Monday, January 31, 2011

Massage Therapy, Chapter 8 - Resolve

From the Desktop of Bella SwanSunday, August 1
I couldn’t get past the fact that Jacob Black chewed with his mouth open.

To be fair, he was talking at the time. Of course, that’s probably even worse on the scale of bad manners. But Jake is so entertaining when he’s on a roll that I tried to let it slide.

I knew he’d have a minor freak-out when I told him that Rosalie would be checking out the Wolf Pack’s set last night, but I was beginning to feel guilty that I hadn’t given him any warning whatsoever. I’d been acting in accord with my general philosophy, which is that music flows better when its makers aren’t under pressure; but when Jake filled me in on the troubles the band had been having lately, I couldn’t help but want to give him a piece of good news.

His reaction didn’t disappoint. He practically howled in excitement, which drew a lot of strange looks from everyone around us in the restaurant until they caught his infectious smile. He was high as a kite after that, inhaling the rest of the chips-n-salsa at warp speed and digging into his giant beef burrito with gusto. I noticed that he sometimes held his fork in his fist, shoveling refried beans into his mouth like a hungry prisoner on rations. Was he just excited, or did he truly not know any better? He did grow up without a mom, for the most part. Surely his older sisters would have instilled some manners into him, though, wouldn’t they?

I gave him an indulgent smile as my mind strayed to dinner at the Istanbul Grill forty-eight hours ago. Edward Cullen had impeccable manners, naturally. He never rested his elbows on the table while eating. He kept his mouth closed while chewing. He swallowed before speaking. As I thought back to that evening and recalled how he managed to take big bites out of his falafel pita without dribbling sauce down his chin, it dawned on me that the Cullens had had a privileged upbringing.

I began putting together the bits and pieces of the little I knew about the Edward Cullen: Twenty-something guy with his own business, co-owned by his chiropractor brother, located across the hall from their father’s family practice. Sister following in their footsteps by attending Stanford medical school (and also eating with the daintiness of a bird across the table from me.) Collection of rare vintage guitars. Tennis outings with an upper-crusty-looking blonde. Emily Post-approved behavior in every situation.

Edward Cullen had no doubt been groomed for the pinnacle of success from the time he came out of the womb. The realization made me even more fascinated with his resultant rebellious streak, which manifested itself in subtle but consistent ways: The untamable hair. The perpetual beard stubble. The rumpled, threadbare clothes. The untied shoelaces that constantly defied their grommets. Edward cultivated an unstudied, laissez-faire attitude whenever he wasn’t required to behave otherwise.

I was suddenly determined to make him stop behaving altogether around me.

As I watched Jake inhale his food with the finesse of a longshoreman, I wondered why the sight vaguely repulsed me, even as I dreamed of bringing Edward Cullen’s baser instincts to the surface. The irony of my double standard didn’t miss me, but the reason behind it did. Jake was sweet, warm, funny, open and unassuming. Why wasn’t I willing to look past a few flaws in him, when I was half in love with the flaws in Edward?

Maybe it was because I knew that when it came to Jake, what you see is what you get. There was no deep mystery there to discover. Edward, on the other hand, was an intriguing sum of dichotomies that might take me the rest of my life to figure out. I already knew I’d love nothing more than to have the opportunity to try.

But maybe Edward was more appealing because he was so tantalizingly close, yet still out of reach. Did I simply want what I couldn’t have?

I decided to concentrate on what was in front of me before I dismissed it entirely. Besides, if I didn’t start paying attention to Jake’s non-stop nervous chatter about the upcoming show, he might get suspicious. I could only “yeah” and “uh-huh” my way through dinner for so long before my preoccupied rudeness became obvious, and unforgivable.

“So, does Rosalie have final say on whether or not we get signed?” Jake asked, eyes alight with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation.

“Not exactly, but her approval is key. She likes your demo already, or she wouldn’t be coming to hear you tonight. If she’s impressed with your live show, she’ll set up a meeting with Mark and Sam--the VP’s in A&R and product development--so they can weigh in on whether or not they think you’re a good fit for the label, what the best direction is for your sound, how to market the band, etc.” I stopped when Jake started to look more panicked than excited, and I couldn’t help but laugh.

“Don’t worry, it’s not as scary as it sounds,” I reassured him. “I already know that The Wolf Pack is a good fit for Java Noise, or I wouldn’t have pushed you guys to Rosalie so much. I didn’t do it just because you’re all friends of mine. I did it because I truly believe you guys are great and deserve the break. And you could actually make me a lot of money, let’s not forget,” I concluded, only half-joking.

“I am more than happy to do that, Bells,” Jake laughed good-naturedly. He flagged down our waitress and ordered some Mexican fried ice cream for dessert, while I declined the offer for my own, still stuffed from my quesadilla dinner.

