Sunday, January 9, 2011

Massage Therapy, Chapter 6

From the Desktop of Bella Swan
Saturday, July 24

“Hey, beautiful, how ya feeling these days? R U on the mend? I thought if U were up to it, U’d like to grab some dinner w/me & then check out The Pack tonight. We’re playing at Maggie’s Farm on the east side. What do U think?”

I think you’ve got a lot of nerve, that’s what I think, I glared back at the text message on my cell phone. Two weeks? Two weeks Jacob Black waited to find out how I’m doing. And then he had the audacity to ask me out, on a Saturday morning, for that same night. Clearly he never read or even heard of The Rules. Just because he and I have known each other since we were kids is no excuse for him to treat me like a reliable old pair of sneakers.

Still, I have to appreciate the irony of him text-messaging me as I sat in the waiting room of Cullen and Cullen, PC. If it weren’t for my over-zealous efforts to fix up our shabby apartment for Jake, I never would have met Edward Cullen. Or, if I had, it would have been in a place like Billy’s, where I no doubt would have approached him about signing with Java Noise and been unceremoniously shot down.

I wondered if Edward was a mind-reader, because no sooner did I start thinking about him than he showed up in the reception area, clipboard and files in hand. The sight of him bowled me over once again, he was so ridiculously handsome. I wondered if I would ever reach the point where his mere presence didn’t make every nerve in my body sing in anticipation. Eye contact with him never failed to send a surge of adrenaline through me, and his smile seemed the only remedy to calm it.

He was finishing up with the patient before me and told me it would be a moment. I was glad, because that gave me time to recover from the impact of his gorgeousness, and to send Jake an appropriate return message.

“Hey, Jake. I’m slowly getting better w/reg visits to a chiro and MT, thx for asking. Sorry, I have plans tonight. Maybe some other time if you give me more notice.”

I hit “send” with a smirk of satisfaction. I actually didn’t have any plans, and had considered going to check out his band again for Rose, but I certainly wasn’t telling him that. To be honest, I really hadn’t given him a thought this past week. I was too busy trying not to obsess over Edward, and then feeling crushed at the sight of him with his blonde bombshell date last night. Obviously Alice Cullen had no plans whatsoever to set me up with her brother if she asked me to show up on his date night. She probably just wanted to help out Edward’s friend Jasper, since she thought he’d be more amenable to the idea of a music career. Jasper is talented--he has a quirky voice and mad guitar skills--but Edward possesses a kind of hypnotic charisma that can’t be learned or bought. Then again, maybe I’m biased. The more I know about Edward, the more unclear my perception of him becomes. Isn’t the opposite supposed to happen?

My appointment with him today didn’t help matters. It seemed to go by in a blur of pure sensation. Certain points stand out in my mind, like when he first grasped my hips, ever so gently, and then probed the outline of my hipbones through my jeans. A nervous thrill shot through my groin, followed by a slow, gathering warmth between my legs. All he was doing was measuring my hips in order to tell me just how screwed up they are, but my hormones were oblivious to such cold, hard facts.

Those insistent hormones continued to tip the scales throughout the massage session. I couldn’t look at Edward for long, because whenever I did, I couldn’t relax. It had been a lot easier when I thought it was Emmett who was working on me. Now that I knew the truth, my mind could not ignore the knowledge that it was Edward’s beautiful hands probing my body so thoroughly, and excitement prickled through me in response. I attempted to concentrate solely on the wonderful things he was doing to my strained muscles, but then I’d begin thinking about his fingers straying to more intimate parts of my body…imagining the things he could do there. Realizing how badly I wanted him to touch me that way. Wondering what his mouth would feel like instead…those tender-looking lips exploring me, raising goose bumps on my skin as his breath cooled the wetness his tongue left behind.

Sometime in the middle of my frustrated sexual fantasies, he stopped and told me to imagine something that had always made me happy, so I would relax more. I tried thinking back to when I was a kid and you took me to the beach, Mom. I remembered that time we vacationed in California and you helped me build sand castles all day, then wiped away my tears when the tide came in and washed my little kingdom back into the sea. Life was so blessedly simple then; hurts so easily mended.

I gradually realized that his suggestion had worked. I actually had calmed down a lot, recalling happy memories. I began fantasizing about being at the beach again, but this time, with Edward. That is, the Edward I’d seen glimpses of--the one with an easy smile, the one who joked with his friends and made them laugh. It would be fun to spend a day with him, just horsing around in the water.

I wondered if we could do that--just enjoy each other’s company without the underlying tension that seemed to taint every interaction with each other. Then again, if the tension was partly sexual--and it certainly was on my end--there was something to be said for that. I wouldn’t want our dynamic to be so comfortable that we were in danger of falling into the “friend zone.”

That’s where I’ve always placed Jacob Black. He’s a couple of years younger than me, and when I moved to Forks my junior year in high school, I barely recognized the kid with whom I’d spent summers playing in the tide pools near the Quileute reservation. We continued to hang out occasionally whenever our dads got together, but I never felt anything beyond a platonic fondness for him.

That’s why I was so surprised when I went to check out The Wolf Pack for the first time a few weeks ago. I knew they had been practicing for years together, but I’d never heard them play an actual gig. I was shocked at how tight they sounded, and how good they already were even though they were new to the Seattle bar scene. I was impressed, and it was nice to see some home boys do good in the “big city.”

