Sunday, February 27, 2011

Massage Therapy, Chapter 10 - Vertigo, part 1

From the Desktop of Bella Swan
Sunday, August 8

Oh, Mom. How I wish you were here. I need you more than ever.

It’s ironic because most of the details I’m about to relate are things I’d never dream of telling you if you were still alive. Like always, I’m hoping that writing everything out in printed words will help me sort it out in my head. I don’t think there’s much to be done about my heart, though. It feels like Edward took it with him when he left this morning.

Remember what I said the day I met him? That my nerves made me feel like I was getting ready for a ride on Space Mountain? That was a profound moment of precognition on my part. The past twenty-four hours have been such a roller coaster that I feel like I’m suffering from a severe case of vertigo.

I suppose that as high as I was the past couple of days, the only place left to go was down. I spent the time between Thursday night and yesterday morning on an inflated pink cloud of euphoria. Pinching myself wasn’t enough to ensure that I was conscious anymore. I still had to replay the closing scene Thursday night in my head: Edward asking me out. Edward calling me “Bella.” And not just finally uttering the name, but saying it in such a low, velvety tone that I very nearly fainted on the spot. He whispered my name in the Sex Voice. The tone that is so utterly devastating, so utterly Edward, that the echo of it reverberated ceaselessly inside my head for the next two days. I carried it with me like the tape recorder in my pocket, replaying it in the banks of my memory again and again. I became enraptured at the sound of my own name, a name I had merely tolerated before. I heard him murmur it constantly; felt the breath of it on my face over and over. I began to imagine all the occasions in which he might repeat it; the different ways in which he might say it.

And then I suddenly froze in horror at the thought that he might never utter it again. That I would enter Cullen and Cullen Saturday morning only to be greeted by the smooth, unruffled countenance of the therapist who called me “Miss Swan.”

So when he smiled and said “Bella” the minute I walked through the door, the resultant thrill was also the sweetest relief I could have known. I’ll never understand how someone who excites me so can also soothe me like no other. But that’s exactly what he did yesterday morning. Our massage session seemed more productive than last week’s, as he managed to lull me into a state of trancelike relaxation with his gifted hands. I think that I had spent so much nervous energy anticipating our next meeting that by the time I was finally in his presence, I collapsed into a grateful calm.

I only began to tense up when he placed his hands on my ribs, so close to where I longed for his fingers to stray. My erotic thoughts soon took a dive as he started to do work that was much more like Emmett’s, intensely probing my middle and challenging my pain threshold. He asked me to hang on and be strong for him, and I did. I would do anything for him. I trust him to the point of blind folly. At least, I suspect that’s how he sees it. Yet he proves to me again and again that I’m justified in my faith. All I have to do is make him see that, and help him find a little faith in himself. I’m beginning to see that’s a lot easier said than done.

But I’m jumping ahead. The massage therapy lived up to its name; as always, Edward was a master. I felt focused and energized after he was done, and I couldn’t wait to spend the rest of the day with him. I wanted to milk every moment of togetherness out of him that I could before I had to leave for work. And that’s exactly how I thought of my evening ahead, as work. Getting The Wolf Pack signed was high on my list of priorities, but the opportunity to get to know Edward better was eclipsing it at the moment.

He offered to drive to Seward Park, which I kind of figured he would, but it was still nice to hear him suggest it. I was comforted by the fact that he drives a rather non-descript, older-model Volvo. For one thing, Volvos are safe. For another, it proves Edward doesn’t need to use his vehicle as a status symbol to flaunt his wealth. He confirmed that my assumption was correct; he’s from a well-to-do family. I tend to think that Edward dresses down and makes himself look as ordinary as possible on purpose, to draw less attention to himself. For someone both affluent and as jarringly handsome as Edward, blending in has probably been a wistfully unattainable feat most of his life.

The afternoon was sublime. There’s no other way to put it. I had dreamed of spending quality time like this with Edward so much during the past few weeks that I could barely believe it was actually happening. We talked about dozens of different topics, from the silly to the deadly serious. I found out priceless details about him that I never could have guessed in a million years. I mean, what guy is afraid of dolls? I tried in vain not to laugh as he described how he could feel their creepy eyes following him around the room. Every new piece of information painted a richer, more colorful picture of him… made him real and multi-dimensional, instead of the fantasy character I’d been conjuring up in my wishful imagination. By the end of the day I wanted the Real Edward more that I’d ever dreamed possible. I could feel the want throbbing in my chest, even when he was sitting right beside me.

