"Uh, you know, um…" Bella stalled.
She didn't want Edward to think she didn't want him at her house; just not for the three months before and month after Christmas. "My dad has some friends over and they're doing work on the house…it's kinda loud." Okay, that wasn't exactly a lie. Everything she said was true, she just didn't disclose that the work involved tiny elves and scores of plastic candy canes.
"Oh." Edward stood, rubbing the back of his neck.
Bella had a brilliant idea. "Why don't we go to your house?"
"That would be great another time but my little sister is having her seventh birthday party. Talk about loud." Edward rolled his eyes.
Having second and third thoughts about what kind of big brother would skip out on his seven year old sister's birthday party, and what kind of guy Edward must be if that's what he was doing, Bella spoke her mind. "Shouldn't you be there?"
"No, it's her party with her friends. She was born on Christmas Eve, so she can't have a party on her actual birthday. We have a family thing that day."
Bella felt a little bad at how quickly she'd judged him. Forgiven or not, that didn't solve their lack of study space. "Why don't we try the diner? Maybe we'll get lucky."
Edward grinned. "Maybe we will."
Get lucky? Great Bella, why don't you just strip in front of the boy and show off your ta-tas? She turned to hide the blush she felt blooming in her cheeks. "I'm parked in the overflow lot; I'll meet you at the diner."
She didn't wait for him, hoping her red face would fade. She hurried, trying to avoid a mud bath this trip across the grass.
At the diner Edward's Volvo was guarding a nice wide corner spot. He pulled away to a space at the front of the building, allowing Bella to park the beast comfortably for a change. It took her a moment to re-gather her materials. Bumping the door closed with her hip, she saw Edward point towards the entrance as he hustled in to put their names down for a table.
A pack of football players and cheerleaders were vacating their section of the diner. As the sea of varsity jackets and short skirts passed Bella, she felt like her luck had finally changed.
It was so easy with Edward. As they discussed who would present which bit of data, they were perfectly in sync. Their laptops were back to back on the table; Edward had ordered more coffee and a burger with double fries. "This is silly," he announced as he stood and slid into the booth on her side, turning his laptop so the screens were side by side.
He pointed to computer, "There, that's better, right?"
Bella nodded her head in agreement, more because the side of his long thigh was pressing against her leg. He didn't seem conscious of their proximity, but she felt every pulse of blood that streamed down that leg, super heated by the presence of his denim clad lower half.
Focus, Bella, focus. Why did she feel like she lost fifty IQ points in his presence? She was an intelligent, strong, independent woman, not a simpering little girl. Suck it up Bella, again, great choice of words. She shook her head against her idiocy.
"I thought that's how you wanted to do it?" Edward curved his head down to look into her face.
Great, now he thinks I can't make up my mind! "I was just thinking about something else. My parents have this thing tonight; I have to help out."
"I have to do some family thing tonight too."
As the extra cheery waitress arrived with Edward's order, she leaned forward to super helpfully get him the catsup, which was already on our table, bringing it over to Edward's plate, while giving him a side order of boobs for free. Bella was sure the girl's uniform wasn't open that much when they first sat down. Maybe Edward made everyone stupid.
She ignored the leg contact, the flirty waitress and Edward's leather-pine smell and focused on coordinating their presentation. They really did work well together; in a few minutes it was done.
"Fries?" Edward moved the plate over.
Bella looked up. "I thought you wanted them?"
"I got a double order. Whenever we come here, my sister says she doesn't want fries, then eats half of mine."
"I'm not a fry snitcher."
"I didn't say you were. I thought you might be hungry."
She was hungry, they made really good fries here and he was offering. She wasn't one of those girls who wouldn't eat in front of a boy, but she also didn't want to look …why was she over analyzing everything? She took a fry.
He sat back, his arm stretched behind her on the back of the booth. "We should do this again some time."
Not knowing what she was agreeing to, Bella answered, "Definitely."
What did he mean by that? Do another project together? Or did he mean go to the diner and share fries? As in a date? Had this segued from a school project meeting to a date while she wasn't looking?
She glanced over at him. She'd be happy to do another project with him; their meetings had become the highlight of her week. A date would be even better, but she knew almost nothing about him. Little sister, check. Big brother, check. Interest in environmental science, check. Lives in Port Angeles, lived in Seattle, check. Drives a Volvo, check. That was it. She guessed relationships had been made from less, but what did he know about her? Probably the same vanilla facts, but not about the big, glittery, could-be-seen-from-space white elephant that was her house. Leave it to Renee, and eventually they would have an elephant on display. If it was up to her mother she wouldn't stop until the entire town of Forks was blanketed in little twinkly lights.