I was even more impressed when Jake came to give me a bear hug after their set, because his massive muscles nearly crushed me in their exuberant embrace. I wondered when he’d gotten so big. Did drumming really build biceps like that? I’m not really into muscles, but I had to admit that Jake was looking pretty fine, all grown up and filled out. It was the first time I’d ever flirted with the idea of something beyond being buddies with him. So when he asked me out, I was surprised but intrigued at the thought of our longtime friendship taking a turn. I was even a little nervous about it. He’d never made me nervous before.

But then I threw my back out of whack again, our date never happened, and Edward Cullen came into my life. Any thought of Jake was completely forgotten the minute I looked into Edward’s eyes. My hopeless attraction to him has eclipsed any fleeting interest I may have felt for my old friend.

And now, I was reveling in his touch, giving in to the gentle but insistent pressure of his hands beneath my body while he worked. His long fingers were as warm as the sun’s rays on my skin, sinking deep into my flesh and soothing me like no one has ever done before. I never wanted him to stop.

That’s precisely when my stupid tailbone started to twinge at me again. Traitor, I cursed it, wincing slightly as the strained sensation increased. I finally had to tell Edward it was bothering me, and the disappointment of his hands pulling out from under my backside was as unwelcome as the nerve twitch that had prompted him to stop. He seemed very concerned that I might be sick again, or that I wouldn’t be able to get up okay on my own. I began wondering how many truly crippled up people he treats. Or was I really that big of a mess at the end of our session last week?

After he left the room, I cringed at that thought as I eased myself off the table and got dressed. I decided I’d better get it together if I ever hope to have this guy see me in a romantic light. What if he’s afraid I’m too fragile to ever be fuckable?

Then I laughed at the audacity of my hopes and reminded myself about the blonde I saw him with last night. I am clearly nowhere near his type. He probably has about as much desire to fondle my flat chest as I do to replace a toilet seat ever again.

When I wandered out to the front desk to pay for my session, he insisted we wait to see if my insurance will cover it, which I know it won’t. But it was a relief that he helped me put off the inevitable, since pay day is still a week away. As I looked up at his beautiful visage, still smacking of dishevelment beneath his tidy jacket and glasses, I longed to break the ice with him somehow. More than ever, I want to get to know the untamed Edward hiding behind that carefully controlled surface.

I decided I would try apologizing for how things went down last Saturday night, not knowing if he had felt cornered when I admitted why I was at Billy’s. I was relieved to find that he hadn’t given it nearly as much thought as I had.

But before I could get too comfortable, he turned the tables on me. I was shocked when he mentioned that he thought he might see me at Billy’s again last night, until he explained that Alice had told him he might. He almost sounded disappointed when he thought I hadn’t shown; and again when I admitted I was there but didn’t speak to him. I can still hear his words ringing in my ears, rattling me to my core: “Isabella, I don’t ever want you to feel like you can’t talk to me.”

When he told me he understood what I’d meant about music being able to heal people, I thought I must be dreaming. Most of my daydreams have centered around Edward Cullen being interested in what I have to say, or relating to me on some level. So for him to offer this up as “something you and I have in common” was sweet music to my ears.

But immediately after that, I found out why people always say to be careful what you wish for. I truly thought I wanted to share everything with him… until he asked me point blank about the one thing I can’t talk about.

I still can’t believe he hit the nail on the head like that. I stared at him, frozen, wondering if he had somehow looked up the state records for Arizona and read what had happened. But how the hell would he have known to do that? Which left the even more implausible, yet apparently accurate idea that he has some kind of uncanny intuition about me. That he truly sees into my darkest depths and knows what’s lurking there. But how could he?

Unless there’s a dark spot on his soul, too. Maybe that’s what I see when I look in his eyes… what I hear when his singing veers a little too close to an anguished wail. Perhaps we’re holding up mirrors to one another, playing a kind of emotional “chicken.” Testing each other, waiting to see which of us will reveal our ugly truths first.

I was frantically trying to figure out what to say to him--how much to explain without giving myself away--when I heard the door open behind me and felt a whoosh of hot air hit the backs of my bare arms. Relief flooded me. I turned to see the next patient who had unwittingly saved me, and my relief was soon replaced by the increasingly familiar jealousy sponge. I might as well get used to it if I’m going to waste time pining over a guy like Edward.

In waltzed the blonde from last night, stunningly statuesque and yet still somehow cute as a button in her ponytail and tennis dress. Who the hell actually wears those things? More to the point, is that really the kind of girl Edward goes for? Because I can’t see him willingly suiting up in the requisite tennis whites. Then again, it seems I find out something about him that surprises me on a regular basis. But surprises like model girlfriends are the kind I can do without.

I ducked out of Cullen and Cullen as fast as I could, feeling like an idiot for the pipe dreams I’d been creating about Edward. Granted, he had looked almost annoyed when his Barbie-esque friend, Kate Denali, had interrupted us; but it was getting to the point that I didn’t trust my judgment on that score anymore. The fact remained that she was the one he was escorting out in public, not me.

So why the personal questions, then? Why would he ask me if I had “an emotional scar?” Could that really have something to do with my treatment? The more I think about our brief conversation, the more confused I become. If I ever figure out men, it’ll be some kind of miracle. It probably won’t happen until I’m fifty, when it’ll be too late to put the knowledge to good use.

I stopped by Panera on the way home and picked up lunch for Angela and myself. As I waited in line at the counter, I checked my phone messages. There was a new one from Jake.

