things to do than listen to my heartaches night after night.
There was work, bills, the secret woman he was seeing when he thought I was asleep at night… I didn't fit in his schedule. "Bella, go to your room. We're not having this discussion again." When he said this, my eyes spilled the tears I had been trying so hard to hold back. Rene up and left just months before; sure, she and my father fought like cats and dogs nonstop, but I loved the idea of us three being a family. I liked to think that behind my mother's standoffish attitude and my dad's mean comments, we all loved each other in our own little way. "Why are you still standing there? Go to your room, young lady!"
I curled my upper lip and stomped, barefoot against the old carpet of our living room. The house was a three bedroom, too spacious for us at the time, but my mother insisted on us living in a bigger house than the rest of the neighborhood. And a long time ago, my dad would do anything and everything to make my mom happy. "No." I uttered it like a bad word. Charlie was on his feet at once; he stalked towards me like a killer did to its prey before leaning down and grabbing me by my shoulders.
"What did you just say, Bella?" My dad wasn't a violent man, but ever since Rene left he gained a rotten temper.
"I want you to call my mom and tell her to come back-" I was a sobbing mess. Usually, I could keep my six year old attitude on a certain track… but the gossip I had been hearing at school was that I was going to have a new sibling, and he wasn't in my mom's stomach- he belonged to another lady.
"She's not coming back!" Charlie roared angrily. My mouth popped open like a little fish, and all I could do was stand there in the humid room of our house and stare- I was in a long nightgown straight out of bed, while he was still in his uniform looking worked over. "Of course you don't get it right now… you're a kid." I would never forget the way he said it, as if it were a burden to him that I couldn't grow up faster. "You'll understand when you're older."
I snapped out of my painful reverie, silently vowing to never think of that horrible memory ever again. It was times like those that made me hate the ground my dad walked on, even if he was the only one I had. "He misses you horribly." I hated myself for letting out a secret Tony told me under oath- again, it was something Edward needed to hear!
I heard only silence on the line, but I didn't break the pregnant nothingness between us with my concern. I waited penitently until his voice came back on the line. "I hadn't realized… Tony seems just fine with his toys and solitary."
I snorted in an unladylike manner, something my mom would have slapped my hide for. "Edward, you don't really think nice things and loneliness will groom him for a world full of people and problems? I'm not trying to give you parenting advice, believe me, but I just want what's best for your son. Listen, Edward- I don't want to get into another row with you. Can we agree to disagree for the time being? Alice invited me to a family gathering of sorts, and I suppose you and I will have to be friendly." I teased softly.
I felt his smirk form on his end of the line. "Surely we don't? I say we completely destroy her party again, purely for the sake of Christmas itself."
Even though I was technically supposed to still be mad at him, his preposterous plan had me laughing louder than I had in awhile. "Alice would have a holy cow if we ruined something like that for her! I suppose I would also be out of a job as well." I reminded him. He was going to elaborate on a scheme to bring down the shindig when a female voice called from somewhere near his ear.
My ribcage shriveled at the thought that he was with someone else the entire time; was she his assistant, or a girlfriend? I wasn't one to assume or judge a book by the cover, but he was a cocky, gorgeous son of a bitch- he could have any girl he wanted, and I doubted that the women he worked with were much of a challenge anyway. "Sorry, Bella, I have a meeting to get to. But, speaking of the dinner, would you enjoy my company for the evening? I'm afraid I'm all out of Tony's other stepmothers to use for the party." Stepmother… was that how he regarded me? I wasn't in any way romantically involved with Edward, which meant that the length of my relationship with Tony was purely friendly. Nothing family like, and nothing close to being a "stepmother" because that word made my skin crawl. He took my hesitation as a 'no' because his voice popped back up quickly. "If you have prior plans to accompany someone else, I will completely understand."
"No!" I scrambled with my words, not wanting Edward to assume that there was anyone but him. Was that weird, and perhaps desperate to say? Wasn't competition healthy? I should have made myself sound less available, not all for him anytime he so pleased! "I mean, I was thinking of this one guy from a long time ago but I'm sure you're much more fun." I bit down on my lip to stop from screaming at myself. Edward probably already realized how freaky and lame I was, why offer his companionship to a family dinner after all? I was an embarrassment to myself, let alone any one else.
"Then it's settled, you're my date." I was glad we corresponding over the phone because the blush that stained my cheeks was such an ungodly shade of pink. "Goodbye for now, Bella."
"Bye, Edward." I said breathlessly.
A/N: Desperately trying to keep the nonsense & babbling down to a minimum for a more enjoyable reading experience. I love your reviews & private messages!