“So if this thing really happens, I guess we need to find a lawyer, huh? Somebody to help us with the contract and stuff.” He shook his head as if in wonderment that his dreams might be about to come true. His excitement began to rub off on me, and I remembered why I got into this business in the first place.

“Yeah, you will. You definitely need to get good management and an entertainment lawyer, but we can help you out with that stuff. We work with all our artists to make sure we’re all on the same page as far as the vision and direction of the band goes. If you’re happy, then we’re happy, generally speaking.”

“Well, then, you’re about to be ecstatic, if this whole thing pans out,” Jake grinned, while I laughed in a agreement.

Jake’s dessert arrived, and I was treated to the sight of him spooning huge globs of cinnamon-covered goo past his pearly whites as he waxed poetic about being a musician.

“Dad always thought I was crazy for wanting this so much. I’m sure he would have loved it if I’d gone to college while I just did the band thing on the side,” he said with a shake of his head. “But when I’m playing live, nothing else in the world exists. Nothing can touch it. It’s the only time I feel truly alive. It’s like--” he paused to shovel more ice cream and find the right words-- “like my life makes sense from behind a drum kit. That probably sounds stupid,” he finished sheepishly, digging into the last of his dessert.

“No, it doesn’t. It makes perfect sense to me.” I vaguely remember what it felt like to get lost--and found--in my own creative process. I was just beginning to tap into that side of myself before the accident. I couldn’t bring myself to even try after that. Now I just experience that euphoria vicariously through my clients.

“Try not to be too nervous about tonight,” I advised him. “I have a good feeling about it. I think everything’s going to go really well.”

Jake raised an eyebrow as he picked up the check. “Hope you’re right.”

As it turned out, I was--about the band, at any rate. The adrenaline was clearly pumping through Jake and his Quileute brothers as they kicked into their driving opening number, and it didn’t let up as they put on a blistering show. A good chunk of the crowd was on its feet from the beginning, many of them singing along with the songs. Rose was pleased to see that they already had a loyal following, and she noted possible singles from their original material. She also made comments about their long-term potential, and possible ways to market them, to which I readily agreed. I tried to make it appear that I was giving my full attention to the Wolf Pack, and I was glad I’d seen them before so that I could pull it off.

Because the truth was, my mind was almost completely consumed with the debilitating proximity of Edward Cullen.

I was grateful that I had to look away from him in order to watch the band. That way, it would appear that I was actually paying attention to the musicians instead of him. But every cell in my body was hyperactively attuned to the warm maleness of him sitting mere inches to my left, the silken hairs of his arm occasionally brushing against mine, luring me closer. I could feel his eyes on me, probing deeper than his fingers had that morning, stripping me, exposing me. My eyelids drifted shut and I imagined this in the literal sense, overwhelmed at how good the fear felt. I knew I would open myself willingly to him, in every way, no matter how I tried to resist. I was resigned to my surrender. The resignation was enthralling.

He was beginning to open himself to me, too, though I dared not hope for too much. I was secretly thrilled when he seated himself next to me last night, no longer putting a buffer between us. It somehow felt like an echo of the massage he’d given me that morning. Our session had seemed more intimate than ever before, his fingers firm and demanding against my flesh, his breathing almost labored as he worked his way down my body. When he began stroking my legs at his usual intoxicatingly slow pace, it was all I could do to keep from moaning out loud in frustrated pleasure. The moans became harder to suppress as his hands climbed inexorably up my thighs, maddeningly close to the aching desire that burned between them. I wanted to grab his fingers and press them against the damp lace there… to make him feel what he was doing to me; to invite him to do more.

But of course, I didn’t. When he abruptly ended our session and exited the room, I put my own fingers there instead, fantasizing of his as I speedily massaged myself to a burning climax, right there on Edward Cullen’s massage table.

This is crazy, I berated myself as I dressed quickly, smoothed my hair and bolted to the front desk so he wouldn’t wonder what had taken me so long. As it turned out, I didn’t have to worry. He had disappeared as well. I busied myself writing him a check for services rendered, feeling half-ashamed as I did so. It seemed wrong on several levels to be paying this guy for the amazing things he did to me, even if he was completely unaware of half of them.

He looked a little flushed when he finally appeared, and I wondered how red my own cheeks were as I concentrated on my check-writing. He tried to refuse payment, which was very chivalrous of him. His hand brushed mine when he finally took my check; the flames licked up my arm and burned across my already fiery face.

I think he felt it too, because he began flirting with me. I could barely believe it, but he seemed unmistakably jealous of my upcoming date with Jake. I reveled in his jealousy and egged it on. But my own insecurities came to the surface, making me test Alice’s theory that I shouldn’t be worried about Kate. The smug bastard had the audacity to be as noncommittal about her as I had been about Jake. And just as the jealousy playing field became even and things were about to get interesting, Alice showed up to ruin the game.