“Sorry, Bells, I should have called sooner. Been having some trouble w/our booking agent--looking for a new one. Tonite’s gig was last min. How ‘bout next Sat? We’re playing at the Thirsty Whale. Dinner first, my treat, wherever U want. I’ll call U later.”

Hmmm. At least Jake was offering me a dinner date, even if it was via text message. It’s probably more than I’ll ever get from “Mr. Cullen.” Thinking about him playing tennis with the Barbie doll--or Barbie Denali, as it were--made me vaguely nauseous. I pushed the thought aside and decided I might as well accept Jake’s invitation. But I thought I’d let him sweat it out a little and wait until he called me before I said “yes.”

Ange and I spent the afternoon cleaning the duplex and then opted for an evening in with a couple of movies. Sometimes my ears just need a rest from judging music all the time. I’m ignoring the nagging voice that tells me I really just want to hear Edward again, and anything else would be a let-down. I keep wondering if he’s playing anywhere tonight, and if the Barbie Denali is in attendance.

Jealousy is a very ugly emotion, Mom. Not that this is news. But I’m not sure I’ve ever felt it so keenly before, strangling me in its grip. I’m envious of anyone who gets to see the side of Edward that I’m dying to know. So my resentment of the seemingly-nice girl I met this afternoon only makes me feel both irritated and hopeless--not a very attractive combo.

I’ve decided I’m calling Jake tomorrow. That’s an appropriate amount of time to make him wait, right? I might as well give the guy a chance. Maybe he’ll surprise me.

Later, Mom. Love you.


Thursday, July 29

Edward Cullen nearly got me in hot water yesterday morning.

He is blissfully unaware of this fact, of course. For a start, he couldn’t possibly know that he’s been the star of my increasingly romantic dreams for the past couple of weeks. My subconscious has been having a heyday while I sleep. It clearly doesn’t realize how pathetically far-fetched its scenarios are.

Edward and I were playing tennis this time. I don’t play tennis. I don’t play any sport that requires me to utilize hand-eye coordination in order to avoid injuring myself or others with flying missiles. But Edward was wearing another delectably body-skimming, tattered tee stretched over baggy shorts, and the muscles of his forearms rippled masterfully with every stroke that he foolishly lobbed my way. Astonishingly, the dream version of me was doing a commendable job returning his serves. The sheer absurdity of such a notion is no doubt what alerted my dormant consciousness to the fact that it had better end this nonsense immediately.

As my slowly-waking mind continued the ludicrous dream scenario--which ended with a heated argument-turned-violent make-out session over the tennis net--actual sleep eluded me completely. Frustration finally took over and forced me out from under the covers. I decided maybe I could make myself useful by going to Java early and taking care of a few things before Rose got to work.

On the way to the administrative area, I found myself lured toward one of the smaller recording studios--dark, empty and inviting in the early morning hours. What would he sound like on this kind of sound system? The desire to find out was overwhelming. I didn’t know how to use all the equalizers, but I had a basic understanding of how to play back recordings on the complicated equipment.

I had already converted my recordings of Edward and loaded them onto my iPod, but I still had the originals on my digital recorder as well. It would connect easily with a USB port, if I could only find the proper place to plug it in. After a little finagling with some chords and wires, I finally hit pay dirt.

Edward Cullen’s impassioned singing and guitar accompaniment soon swelled through the room, reverberating off the acoustically perfect walls and washing over me in waves of raw emotion. Perfectly imperfect, beautiful and ballsy, ugly and urgent and pleading…so many things conveyed in the space of mere minutes. I closed my eyes and lost myself in the gruff warmth of his voice. Its sinewy tendrils snaked under my skin, wrapping around my vitals more tightly than that twisted “fascia” of mine that Edward was so patiently trying to unravel. He had no way of knowing the hold he was taking in its place, replacing every bond he loosened with a new and different one that tied me to him.

As the song that had gripped me came to an end, I reluctantly opened my eyes just in time to see the always-immaculate Rosalie Hale approach the window and beckon to me with a crook of her finger. I let out a shaky sigh of relief as she disappeared down the hall toward her office. I would have died a thousand deaths if she had burst through the door and demanded to know more about who was responsible for the amazing music filling the room.

I retrieved my Edward demo and rushed down the hall into her office, quickly explaining that I was giving a few artists a second listen. My hand drifted to my back right pocket and patted the digital player that lay snuggled between the tight layers of denim.

Rose waved a hand dismissively, apparently unconcerned with what I’d been doing. She had already moved on to the latest stack of press kits to invade her desk, dividing them into some sort of personal filing system that only God or Einstein could figure out.

“Good news, Bella,” she began, pulling out the contents of one of the manila envelopes and giving it the once-over. I recognized the faces of the native Americans on the glossy black and white photo. “I played a few songs from this hometown band of yours for the suits,” she explained without preamble. “They were interested in hearing more. When’s their next gig? I want to go with you to hear them myself.”

“The Wolf Pack?” I asked. “God, they’ll be so excited if Java is interested in them! They’re playing this weekend, actually. I’m having dinner with Jake and then catching their set at the Thirsty Whale. You want to meet me there?”

“On your date? Uh, no thanks,” Rose laughed. “I don’t want to horn in on that action, as long as you keep it separate from business.”

“Believe me, you wouldn’t be horning in,” I scoffed. “Jake and I go way back. It’s not even a real date, I don’t think. Besides, I’ll be sitting by myself while they’re playing. I could use the company, and an impartial set of ears.”