The first time he tried to kiss me, I thought my heart would rupture, it was beating so hard. He told me I’m beautiful. I tried to remember if Mike had ever told me that. Jake calls me “beautiful” and “gorgeous” all the time, but in his usage, the words are generic nicknames rather than a heartfelt professions.

When Edward Cullen told me I’m beautiful, I believed it. Believed it like I never have before. The way he said it, as if it were indisputable fact, was what hit me so hard. He looked incredulous, even affronted, that other guys seemed to have missed what he found so obvious. He is the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen. To discover that he might see me in even a fraction of that light was a revelation that I could scarcely comprehend.

He told me that the other men in my life have been fools. I could think of no other men in my life, save my father. By definition, he’s required to see the beauty in me. No one else has ever been up to the task. Mike was still an overgrown kid when we broke up last year, and Jake, two years my junior, still brims with boyish enthusiasm. Edward’s vivid green eyes, though framed with lashes so lush any girl would be envious, fixed me with a gaze that was all man. Whatever was about to happen between us was no child’s game.

I told him there had been no other men in my life before him. His nostrils flared slightly and his lips pressed together with conviction before he spoke.

“Then let me be your first.”

I will never forget those words as long as I live. The way he said them; what they implied. For one crazy moment I was convinced that I belonged to him, and he to me. I was quivering with anticipation as he leaned down to seal our covenant with a kiss. My eyes closed; my breath caught as my lips parted. At the exquisite touch of his mouth on mine, I exhaled shakily and wondered if I might faint. How embarrassing would that be?

I was saved by a group of noisy hikers coming up behind me, and I hated them for it. The moment was lost. I knew I would never rest until I got it back. And the next time, I would most assuredly not let myself lose consciousness at the key moment.

Edward managed to make a joke of the interruption, and about my statement that I found him “empirically beautiful.” I recalled the off-color comments he had made during our very first massage session, before he had ever seen my face or really knew who I was. I’d been trying to find that Edward ever since, the one who seemed irreverent and unself-conscious. And as the afternoon progressed, he revealed more and more of that unguarded side to me. I was in heaven.

I wondered if he could have the slightest idea of how enamored I was of everything about him, no matter how minute. I memorized the gait of his long-legged stride, the sweep of his large but elegant hands to illustrate his point when talking, the myriad moods of his expressive face. My favorite was his pout: lips pursed, cheeks sucked in, thick brows furrowed, eyes searching. He used this expression whenever he paused to find the right words to explain himself. My second-favorite was his smirk, usually accompanied by one raised eyebrow and a look in his eyes so suggestive that it burned a path of desire deep in my belly.

No, I take it back: my favorite expression was the one on his face right before he kissed me: lips parted, breathing fast; eyes glistening with need and want and maybe a little fear. They mirrored my own, I’m sure. That look is stamped indelibly in my brain. The feel of his mouth on mine was something else altogether.

I wonder if it would have happened if I hadn’t fallen? The encroaching rain clouds had sent us in the direction of the car a little early, but we didn’t make it back before the deluge began. I thought of you the minute my shoe slipped on the rain-soaked pavement and I went down. I could just see you up in heaven, shaking your head and exclaiming, “My poor Bella!” I heard the thunder and thought maybe you and God were having a good-natured laugh at my perpetual clumsiness.

My knee was bleeding a little and it hurt to put weight on my leg, but it was no big deal. Edward, however, flipped into some kind of knight-in-shining-armor mode and scooped me up in his arms before I even knew what he was doing. He carried me the remaining distance to the car and insisted on bandaging me up. At first I thought it was funny, and I joked that he had to kiss it to make it better. By the time he was done planting baby kisses all over my knee, I wasn’t laughing anymore. I wanted those lips on mine more than I’ve ever wanted anything in my life. Melodramatic, but true, in that moment.