Edward wouldn't take her money for the check. She watched as he walked up to the register to pay their tab. He'd taken off the flannel shirt earlier, so the view of his jean clad ass and long legs was unobstructed. She decided that after their presentation the day after tomorrow, she'd invite him out for a celebratory pizza or something to make up for it. That would be entirely appropriate, two colleagues celebrating a job well done, right? And if it turned into a date, all the better.
Walking out to their vehicles, Bella felt light. This project would go well, they both knew their stuff; she'd dodged bringing Edward to her house, for now. He was escorting her to her truck, an unspoken kindness he just did without asking. When she was safely buckled in he smiled, shut the door and gave a double tap against the window with his knuckles.
He was nice, he was sweet, he was smart, he was…comfy. She'd dated before but those had all been anxiety ridden affairs; she survived them. She'd never enjoyed a single date as much as she did their burger and project meeting today. Bella had a warm feeling that they could be something together, something lasting. She glanced down to check her phone to see Renee's latest message about being home by four, but glanced back up, wanting to watch the last little bit of him before he drove off.
Before he could get into his car, a Jeep, a mud spattered Jeep, pulled up and stopped, blocking him in. A woman with long blonde hair got out and strode directly to Edward, stopping within inches of his face, well within his personal space.
There're different kinds of ways of approaching someone, based on how well you know them. The first, for someone you kind of know, is the little wave or head nod, then approaching slowly, maintaining that invisible cushion of air between you. The second kind, a bit more familiar, where you go for the half hug or air kiss, but bounce right back to your side of that understood socially accepted space. Then there was the greeting of people who knew each other extremely well, where they went right into conversation without a pause, huddled close together, the understanding that they shared something completely taken for granted. That last way, that was how the blonde approached Edward, immediately talking close to his ear, using rapid hand movements, pushing against his shoulder with one hand. The woman jumped back suddenly from Edward, swiftly going to the Jeep and retrieving a pink striped bag—Bella may not have an extensive wardrobe of lingerie, but even she recognized the Victoria's Secret bag. Shoving the bag in Edward's hand, the blonde kissed him on the cheek and got back into the still running Jeep. She hadn't even turned off her car! What kind of girlfriend for an environmental science major, a girl who left that gas-guzzzling thing idling while she whispered her secrets in his ear?
For surely, that's what she was. A guy as perfect as Edward, it was now obvious to Bella, had to have a beautiful girlfriend. Here Bella was thinking that the two of them had some chemistry, but—a car honked behind her, looking for her spot. She looked back to her own business, hoping to avoid observing any cutesy waving or private signs between Edward and his beautiful but rude girlfriend.
Alice stirred Nutella into the small pan of milk as it simmered on the stove. "You're going to love this; I just saw it on Pintrest."
Bella supposed there were worse addictions than Pintrest, but Alice annoyingly sent some post involving recycled wrapping paper or tuna cans or bed sheets on an hourly basis. At least this idea was edible.
Pouring the hot liquid into two Santa mugs, Alice squirted whipped cream into each then sprinkled a careful dose of cinnamon on top. She took a picture with her phone; unsatisfied, she moved one mug slightly in front of the other and stuck candy canes into the whipped cream.
Bella whined, "I'm trying to share my heartbreak here and all you can think about is instagramming everything!"
Picking up a mug, Alice took a sip, licked the whipped cream off her lip and smiled. "So good. I'm all yours, at least until we have to get into costume in…twelve minutes. Spill."
"It was like that moment watching Wheel of Fortune, when you absolutely know the answer, but everyone keeps calling stupid letters and you want to yell at the TV for them to open their eyes. Sitting in my truck, I realized that Edward is perfect for me, then out of the blue, this blonde…"
"Sure, this Vanna shows up and it's just not fair. And he wanted to come to my house and I couldn't let him see...He's so easy to talk to and I'm so comfortable with him." Bella slumped back into her chair, feeling defeated.
"Guys who are in relationships don't put out that 'I want to hump you now' vibe. Maybe that's why you were so comfortable with him. He's kind of the anti-Jake."
"That makes me feel better."
"Sweetie," Alice rubbed Bella's shoulder. "I could lie to you, but that's what I think. That said, a girlfriend is not a wife or a fiancée. Maybe he like you too and wants to break things off with her?"
"His body language wasn't saying 'back off bitch'."
"Finish your hot cocoa Annie. You're seeing him in a few days. Let me work some magic on you and he'll be saying 'Vanna who?' in no time."
A/N: I know how FedEx and UPS feel, failing to deliver their packages in time for Christmas. I overestimated my capacity to do Christmas and finish this fic. So sorry. That said, I'm also awfully wordy, so this won't be two chapters, most likely four. Don't worry, I punished myself already by not reading reviews, I obviously didn't deserve them!