“Well, the energy of the live stuff you caught a couple weeks ago was better than their demo. I like some of their original material. I want to see for myself if they can deliver the goods,” she mused as she perused their press kit. “I think they’d do well regionally, if not nationally. Not sure I’m sold on the name, though. Sounds too much like ‘Wolf People.’ Maybe they could just shorten it to ‘The Pack,’” she suggested, resting one perfectly manicured fingernail along her jaw as she studied their photo again.

“Maybe,” I reluctantly agreed. “’The Pack’ sounds a little like cigarettes, though,” I added with a wrinkle of my nose.

Rosalie let out a raucous laugh and hooked one shiny blonde curl behind her ear. If she weren’t such a cool boss, I might have to hate her just a little bit for looking so much like Edward Cullen’s type.

“Well, we can work on that. Give me the address and I’ll meet you at the club. Maybe at dinner you can do a little PR for us and see if they’re interested. Find out if any other labels have been sniffing around. They’ve got a good, current sound and I think that Sam guy has real lead man potential.”

“Cool,” I said, growing excited about the prospect of working with my Quileute friends. “I really need you to hear them, because I think they sound promising live, but I’m afraid I’m biased.” I instinctively touched my fingers to right ass cheek once again, where Edward Cullen rested in aggravating anonymity on my recorder. I wondered what Rose would think of him if she saw him perform. No, that’s not true; I didn’t wonder at all. I knew what she’d think. She’d want to sign him immediately. I couldn’t allow myself to consider what else she might want to do to him.

“So, heard anything else lately that tripped your trigger?” she asked. The comment was offhand, but I felt heat begin to filter through my cheeks. Every day that I kept Edward hidden in my back pocket--literally, at the moment--I felt a little more dishonest. I considered Rose both a mentor and a friend, and this job was not only my bread and butter, but my one true love for the past year. Yet if push came to shove, I already knew without a doubt that I would never betray Edward’s trust.

“Oh, maybe a couple of possibilities,” I hedged. “I want to see them again before I hand them over to you.”

“Okay,” she shrugged. She gathered a couple stacks of the thick manila envelopes and shoved them across the desk toward me. “You can get cracking on these, then,” she grinned.

I groaned in mock protest as I scooped up the latest batch of submissions and carried them to my tiny office adjacent to hers. It was only after I’d unloaded them onto my desk that I realized I hadn’t once worried about hurting my back by hefting the huge stack. It was a small victory, but it was progress all the same. I smiled a little to myself and decided I would tell Emmett about it at my appointment that afternoon.

Rose let me leave a little early to get to Cullen and Cullen on time. I felt a little on edge as I sat in the waiting area, wondering if I would get a glimpse of Edward, even though I knew he had other appointments. I was a bit disappointed when Emmett came out and ushered me into the exam room shortly after I arrived.

After a brief examination, he echoed what Edward had told me on Saturday: I had quite a few bones out of alignment again. He worked on me for a good half hour, pressing a rib back into place, pushing my vertebrae and hips into submission, and torturing me with that pressure-point stuff that sends my nerves screaming during the blessedly brief moments that he skewers them with his thumbs.

“You should have those things registered as lethal weapons,” I moaned after he was done.

He let out a hearty laugh and commented, “You are not the first patient to suggest that, actually. But the important thing is, how do you feel now?”

I walked around a bit and realized that I felt pretty good. My body felt loose instead of tense, and nothing ached or bothered me. I told him as much, and his answering smile and twinkling blue eyes were infectious.

“Small price to pay then, eh?” he said. “Don’t worry, Bella, eventually your body will get used to the adjustments and things will stay where they should be.” He looked over my chart and asked, “Are you doing the stretching exercises Edward recommended?”

I bit my lip sheepishly. “A little. Not as often as I should, probably.” I was pretty sure that once or twice a week, when I thought about it, was not the answer he was looking for.

“You know, you might try a yoga or Pilates class to help gain some strength and flexibility. Alice goes three times a week. If you’re interested, I’m sure she’d be happy to take you along some time.”

“Well, yeah, sure,” I agreed less than enthusiastically. I actually wouldn’t mind hanging out with Alice, but obviously physical activity and I have never been on good terms. You can attest to that, Mom. I shudder to think how many scrapes you bandaged when I was a kid.

“Do you have my sister’s phone number? If not, I can give it to you. I’m sure she’d love to hear from you,” Emmett encouraged.

“I do have it, actually. I think she’d like me to listen to Jasper some time,” I explained. Somehow it seemed wise to leave Edward out of the equation.

“I’m sure she would. Jasper probably wouldn’t mind it, either. Edward’s another story, of course.” Emmett shook his head ruefully, then continued, “As for the yoga, I think he would agree it’s a good idea. He’ll be on you like white on rice if he finds out you haven’t been following his orders, trust me,” he chuckled.

I had the fleeting thought that I would love nothing more than for Edward to be “on me,” in any capacity. But I realized that Emmett was referring to Edward’s exacting standards. Normally I bristle at anyone telling me what to do, for any reason. So why is the thought of Edward bossing me around sort of…hot?

“I’ll give your sister a call,” I promised, following Emmett out to the reception counter.