The kiss. Oh, God, the kiss. How are there words to accurately describe a first kiss that you’ve been craving so badly? A kiss that conjures up every cliché about kisses that you’ve ever read, from fireworks and bombs going off, to drowning in ecstasy so deep you never want to resurface? It was all and none of those things; reality crushing fantasy with one swift and unparalleled blow. There was nothing but Edward in that moment: his lips, his tongue, his breath, his moans; his soft skin and rough stubble and masculine bones beneath my grateful fingers. Should I have been scared at the troth that passed through my mind at that moment? “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” But this was what I felt in that first union: irrevocably joined with this man, by a force much stronger than I am.

And this was only from a kiss.

I couldn’t stop staring at his lips after he pulled back, panting. They glistened, ripe and red, like maraschino cherries. I immediately wanted to taste them again, to pull that bottom lip between my own and suck on it.

When I finally raised my eyes to his, I saw a raw urgency there that should have frightened me a little. I had been longing to awaken the primal part of him that I’d always suspected lay dormant inside; but when I was face-to-face with the fire, I was still taken aback by its heat. Was I ready to be consumed by him? That was the danger I feared: not Edward himself, but the sway he held over me, and my overwhelming desire to give in.

It seemed that it was my turn to calm him, if I wasn’t quite ready for total surrender. I stroked his face softly, my fingers fascinated with the sandpaper sprouting from his relentless follicles. I smiled and told him that his cure had worked--the pain in my knee was gone. His breathing slowed and a smile came as the fire cooled. I was immediately sorry to see it go, and wondered when and how I could ignite the embers again.

He seemed as reluctant to take me back to my car as I was to go there. He suggested drying my clothes at his place, which sent me on yet another orbit into the stratosphere. I could barely speak during the drive there. I kept imagining him undressing me, slowly removing each article of wet clothing and replacing it with his warm hands and mouth.

I was nudged slowly out of my reverie by the realization that we were entering the industrial district of Seattle, “SoDo” as they call it, passing belching smokestacks and yawning warehouses as we drove. I started wondering where in the heck Edward lived, anyway.

As it turns out, he’s not all that far from Pioneer square, in the top floor of a rather stylish-looking brick building that has been in his mother’s family for years. He has a bachelor pad that would be the envy of most guys, open and spacious, with no one around to complain if you play the stereo too loud. The décor is simple, clean and masculine, and his music collection is to die for. You’d freak if you saw it, Mom. Maybe you already have, from where you’re sitting.

Once I set foot in Edward’s place, I never wanted to leave. I even fell in love with his cat, Lucky. A gorgeous orange tabby, he took a shine to me right away, as most cats do. Edward pretended to be jealous as I stroked Lucky’s fur while he lolled contentedly at my feet. But when I looked up at Edward, his expression was dead serious and strangely intense. He quickly mumbled something about getting me some clothes to wear while mine were in the dryer, and then disappeared.

When he returned, he showed me to the bathroom so that I could change, dispelling my earlier fantasies about him undressing me. Curiosity quickly replaced disappointment as I took in the details of the room, from the nautical décor to the navy-trimmed white towels and matching bath rugs. I bit my lip as I looked in the medicine cabinet mirror, dismayed at my bedraggled appearance, but more interested in opening the cabinet door to inspect its contents.

I’m not proud of it, but I did it. I snooped. I had to see what brand of shaving cream and deodorant and toothpaste he used, what kind of razor, what sorts of stomach- and head-ache remedies he preferred. I gently fingered the bottles as if they contained frankincense and myrrh instead of aspirin and antacid. There was no detail about Edward that I wasn’t itching to know.

I opened the bottle of after-shave I found on the counter and sniffed the familiar scent, stronger here than on his rain-soaked face, but still fresh-smelling, not heavy and cloying. Did he have to do everything right? I was beginning to look for just one thing that would make me cringe, to remind myself that he was real and attainable, not some mythical creature who might disappear at my first wrong move.

I turned to the clothes he’d given me to put on, a typically non-descript over-washed t-shirt and sweats. I buried my face in the material and breathed deeply, enjoying the faint mixture of fabric sheets and Edward that tickled my nose. The clothes were clean, but somehow his scent lingered there, intoxicating me. I peeled off my wet garments and grabbed his shower towel, hoping it was the one he’d used that morning. I inhaled deeply again, letting his essence fill my lungs and feeling not one bit guilty as I did so.