I told her as much as we left for yoga class. She only giggled and said it was good for us, and that I should let Edward stew in his own juices for awhile, because it would help him come around. I had to take her word for it, and remind myself that I’d see him again that evening.

Yoga class was as awkward and disagreeable as I’d surmised it would be, though I
admit that I felt better when it was over. My body felt completely alive, yet relaxed
and “loose” at the same time. I used the energy to house-clean, which I despise. Angela was out with Ben, and I knew he’d be staying the evening at our place, so I thought it would be a nice gift to them both to make the place spotless. After all, they had both helped me out whenever my stupid back had given out in the past.

I got so absorbed in the task that I nearly wasn’t ready when Jake stopped by to pick me up for dinner. My hair was still damp from my shower as I hastily threw on a clean t-shirt when the doorbell rang. He suggested a casual Mexican restaurant for dinner since we were dressed down to fit the Thirsty Whale vibe later on. His greeting hug was casual as well. He didn’t seem to think of this as a “real” date any more than I did. I was fairly certain that Edward was worried for nothing--if he was, indeed, worried.

As we left the duplex and headed out to Jake’s old VW parked down the street, the thought of Edward’s jealousy made a secret smile creep across my face. Jake caught it and smiled in return, apparently thinking he had put it there. After that, his beefy brown hand took up residence on my shoulder, and remained there for a good chunk of the evening. I hoped I hadn’t inadvertently created a monster.

I didn’t really mind his arm around me until I caught sight of Edward in the bar, walking purposefully toward us with Jasper close on his heels. I stepped out from under the drape of Jake’s arm as if shaking a yoke off my back, astounded at how quickly I wanted to be free of him when Edward’s eagle eyes were on me. I realized that if the two men’s positions had been reversed, I would have pulled Edward’s arm more tightly around me rather than bolt from his side.

Edward introduced us to Jasper, who quickly got into a discussion with Paul about his rig. That left me standing awkwardly between Jake and Edward, wondering how in the hell to make polite conversation. I shouldn’t have worried, because Jake’s excited yammering filled the spaces easily as he complained again about my failure to give him ample warning that my boss was coming tonight. Edward backed me up completely, repeating my sentiments about catching musicians spontaneously when they didn’t know they were being judged. As if I need any more encouragement to fall for this guy completely, I thought.

I agreed with him, telling Jake it was time to stop over-thinking everything and just let go. I couldn’t take my eyes off of Edward as I said it. I was sure he caught my meaning, because he ran off to the bar like a scared rabbit immediately afterward. I hated that my insecurity began to rear its ugly head. Did he avoid getting closer to me because he wanted it too much, or not enough? What if Alice was wrong?

No, she couldn’t be. I was reassured when Edward sat down next to me before the band started. I was positive I wasn’t imagining the feel of his eyes on me during the show, though I couldn’t be sure he was staring without getting caught doing the same. It was impossible for me to steal a look at him, since I had to turn away from the band to do it. But he was so beautiful in the rainbow of kaleidoscopic stage lights that I couldn’t look away once I’d glanced back at his perfect face. His eyes met mine, and the swirl of emotions I saw there drew me in and held me as they always did. His lips parted and he drifted toward me… so close, so ready for a kiss. My heart pounded as his breath cooled my face, a heady mixture of Edward and alcohol that I was desperate to taste.

That was precisely the moment that the band decided to end their set, prompting Rosalie to grab my arm and “talk shop” for the next five minutes. Pulling away from him was physically painful, and again I had to put every ounce of concentration I had into behaving normally with Rose. (Speaking of whom, the story of Rosalie and Emmett deserves its own entry. I don’t know whether to laugh or cringe about the incidents that entangled my boss and my chiropractor last night. I think I’ll wait to weigh in on the matter after I see her tomorrow.)

Alice put in a plug for Jasper before Rose left the bar, mentioning that he’d be performing with a “friend” later in the week. She wisely left Edward’s name out of any discussion with Rosalie, but I couldn’t stop myself from letting him know that I had his back, too. I mustered a little bravery, fueled by beer, and pressed my thigh firmly against his under the table.

He didn‘t touch me in return, but he didn‘t move his leg away, either. I assured Jasper that I would record him for Rosalie, and I pushed my leg harder against Edward’s as I added that I was looking forward to seeing both of them perform again. The knuckles on the back of Edward’s hand whitened as he gripped his beer mug more tightly, and I fought to hide my satisfied grin. Alice was right. I’d have to be patient, but I decided I would crack his façade, one way or another.

Even though I was sincere in my offer to help Jasper, I was ready to yank some strings off of any nearby guitar and strangle him with them when he asked Edward to take him home early. It seems like every time we might make some progress, or at least have a little time to talk one-on-one, something or someone gets in our way.