Jessica was her usual bubbly self as she took my payment and scheduled me for another visit at the end of next week. It was near closing time and yet she still seemed to have enough energy to go for another eight hours. I envy people like that. As much as I love hearing live music, there are some nights when I just don’t have the will to go hang out in clubs and bars. I guess I get that homebody gene from Dad, huh? You always said I’m just like him. The older I get, the more I see it. It was surprisingly easy being with him when I moved to Forks, even though I thought that was the last thing I wanted to do. He’s been my rock. I don’t know what I would have done these past few years without him in my corner.

I dragged my feet at the counter, hoping that Edward would finish with his patient and make an appearance before I left. I kept Jessica talking as long as I could, which is actually pretty long, since she’s a jabber-box; but I finally had to admit defeat and head out to my car.

Once inside, I fished through my purse until I found the scrap of paper with Alice’s number scribbled on it. I knew I’d better call her now before I lost my nerve. My fingers shook a little as I punched the numbers into my cell phone. I knew it was the possibility of getting closer to Edward through her that made the blood course so rapidly through my veins. It certainly wasn’t the thought of starting exercise classes that had me trembling in anticipation.

“Hello?” Alice’s upbeat warble met my ears.

“Hi, Alice? This is Bella,” I said awkwardly. “Bella Swan, from Billy’s last weekend?” I added uncertainly, suddenly wondering if she would even remember who I was.

“Of course, Bella!” Alice exclaimed as if I were her long-lost best friend. “I’m so glad you called. What’s up? Do you need a partner in crime for some talent-trolling?”

“Um, well, maybe. I’m staying in tonight, but I’ll probably go to an open mic night tomorrow night at one of my regular spots downtown. Unless you know of someplace new I can check out,” I added clumsily, hoping that it didn’t sound like I was fishing for the next date Edward would be playing somewhere.

“Oh, I’m game for anywhere you want to meet up. It’s weird--when I’m away at school so much, it almost feels like I’m a stranger to this town when I come home, you know? Like I don’t even know where it’s cool to hang out anymore.”

“Where do you go to school?” I asked.

“Stanford,” she replied nonchalantly, as if anyone can gain admittance--or afford tuition--to such a place. “I went there because I originally planned on getting into biochem and medical research. But when I started doing some hospital internships, I fell in love with pediatric medicine. I felt so gratified when I came home at the end of the day, even though I saw heartbreaking things in the peds unit. I almost transferred back to U-Dub because it has such an awesome med school for primary care. But I love San Francisco, and I kind of like being away from the fam, as much as I love ‘em,” she concluded.

“I can understand that,” I said, though that wasn’t quite true. Dad was always easy to live with, and I miss you like crazy. I most certainly can’t understand any desire to be far away from the Cullen brothers. But maybe if I were related to them, I’d feel differently.

“So, the reason I’m calling, actually, is to ask you about where you take yoga classes,” I told her, changing the subject. “I had an appointment with Emmett today, and he seems to think I should try to do some toning and stretching.”

“Oh, that’s a great idea,” Alice answered. “Are you free Saturday? There’s a place I go to that has a really good program for beginners and intermediates, and the instructors are great.”

“Well, I have an appointment with Edward at 10 a.m., but I’m free before or after.”

“Ooh, lucky you! I would kill for one of Edward’s massages. Of course he never gives ’em to me because I refuse to pay him,” she laughed. “How about we go afterward? You’ll be good and loosened up for the class. I can come meet you at the office and we’ll go from there.”

“Sure,” I agreed with as much enthusiasm as I could muster for the prospect of taking yoga. Before I could add anything else, Alice asked me again about tagging along with me to an open mic night tonight. We made arrangements to meet in Belltown, and she seemed excited to come with me. I felt a little thrill of anticipation, too, but for different reasons, I was sure.

Just as we were about to hang up the phone, Alice interjected one last time.

“Hey, you want to grab some dinner beforehand? There’s this Turkish place near your office that I’ve been dying to try out,” she suggested.

“Sure, sounds good. I’ve eaten lunch there and the food is great,” I agreed, trying not to sound too eager. I actually like Alice, so I couldn’t help but feel guilty for wanting to find out more about Edward through her.

As it turned out, I worried needlessly. I found out tonight that Alice has a few schemes of her own. Schemes with which I’m fully on board. Grateful, even.

We met in the entryway of the Istanbul Grill at 6 p.m. and were seated immediately, as the place now held only a fraction of its large lunchtime clientele. The Grill is a favorite among a lot of Java Noise staff, with its mix of American and traditional middle-eastern fare and an atmosphere more cozy and than exotic. Alice ordered veggie kebabs while I opted for their excellent baba ganoush.

After a few benign pleasantries, Alice fold her hands under her chin and fixed me with a probing stare.

“I don’t believe in beating around the bush,” she announced. “So, what do you think of my brother?”

I covered my surprise with a large gulp of my iced tea. “Edward? Or Emmett?” I stalled.

Alice only laughed. “I hate to tell you, but you’re fooling no one. It’s very obvious that there’s something going on between you and Edward. I’m just wondering if I should get my hopes up.”

It was my turn to laugh then. “Well, I’m flattered that you think I’m a good choice for him, but I think he would beg to differ. I don’t seem to be his type.”

Alice scrunched her nose in bafflement. “What makes you say that? You are exactly his type. Well, as much as he has a type. He’s been acting kind of weird lately--weirder than usual, anyway. But I definitely like the kind of weird he is when he’s around you.”

I shook my head, now baffled myself. “Well, considering I keep seeing him with this--” my lip curled in a mixture of distaste and defeat--“blonde bombshell of a woman, I think you’d better cool your jets over the idea of him ever being interested in me.”