I then slowly, methodically dried every inch of my skin with his towel. Wave after wave of goose bumps rose at the thought of this very fabric caressing his naked body hours ago. My cheeks grew hot as a wicked thought entered my brain, then flamed red as I acted upon it. I pressed the towel between my legs and rubbed it back and forth, letting it arouse me further as it soaked up the creamy evidence. Even though he would never know I had left this part of me there with him, I would.

I donned his clothes finally with reverence, loving the way they softly enveloped me. Had he picked a thin white t-shirt on purpose? My nipples were easy to see through the flimsy fabric, and they were still erect from my erotic adventure with Edward’s towel. I already knew that one word, one kiss, would keep me here with him for hours, Jake and his band be damned.

I felt suddenly embarrassed at my behavior as I left the bathroom. Edward eyed me awkwardly as well, his eyes unsurprisingly fixated on my breasts. The sexual tension between us was getting almost comical at this point. When he hastily grabbed my discarded clothes and disappeared with them, I wondered if he would fondle them before putting them in the dryer, the way I had practically masturbated with his towel. We were ridiculous.

I shook my head, trying to clear it, and began to peruse his music collection. I love that he owns vinyl records--a lot of the same ones I have that were yours. More and more, it seemed like fate had led me here, although I certainly wished there had been a less painful way than throwing my back out to do it.

When Edward returned, I begged him to show me his guitars. When I discovered that he actually has a baby grand piano in that massive loft of his, I nearly creamed myself again. And that was nothing to the reaction I had when he actually sat down and played that gorgeous instrument.

He chose another song I love. He sang it to me as I sat next to him on the piano bench, and it was so profoundly beautiful that I nearly wept. I felt as close to him, as trusting, as I did earlier in the afternoon when I told him about you. Obtuse as he is, he tried to apologize for making me cry. I told him he doesn’t know what he does to me. Whatever he thinks he knows feels like only the tip of the iceberg. He tried to tell me I have it backwards, when clearly I don’t. Because when it came time to put those feelings into practice, he backed off.

I actually asked him to kiss me. I could barely utter the words, but my need was so palpable, I couldn’t help but beg. He said that he was afraid that once he started, he wouldn’t be able to stop. Didn’t he understand that I didn’t want him to stop? My body, my mind, my heart were all screaming “go.”

Edward said “stop.”

At least, he may as well have. He brought up Jake again. Jake, who had barely entered my mind all day; Jake, who is inconsequential in relation to my feelings for Edward. Why dinner with an old friend annoyed Edward so much is beyond me, especially when I made it clear all afternoon who I wanted to spend more time with. If Edward was that jealous or upset over Jake, then why not kiss me and claim me? He could have hoisted me up on the piano and fucked me then and there, Pretty-Woman-style, and I would have loved every minute of it.

Instead, he pointed out that I didn’t have that much time to get ready for my “date” with Jake. I got the message, loud and clear. The problem was, I couldn’t make any sense of it. His mixed signals were really starting to confuse me and wear on my nerves. As he drove me back to the office where my car was parked, I listened to “Doctor” Cullen make small talk in that politely detached tone of his that now made me want to scratch his gorgeous green eyes out. I couldn’t figure it out what went wrong. What was he so afraid of? It couldn’t be the doctor/patient thing standing in our way anymore. Surely he knew I would never report him, and no one needed to be the wiser.

I remembered what Rosalie said: that there was fear in Edward’s eyes. I had seen it too, lurking, sometimes spilling out when he let his guard down. Who had hurt him? Did it have something to do with the “painful events” that Alice and Emmett had hinted at? He still hadn’t even told me about his waylaid plans to be a doctor, let alone allude to any other past disappointments. I had bared my soul to him about you, as much as I could, anyway. When would he have that same kind of trust in me?

I took one last stab at making him see that he could. I asked him to meet me later that night, after the “work” part of my evening was done. He insisted on using my non-date with Jake as his excuse and his shield. I finally snapped and told him that I wasn’t the one who had hurt him in the past, and that if he wanted to stop treating me like I was, he knew where to find me.

I was shaking as I got in my car. Shaking and crying. All day Edward and I had seemed to be standing on the brink of something incredible together, and then he pulled the rug out from under me. I couldn’t believe it.