The squeeze Edward gave my shoulder felt much more meaningful than it should have, and I began to fear that I was reading too much into a commonplace gesture once again. I wanted to pick Alice’s brain about it after Edward and Jasper left, but when Emmett returned to the table, she became oddly mum about the subject of her brother. After a moment’s thought, I realized that Edward’s no-dating policy with patients is probably standard industry practice, and that Emmett wouldn’t look favorably upon that kind of behavior any more than Edward does. It’s probably part of the Hippocratic oath or something. And even though Edward isn’t technically a doctor, it obviously doesn‘t keep him from behaving as if he is. That’s just Edward. And ironically, that integrity is one of his most attractive qualities, even though it keeps getting in our way.

Alice and Emmett kept me company while the band dismantled their set and hauled it into Sam’s rusted Chevy van. I keep hoping I’ll see the day when they don’t have to drive beater cars and drag their own gear to gigs around the city. I’d love nothing more than to see The Wolf Pack make it big, or at least be successful enough to live comfortably and realize their dreams.

Jake talked a mile a minute on the drive back to my place, still amped from the show. I assured him that Rosalie had been as impressed as she seemed, and that we would probably contact the band soon about meeting with the higher-ups. He bounded up the steps two at a time to the landing outside my front door, laughing at me as I ran to catch up with him.

“I can hardly believe it, Bells,” Jake said, shaking his head at his good fortune as I got to the top of the stairs. “Things are finally starting to happen for us. And who’d have ‘thunk’ it would be because of you?”

He suddenly grabbed my chin in his hand, and my stomach twisted nervously. Oh, no. He wasn’t really going to try to kiss me, was he?

I shook my own head, trying to dislodge it from his thumb and forefinger. “It’s not because of me. It’s because of your years of practice and hard work. I’m just the middle man,” I insisted, looking down. I couldn’t bring myself to meet his dark, deep-set gaze.

“We make a good team,” he replied. That was not what I wanted to hear. That “we” sounded a little too couple-y for my liking.

“Sure,” I agreed weakly, still ineffectually trying to disengage my face from his hand. Apparently that simple word was all the encouragement he needed, for his face loomed closer, his lips taking deadly aim at mine.

I instantly twisted my face to the side so that his kiss landed harmlessly somewhere between my cheek and jaw. He let me go then, stepping back slowly and giving me a perplexed look.

“I’m sorry, Jake. It’s nothing personal. We just really need to keep things professional between us, especially now,” I rattled nervously, trying to erase the troubled expression from his face. “If we’re going to be working together--and I think we will--then we need to keep things a little more objective, know what I mean?” I bit my lip and looked up at him dubiously to see if he bought it.

The muscles of his face relaxed a bit, and a resigned, mirthless grin tugged momentarily at his lips.

“Sure, Bells,” he said quietly. “I don’t want to do anything to mess up our relationship. We are still friends, right?”

“Of course we are,” I insisted with a relieved sigh. “I just think that we need to be careful to keep it that way. Business and pleasure usually don’t mix very well, you know? It’s just better to keep things platonic.”

“You’re right,” he agreed, though he still looked unconvinced. “That doesn’t mean you won’t still hang out with me sometimes though, does it?”

“Of course not. You know I will.”

He nodded and reached out to briefly stroke the side of my face. “Thanks again for everything, Bella. I’ll talk to you soon,” he said as he turned and descended the stairs from our landing.

I stood looking after him a moment, the irony of my situation dragging my sinking heart with it as it settled through me. No matter how I try to ignore it, that tiny sliver of self-doubt keeps taunting me with the same nagging question.

What if this is how Edward’s been feeling about me all along?


  1. Great writing, LeAnn! I love that you always give us both Bella and Edward's POVs, and even though the story doesn't progress because of it as fast as my impatient nature would like, I think it's a good thing for the characters and the story overall. :) Waiting impatiently for the next update! :) (Sorry for my English BTW, I'm Finnish so I probably make tons of mistakes that I'm not even aware of...)

  2. Are you kidding? Your English is wonderful! I'm amazed that you are in Finland and are reading something that I wrote in England, from my little town here in the midwest of the USA. That blows my mind. I am so happy that you read and leave me comments--makes my day!

    I am actually going to write more from Bella's POV to finish this chapter, but I am posting the whole story in shorter chapters on, and I am "caught up" so I am posting on both simultaneously. I hope to have the rest of this chapter up some time this coming weekend. :)

  3. I meant that I wrote it in English not in England! LOL I wish! ;D

  4. Lovely chapter, Leann! Bella's so cool the way she deals with both Jake and Edward. Btw, the new banners are apropos and HOT!!