“Blonde bombshell…?” Alice looked perplexed.

“Yeah, Kate something. I forget her last name,” I lied in an effort to sound nonchalant about the Barbie Denali.

“Oh! Kate Denali?” Alice exclaimed. Her raucous peals of laughter rippled through the restaurant, drawing a few curious glances. “Trust me, you don’t need to worry about her! Satan will be putting on a parka the day anything happens between Kate and Edward.”

Her giggles subsided as her eyes drifted toward the door behind me, and she began waving wildly. “Speak of the devil and he shall appear. I invited Edward to join us--I hope that’s okay,” she grinned, looking rather devilish herself.

A wave of excited panic swept over me as I shifted my glance to the left and saw his lithe form come into view. I lifted my gaze slowly up his faded jeans and over his dull red-and-blue-plaid shirt, its sleeves rolled up so that I could admire the forearms I’d been dreaming about that morning. I finally mustered the bravery to look at his face, which registered its usual expression upon seeing me--mild shock. Obviously Alice had failed to tell him that I would be here, and vice versa. Sneaky, sneaky girl. I’m beginning to like her more and more.

“I’m going with Bella to check out some music tonight,” she explained to her brother as he sidled into the booth next to her. “I thought it would be nice if she could have dinner with us beforehand.”

Edward gave me that slightly wary smile, the one that simultaneously frustrated and enthralled me. I’d give anything for him to simply look happy to see me.

“Nice to see you,” he said. He uttered no name in greeting, of course. I suppose that’s better than “Ms. Swan.”

“Nice to see you, too.”

An awkward pause fell upon the table as Edward and I looked away from each other, while Alice’s eager eyes bounced back and forth like a tennis ball between us, probably looking for signs of attraction to justify her duplicity.

Edward raked evenly-spaced rows through his hair with one hand while he reached for a menu with the other. “So, have you two ordered already?”

We nodded in agreement while he perused the menu intently.

“Bella’s going to come with me to yoga class after her appointment with you Saturday,” Alice informed her brother. “Doctor’s orders. You should be pleased.”

Edward looked up at her with a slight grin, and then his green gaze settled over me. “That’s great. I think that will be good for you.”

“I hope so. Exercise and I have not traditionally been the best of friends.”

His grin increased, disarming what little shield I might have left. “Well, here’s to new friendships, then.”

I could not defeat my own answering smile, nor did I want to. Alice began bouncing up and down in her seat, her leg apparently pumping furiously under the table.

The waitress arrived with our drinks, and Edward ordered the falafel platter with kisir and baba ganoush on the side. I assured him that was an excellent choice, and his resultant smile sent tingles right down to my toes. Alice excused herself to go to the ladies’ room, and the tingles increased to a swarm underneath my skin as she crawled over Edward and disappeared to the back of the restaurant.

“Alice didn’t tell me you would be here,” I explained immediately.

Edward’s brows furrowed. “Would that have kept you from coming if you’d known?”

My eyes popped open wide in surprise. “No, of course not. I just didn’t want you to think I‘m stalking you, and that I put her up to this.”

He let out a small laugh, more like a gust of breath. “I didn’t. I was worried you might think the same about me. She didn’t let me know you’d be here, either.”

I considered telling him that he could stalk me all he liked; that in fact, I would probably welcome any aberrant behavior of his if it meant we could spend more time together.

Instead I settled for, “Looks like Alice has some… interesting ideas about us.”

He made no reply, but his eyebrow and the corner of his mouth raised enticingly in unison. He stopped the impending smile by wrapping his lips around his water glass and taking a sip. I watched his face morph into the impartial mask of the therapist as he spoke.

“I want to apologize for asking you such a personal question at the office last Saturday. It’s none of my business what happened to you in the past. It’s only my business to help make you better now. I hope you’ll forgive me.”

I tried not to let my face fall as the rest of me visibly slumped in my seat. I want no apology from him. I want his interest, even if it means I’ll eventually have to come clean about everything. If I ever need a confessor, I already know I want it to be him.

“There’s nothing to forgive. You were just concerned. It was actually nice of you to ask.”

The “V” that formed between his brows cracked the mask. “It’s just that sometimes the body doesn’t know the difference between physical pain and emotional pain. All it knows is that you’re hurting, and it does everything it can to protect you. Sometimes it helps me to know what I’m dealing with. What you’re dealing with.” He pursed his lips after this statement, evidently worried that again he had assumed to much. He hadn’t at all.

“I get that,” I replied softly. “You’re not too far off the mark. It’s just hard for me to talk about, that’s all.”

To my relief, the mask dissolved entirely. “I get that, too, believe me. But if you ever want to talk… you can trust me.”

An emotion swelled through my chest that was the exact opposite of the jealousy sponge. I could only nod in reply, because I didn’t trust my throat to let the words out.

Alice returned then, nudging Edward over and sitting in his place.

“So how was the trip to the vet? Did you get Lucky all fixed up?” she asked him enthusiastically, lightening the mood. Before he could answer, she turned to me and added, “Edward adpoted a new cat! He’s gorgeous. At least, he will be after he’s all cleaned up.”

Edward laughed and said, “Lucky is fine. He’s got his shots, been de-wormed, de-loused and de-flea’d. He’s extremely pissed off with me at the moment. If he only knew how lucky he is that I didn’t have him castrated, he’d be a lot more grateful.”