I was glad that Angela was spending the weekend at Ben’s, because I didn’t want to rehash everything so right and then suddenly wrong with my almost-perfect day. Yet I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing again as I stood in the shower, washing all evidence of Edward’s touch and smell from my body, save for the plastic bandage stuck to my knee. I refused to remove that, no matter how wet it got. I shaved carefully around it as if it were a shrine. I cursed Edward Cullen for making me worship a fucking Band-Aid. Maybe being mad at him would be easier than being sad.

I put that philosophy into practice as I stormed around the house, getting ready. I ransacked the closet, trying to something both funky but a little dressier than usual, since Java Noise VP’s Mike and Sam would be there. It’s not like there’s really a dress code at our little label, but it never hurts to try to look a little more polished around the higher-ups.

I finally settled on a fitted menswear-style jacket over my v-necked tee and skinny jeans. I tried not to think of how Edward’s white t-shirt would have looked great with this ensemble. I dressed the outfit up with a little more silver jewelry than I normally wear, then dressed it down with my favorite fire-engine red Converse high-tops. I knew Rosalie would be wearing a similar outfit but with mile-high stacked heels, a concession to fashion I was not quite willing to make.

I spent a little extra time on my hair, not because I necessarily wanted to, but because Jake wasn’t due at my door for another ten minutes and I needed to keep my hands busy. If I stopped and sat down for a minute, I knew I would lose it. Buy the time the doorbell rang, my hair was large and in charge. I tried to tame it a bit, but it only got wilder the more I played with it. I gave up, grabbed my purse and headed for the door.

“Hey, babe. You look slammin’!” Jake exclaimed as I opened the door. The sight of his big, toothy grin was a relief. His easy warmth was just what I needed to settle me down and take my mind off of Edward. “You ready for an amazing evening?”

“You know what? I am,” I smiled as I took his arm.

We went for Italian this time, and I ordered a nice, soothing plate of fattening spinach ravioli. I intended to take comfort wherever I could find it tonight. I concentrated on paying attention to Jake this time, and felt myself getting swept up in his excitement once again as we looked forward to his band’s big evening. I told him a little more about what to expect if our company offered them a deal, and asked if he and the guys had made any progress in retaining some professional representation. I was grateful to get lost in “shop talk” for awhile, a place where I felt like I had a little control and expertise.

When we got to The Rusty Nail, Rosalie and Emmett were already there, as were half the Wolf Pack members. Jake went to help his bandmates finish the final set-up onstage as I headed to the table my boss and her date had reserved. To my utter shock, she was sitting on his lap, her arm draped around his shoulders, her head bowed as she grinned and whispered something to him. She certainly looked cozy with the guy that she had reamed up one side and down the other only a week ago. She also looked a little disheveled and her cheeks were glowing. My eyes narrowed at her suspiciously as I approached.

“Hi Rose, Emmett,” I called cheerfully, trying not to let my current frustration with Edward have any bearing on my interaction with his brother.

“Bella!” he boomed with characteristic enthusiasm. “How’s it going?”

“Great,” I lied. “And you?”

“Fan-fucking-tastic,” he grinned, his arms wrapping around Rosalie and giving her a squeeze.

“Get your hands off my ass,” she growled at him.

“My hands aren’t on your ass, beautiful. You’ll know when they are.”

Rose made a big show of extricating herself from Emmett’s bear hug, smacking his broad hands away, when clearly she had no wish to go anywhere. Likewise, Emmett pretended to be wounded by her harmless slaps, when he probably enjoyed every one of them. They made an odd, yet somehow perfect pair. Was I stupid to wish for the same with Edward?

“I need to talk to Bella minute. Could you be a darling and go get us a pitcher?” Rose intoned sweetly as she rose from Emmett’s lap.

Emmett took an exaggerated breath. “Of course, sugarplum. I’ll be right back.” I didn’t miss the smack he gave her on the ass as he passed. She gasped and gave him a dirty look, which he roundly ignored.

“God, he makes me crazy,” she grunted, her eyes blazing with what looked like both irritation and lust as she watched his muscular backside saunter up to the bar. “I almost boned him outside the bar in that hideous pimpmobile of his. I don’t know what it is about him--he kissed me and I just lost it. Fucker,” she sighed.

Boy, I can relate, I thought. I was still startled when Rosalie confided in me like this, as if we were college besties instead of an employer and employee. I kind of liked it, though.