“Ah! I can’t wait to see him!” Alice exclaimed. “I’ll bet he’s beautiful now. He’s a stray orange tabby that was hanging around Edward’s building and just sort of wormed his way into the apartment,” she informed me before turning back to her brother. “I admire his persistence. He’s just what you needed.”

“Huh. We’ll see,” he muttered with a sour grin. “Between the vet and the pet store, this stupid feline has fleeced me of several hundred dollars already. He’d better be a good mouser and a good foot-warmer come winter. I hate cats. You know that, Alice.”

I studied Edward’s face and saw that his eyes did not match his gruff words. He was already in love with his new pet, no matter how much he protested on the surface. I was dying to meet Lucky and discover how he managed to pull off such a feat.

Alice wasn’t buying it, either. “People change, Edward. Happens to the best of us. If we’re lucky, it’s for the better.”

The siblings exchanged a secret sort of smile, and I was a little envious. There are many times that I wished I had a brother or sister to confide in, or even a cousin. My family is too small. I try to appreciate what I have instead of mourn what I’ve lost, but it’s difficult sometimes.

The rest of dinner was spent in small talk, with Edward telling us funny stories about his inquisitive new pet, and Alice warning me about one of the older regulars at yoga class who seems to have taken one too many acid trips during her hippie years. The only anecdote I could think of was to fill them in on my latest project, Jake and The Wolf Pack. I won’t lie--I did it mostly to see if I could get a rise out of Edward. I wasn’t disappointed.

“So he finally called you, huh?” Edward remarked after I told him whom I was texting last Saturday morning. “He waited long enough.”

“That’s exactly what I thought,” I agreed, the warm tingles returning to my body at Edward’s accusation. “I let him sweat it out before I returned his call.”

“That’s good,” Alice said, her eyes tennis-balling us both again. “I hope you told him where to go.”

“Well, not exactly. He and I are old friends, since we were kids. The band has been having trouble with their booking agent. They probably don’t even have any formal management at this point, which they desperately need. Anyway, I agreed to have dinner with him and see The Wolf Pack tomorrow night. My boss is coming by later to check them out, so that’s promising.”

“That is!” Alice exclaimed. “You think they could have a real shot?”

“Yeah, I do, actually,” I said, studying Edward’s frown as he reached for his soda. “They sound pretty great. They’ve been working hard the past few years, so I’d love to see them get signed with us.”

“I think I met your friend Jacob Black and the rest of them, actually,” Edward commented. “Alice, you remember the native Americans Emmett introduced us to a couple of weeks ago at Billy’s?”

“Oh, sure! Well, sort of. I was a little busy at the time,” she smiled.

“With Jasper, I know,” Edward razzed her. “Anyway, at the time I wondered if he was the same guy you were dating. I guess he was.” His eyes pierced mine questioningly.

“I wouldn’t say we’re dating. Not at all,” I denied. “It’s really more of a business date, anyway, since Rosalie will be there.”

“Is that your boss?” Alice piped up.

I nodded, still staring at Edward. He hadn’t so much as blinked. Our eyes were transfixed, just as they had been the first night I saw him perform.

“Well, if it’s not a date, then maybe we’ll stop by and take a listen. I told Jacob I’d check out his band sometime,” Edward announced in a clipped tone. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear he was jealous. I would love nothing more than to see him seething with jealousy, the way I always seem to be whenever I see him with Kate, or any other woman, actually.

The booth shook with Alice’s frantic bouncing. “Oh, that would be awesome. I mean, if you don’t mind, Bella. We don’t want to intrude or anything.” She clearly was ecstatic at the thought of intruding, and I couldn’t say I was opposed to it, either.

“No, I’d love it. They’ll be at the Thirsty Whale downtown. Do you know where it is?”

Edward nodded and told Alice it wasn’t far from his place, so she could stay with him if she wanted. Then they discussed the possibility of Emmett and Jasper coming along with them. Suddenly, my upcoming date with Jake seems to be getting very crowded. I don’t feel too bad about it, since I’m fairly certain that if the evening ends with his band getting a foot in the door at Java Noise, everything else will take a back seat.

After we finished eating, Alice suggested Edward come with us, but he begged off, saying he’d better check on the cat and see how he was doing after getting worked over so thoroughly at the vet. I imagined that his eyes were more intense than usual as he told me he’d see me Saturday morning, but I’m sure I was seeing what I wanted to. I watched his broad shoulders and cute ass appreciatively as he sauntered down the sidewalk toward his car, which was parked opposite of mine. When he disappeared around the corner, my eyes finally shifted to Alice and her Cheshire grin.

“You are so gone on my brother,” she stated, her doe eyes shining.

I let out a sigh of surrender. “Is it that obvious?”

“Oh, yeah. I recognize the signs. You’re not the first, I must admit. But I think you might be the last, and I could not be happier about that,” she said in a satisfied tone.

“Wow, that’s a pretty bold statement,” I told her, trying to suppress a dangerous swell of hope at her words. What would make her think that Edward was interested in me enough to forego other women?

“Maybe. But you don’t know Edward like I do. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen him like this. Maybe never, in fact. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him get jealous like he did when you brought up that Jake guy. That was genius on your part, by the way! That worked on my brother like a charm. Trust me, Edward likes you. Very, very much,” she said confidently as we approached my beater truck. Alice had taken a cab from the ferry terminal to the restaurant, so I was driving the rest of the evening.