“How was your afternoon with Edward?” she asked as we took seats across from each other at the table. “I know you were hoping for big things. So… how big were they?” She wiggled her eyebrow suggestively.

I let out a rueful laugh. “I’m not privy to that information yet. Maybe never, the way things are going.”

Rose frowned. “I can tell he’s into you. Did he freak out at the last minute or something?”

My eyebrows raised in surprise. “Yeah, something like that. Things were going really well… almost too well. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. And it did.”

Rose shook her head. “I don’t know what kind of baggage he’s carrying around, but it seems like it’s an awfully heavy load. Are you sure you want to deal with it?”

“Yeah, I’m sure,” I sighed. “I just wish he would let me. Emmett hasn’t said anything about that, has he?”

“No, he hasn’t. We really didn’t talk much about Edward; just in passing, when he was telling me about his family. We haven’t gotten to the deep, dark secrets phase of our relationship yet.” She stopped and made a ghastly face. “Good God, did I just say the word ‘relationship,’ in reference to the Hulk?”

We both watched Emmett heading our direction, the pitcher and extra glass for me looking positively dainty in his capable hands. I giggled and said, “I’m pretty sure you did, Rose. Don’t look now, here comes your boyfriend.”

“Shut up,” she hissed, whacking me on the arm.

Emmett made a tut-tut noise as he approached. “So she hits you too, huh? The girl has an anger management problem. I have a few methods that I think would cure her, though,” he winked at me.

“You just keep your methods to yourself, doctor,” she advised as he settled into the seat next to hers.

Their banter was cut short by the arrival of Sam Uley, the Wolf Pack’s lead singer. After checking in with the band, he came and sat with us for a moment to go over the set list. The band had moved a few things around so that some of their more popular numbers would be in the first set, when our A&R and product development VP’s would be listening. They could always throw in a few covers in the second set, after the crowd had had a few drinks and would be more forgiving.

The ears of Mark Durham and Sam Watson must have been burning, because they arrived at the Rusty Nail right as Sam was about to rejoin his band on stage for a quick mic check. Instead, Rose and I introduced him to our bosses. He motioned for the rest of the Wolf Pack to join us, and we all settled in to talk a little business.

Emmett listened with interest as our VP’s discussed what they were looking for and what they would expect from the band if they agreed to sign with us. Mark and Sam are both forty-ish men who cut their teeth in the Seattle music business during the grunge movement of the early nineties. Mark had been the bassist in a modestly successful grunge band, while Sam had worked in tour management before switching to a job that would require less traveling. Between them, they’ve experienced both sides of the talent/management coin, and always try to work out a deal that suits both parties. I was confident that The Wolf Pack would be happy with our company, because we really go the extra mile to do artists justice in the studio and promote them in the most effective way possible.

As I glanced at Emmett, I couldn’t help but think that his brother was the one who should be here now, listening to the things we could offer him. Edward is such a unique talent, I know he could find an audience who would appreciate him the way I do. I wondered if Emmett would pass any of his newfound knowledge about our company to Edward. Did they even talk about things like this? Edward seems to be closer to Alice than to Emmett. I can imagine the Cullen brothers butting heads often over their different approaches, much like they did the day I met them.

After our impromptu little meeting ended, everyone rose from the table to shake hands and wish the band good luck. Jake found me and whispered, “I’m really glad these guys are here, but I gotta say, I’m nervous as hell.”

“I know,” I sympathized. “But just try to put the nervousness to good use and channel it into your playing. Just give it a hundred-and-ten percent. You’ve got nothing to lose.”

“I don’t know. The stakes are pretty big here. Bigger than we’re used to, anyway,” he said, shifting his weight nervously from foot to foot.

“Jake, by the time these guys come listen to you, they’re already interested. They’ve heard the demo. I know you can blow that away with your live performance, because you have every time I’ve seen you. I believe in you. You’re going to be great,” I said emphatically.

Jacob’s dark eyes looked intensely into mine. “Thanks, Bells. I couldn’t have done this without you.”

Suddenly, he leaned in and pressed his lips to my cheek, precariously close to my mouth. I barely had time to gasp as he whispered, “Wish me luck,” and bounded up to the stage.