I still get nervous driving sometimes, even though the truck has been completely refurbished with every safety feature money can buy. This was one whim Charlie gave into: my desire for the sturdiest, safest vehicle possible. I like the combination of my truck’s ancient, impervious steel exterior with modern airbags, seatbelts and anti-lock brakes.

“If Edward likes me, he has a funny way of showing it,” I said as I unlocked the doors. “Sometimes he looks at me like I have the plague and he’s afraid he’ll catch it.”

“Well, as long as you’re his patient, it’ll be an uphill battle,” Alice admitted as she climbed in and put on her seatbelt. “He’s got a no-dating policy with his clients. But, he won’t be treating you forever,” she grinned conspiratorially. “Besides, I think he might cave if you keep at.”

“Really?” I said uncertainly as I revved the groaning engine. “You think I should be more obvious with him? I don’t know if I can do that. I’m not the most outgoing person, if you hadn’t noticed.”

“Yes, but you’re honest and straight-forward. You shoot from the hip, and Edward loves that. Just be yourself and everything will take care of itself,” she said confidently as I checked the mirrors, looked over my shoulder and pulled out into traffic.

“Right. Simple.” I shook my head a little and said no more as I concentrated on getting us to Belltown in one piece.

“It is simple. Don’t make it complicated. I’ll remind Edward to do the same,” she smiled, settling back against the worn red leather headrest.

We had fun at the Gooseneck Pub, listening to some Celtic and folk-inspired music that was pretty good. I recorded the performers, though I wasn’t certain any of them were a good fit for Java. Alice remained quiet during the acts, then bent my ear in between. She talked a lot about Jasper, and I could see that she was as certain of her future with him as she was about mine with Edward. I wish I had a fraction of her faith in fate’s good graces. In my experience, Fate can be a cruel master.

We didn’t stay out too late since I had to work in the morning. When I dropped Alice off at the terminal, she said the oddest thing to me. I’m still trying to figure out what she was talking about.

She thanked me for taking her along to the bar, and said she was looking forward to “getting me yoga-fied” on Saturday. But as she turned to go, she whirled back suddenly, her expression more serious than I‘ve ever seen it.

“About Edward. You should know that he’s been through some stuff. Some really… painful … events.” It was strange hearing the normally mellifluent Alice struggle to find words. “If it seems like he’s pushing you away, he probably is, and I know why. It’s not my place to say any more. Just, please don’t let him discourage you. Promise me you’ll be patient with him, okay? Don’t give up on him. He’s worth it.”

I looked at her pleading hazel eyes and nodded mutely. She suddenly grabbed me in an awkward hug and whispered, “Thanks, Bella.” Then she boarded the boat, turning and giving me a subdued wave before she vanished.

I mulled over her words the entire way home, wondering what on earth had happened to Edward Cullen. I had been entirely right about my suspicions the first time I heard him sing. Maybe when he brought up emotional scars, it was because he had a sizeable one of his own.

I slept fitfully, waking in the middle of the night from a disturbing dream. I was out sailing with Edward, skimming along the pristine waters of Puget Sound on a rare sunny day. As always, the fair weather didn’t last long, and rain clouds soon overtook us, spewing cold needles of liquid down upon the craft. Edward turned the boat around to head back to the shore, and as the vessel keened to one side, I lost my balance and fell overboard. The frigid water engulfed me instantly, its icy fingernails clawing the air from my lungs as I shrieked Edward’s name. He frantically grabbed the life preserver and tossed it to me, hollering for me to grab it so he could pull me back to the safety. I clutched for the ring but kept losing my grip, my numb, wet fingers finding no purchase on the slippery surface.

“Bella!” His ragged voice thundered across the water more loudly than the storm. “Hang on--I won’t lose you, too.”

As he leapt from the boat and swam toward me, a peculiar calm settled over me, even as the choppy water threatened to pull me deeper. I saw Edward coming, and despite the calamity surrounding us, I knew with perfect clarity that everything would be okay. His hands met mine in the water, grasping them firmly. He pulled me in his arms... and I woke up.

I lay staring at the ceiling for a moment, pondering the meaning of the dream with little success. Only one thing about it stood out vividly in my mind as the rest of the illusory drama faded and I slipped into unconsciousness once more.

It was the first time I ever heard Edward Cullen say my name.


  1. Wonderful writing as always, thanks for making my day better! :) I really love what you're doing with these characters, I can't, again, wait for the next chapter. I'm dying to know what'll happen when Edward shows up at Jake's concert!

  2. I'm dying to know what will happen, too, actually! I haven't even written that part. I'm hoping that when I sit down, it will sort of write itself. That often happens!

    After that, I have the middle of the story mapped out pretty well. It's just a matter of finding the time to commit it to words! Always a challenge.

    Thanks for hanging in with me and letting me know how you're liking the story. That means a lot to me! :)

  3. Love the story Hope you keep it up Thank you I can't wait to see what really happens with them what happen to them both I WAN'T TO KNOW PLEASE ;) DEB.

  4. I'm glad you found chapter 6 over here--I forgot to tell you to check my blog! Unfortunately I'm all "caught up" now--I'm just starting chapter 7 so updates will take a little longer now. But so glad you like it! Thanks for letting me know. :)

  5. Bella's POV in this chapter is spot on, and visceral (esp. her therapy session with Edward, and listening to his tape at the studio). I love where all this is going. Great story, great writing! Thank you, Leann!!