I glanced quickly around our table to see if anyone had noticed. When my eyes found Rosalie’s, she lifted one eyebrow inquisitively at me. Shit. It was only a kiss on the cheek, right? Like friends give each other. I hated the thought that Edward might be right, and Jake hadn’t taken our little speech to heart.

I kept my composure and slid into the chair next to Rose, grateful for the glass of frothy lager that Emmett had just poured for me. I was beginning to feel like I’d need it. Still, I nursed it slowly during the first set, wary of letting the higher-ups see me drinking too much. I didn’t want to do or say anything stupid with my reputation on the line.

The Wolf Pack was completely on point, with an almost hyper-kinetic energy that got the crowd going early on. By the time they finished their blistering set an hour later, wild cheering reverberated around the club. They had more than convinced our VP’s, who had been nodding and commenting to each other throughout the show. Afterward, Mark and Sam asked Rose to escort them backstage to see the band, and I was both nervous and excited about what was about to go down.

That left Emmett and I alone at the table, which suddenly seemed awkward in light of what had happened earlier that day. He, of course, was none the wiser.

“So what’s the deal here, Bella? You don’t get to be in on the powwow backstage?

“Well, at this point I’m technically still Rosalie’s assistant,” I explained. “She’s the one who will get credit for signing the band. But I know she’ll have my back, and give me props for finding them. It’s fine. I’ve got to pay my dues like everyone else,” I shrugged.

“Well, you’re a lot more understanding than I would be,” Emmett commented as he emptied the last dregs of the pitcher between our two glasses. When he flagged down a waitress to order more, I excused myself to go to the ladies’ room at the back of the club.

I sat on the stool for a moment, jeans around my knees, absently picking at the puckered bandage still stuck to my right knee. Why did Edward always have to be right about everything? I saw it in Jake’s eyes right before he gave me that stealth peck on the cheek: that undeniable hunger. No, no, no. I didn’t want that from him. When Edward had given me that look, I had been elated. Coming from Jake, I felt only a vague dread deep in my gut. Someday I would have to nip this in the bud, once again.

Déjà vu gripped me as I thought, what if that’s what Edward had done with me tonight? No, that wasn’t possible. Too many things were said and done that told me my feelings for him were reciprocal. Something else was driving him away from me. I just wish I knew if it had anything at all to do with me. It would help if I knew what I was up against.

I pulled up my jeans and exited the stall, then checked myself in the mirror as I washed my hands. The girl standing next to me was running her hands over her ironed hair, making sure it hung in a perfect curtain down her front. By contrast, my wild waves had drooped a bit, but still looked as if a nest of baby squirrels might be living somewhere in the mess. I rifled through my handbag, looking for a brush, but came up empty. I sighed and tried finger-combing it a bit, then admitted defeat and slathered a thin coat of lip gloss on before heading out the door.

The club was jammed with people by now, and a long line had formed to the ladies’ room. I felt a little bad that I had taken a short sabbatical in my stall. Just as I pushed my way through the queue, I stepped into the path of someone heading for the bar, and we nearly collided.

“Sorry,” I mumbled as I stopped short and glanced up at his face. He was nice-looking, with a blond ponytail and piercing blue eyes. But his features barely registered with me as my eyes drifted over his shoulder to the man towering behind him. His bronze hair was shaggy and disheveled, which I knew must be from his inability to keep his hands out of it. He gave me a heavy-lidded, jade-green stare as his cherry lips curled slowly into an amused smirk. The smell of whiskey and beer rolled off of him and his friend in waves as they stood leering down at me.

“Well hello, Miss Swan,” slurred Edward Cullen. “Fancy meeting you here.”


  1. Hmm... I think drunk Edward is going to be interesting to deal with. Wonder how the night will end.. Great writing as always, Leann! :) Thanks for updating so often! *hugs*

  2. Yes, he is going to be VERY interesting to deal with! LOL I hope it won't take too long to finish Bella's POV. We'll see!

    Thanks for reading and reviewing, my dear...I really appreciate it! :)

  3. Yikes, this is so much fun! I can identify with Bella's emotions, like deja vu moments. You capture them so beautifully. Plus, Emmett and Rose are hilarious, and the suspense at the end is delicious. IMHO, you need a publisher for this story, Leann!! (Late to the party here...)