Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Massage Therapy, Chapter 8 - Resolve, part 2





From the Desktop of Bella Swan
Thursday, August 5



Holy crow, Mom, he finally did it.

Edward Cullen asked me out.

On a date.

Kind of. Sort of. In my mind, it’s a date. It’s going to end up like a date, if I don’t cop out and let my insecurity get the better of me. And at this point, I’m pretty certain sheer frustration is going to win out over fear of rejection.

I’m still shaking, practically pinching myself to make sure I heard him right. But he absolutely, definitely committed to take me hiking on Saturday after our appointment.

Okay, so it’s really an exercise outing more than anything. That’s the excuse he used, anyway, to make it seem like he’s doing this for my health instead of trying to get in a little one-on-one time with me. But I’m pretty sure that he’s getting as frustrated as I am about our situation. We never seem to get the chance to get to know each other better without some outside force intervening.

I spent most of the week second-guessing myself, as is my bad habit, especially where Edward is concerned. Even Rosalie’s comments didn’t quite do the job of boosting my confidence, and I usually believe what she tells me, because she’s as observant as they come.

I was afraid to broach the subject of the Cullens with her after her reaction to Emmett bumping into her precious baby, her BMW convertible, with his Range Rover last weekend. I was more surprised than anyone when she agreed to go out with him. I mean, I know the guy is handsome and charming, but Rose is no pushover. She’s a bit of a man-eater, actually.

But when I walked into her office yesterday morning, I discovered that Emmett Cullen possessed a previously unknown talent: lion taming. Or lioness taming, in this case.

The phone was glued to her ear when I knocked, but she motioned for me to enter. She had called me into her office only a moment ago, yet still managed to be on the phone by the time I finished a quick data entry and leapt to my feet.

“About our dinner this Saturday,” she was beginning, swiveling her chair from side to side, her lips pursed in a knowing grin. “I’ve had a slight change of plans. How flexible are you?”

She quirked an eyebrow at me as her grin spread, and I knew this was a test. Not for me, but for unsuspecting Emmett.

“I knew you’d make a predictably sleazy comment in response to that question. I’ll ignore that and put it another way: Can we have dinner a little earlier than planned? As it turns out, I have to work later Saturday evening.” She paused briefly to listen. “Around six p.m. would work for me. I have to be at the Rusty Nail before nine. A couple of V.P.s will be checking out that band we saw last weekend and I need to be there. You’re welcome to come along with, if you promise to behave.”

A wicked smile spread across Rose’s face as she listened to Emmett’s reply. I was certain he had something colorful to say regarding her last request.

On my end, I was pretty stoked. This meant that The Wolf Pack was very nearly “in” with our label. I was sure I’d have to be in attendance as well, and I was more than happy to make space in my then-empty calendar.

“You really are a vile beast. You know that, don’t you? I have no idea why I agreed to go out with you.” Her Cheshire grin belied her true feelings, however. She shook with silent laughter as she listened to Emmett’s no doubt innuendo-ridden response.

“You have a vivid imagination, Mr. Cullen,” she told him haughtily. “And very unrealistic expectations. But you’re welcome to keep hope alive as long as I get a nice dinner out of the deal.” She gave me a wink as she continued to stifle her giggles while he spoke.

“Promise, promises,” she told him with an exaggerated sigh. “Just pick me up early, and if you’re lucky, I’ll let you give me a chaste peck on the cheek at the end of the evening.” She nearly choked with muffled laughter at whatever he said then. “I look forward to seeing you try,” she concluded, hanging up the phone quickly and exploding into peals of laughter.

“What a jackass,” she grinned as she shook her head. “What a conceited buffoon.”

I let out a slightly confused chuckle. Her words didn’t match her demeanor at all. She was practically purring with contentment, like a cat luxuriating in the sun.

“Oh, Bella. Why didn’t you tell me your chiropractor was so fucking hot? I would have faked a back injury weeks ago to get next to that guy,” she sighed, stretching exultantly in her chair.

“Okay, color me confused. You actually like him?” I asked uncertainly.

“Are you kidding? He’s bold and brash and gets straight to the point. He’s the complete opposite of these namby-pamby, super-sensitive musician types we have to deal with all day long. He’s bordering on obnoxious, with those cheesy come-ons and that arrogant, smug self-confidence. I can’t decide whether I want to smack him or screw his brains out. Probably both. I’ll bet he’d like that.” She frowned and chewed on her pen a moment. “I have no idea how I’m going to keep from sleeping with him on the first date. But he loves the chase way too much for me to give in so easily.”

A shocked laugh escaped my mouth at her words. She’d never really articulated what she liked in a man before, that I could remember. She usually kept things pretty business-like between us. She had been loosening up around me a bit lately, but talking with me so frankly about men was a new one.

“Well, if I’d known Emmett was your dream man, I would have figured out a way to introduce you before,” I laughed.

“’Dream man?’ I don’t know if I’d go that far. But that guy pushes my buttons, in a really aggravatingly good way, know what I mean?”

I nodded. “I think I do.”

“His brother does the same thing to you, am I right? Edward?” she queried, raising an eyebrow at me.

“Is it that obvious?” I sighed. Hadn’t I already had this conversation with Alice?

“Yeah. The googly eyes between you two is hard to miss. It was fun watching you pretend that you weren’t completely distracted by each other, though. Very cute. Reminded me of high school.”

“Oh, God,” I moaned, covering my eyes briefly with my hand. “You and Emmett are no better, you know, slinging insults back and forth like kids on a playground.”

“Yeah, but we’re both in on the game,” she argued. “I’m not so sure about you and Edward. You seem to have some issues to work out there. Like you don’t really know where you stand with each other.”

I stared at her in disbelief. “You could tell all of that from the other night? How?”

She smiled somewhat patronizingly at me. “Honey, I can smell insecurity from a mile away. It’s what keeps a lot of the good musicians I hear from achieving greatness.

“Now, I know Edward is gorgeous, in that brooding, poetic sort of way that so many girls swoon over. But you’ve got to quit being intimidated by that and look at the real guy in there. Any self-confidence he has is like an empty suit of armor. There’s nothing to back it up,” she asserted, shaking her head. “There’s fear in his eyes, Bella. I don’t know why, but that’s what I see when I look at him. One of you is going to have to get brave if you want that relationship to go anywhere.”

A wan smile flitted across my lips. “Well, it’ll have to be me, then. Edward has a policy of not dating his patients. Clients,” I corrected myself.

“Ah. Well, can’t say I blame him,” Rose shrugged. “Still, there are plenty of ways to get around that. He can always refer you to another therapist.”

“I know. But he said once that it’s more effective working with Emmett as a team to make me better. I don’t really want to go to anyone else,” I admitted. The thought of a stranger touching me the way Edward did made me squirm uncomfortably.

“Well, you could always work out a barter system so that you’re not technically his patient anymore. Massage therapy in exchange for other, uh, services that you could provide for him on an ad-hoc basis,” she joked.

“Great,” I groaned. “I suppose that would solve the problem that I feel completely sleazy handing him a check after what he does to me. Instead of paying him, I’ll just do something sleazy to him in return,” I joked. The truth of the matter was, the way Edward treated me was anything but sleazy. I always felt a certain respect, even reverence, in the careful way he conducted our sessions.

“You know you want to!” Rose exclaimed. She dissolved into another fit of giggles, and I had to join in. She definitely had a knack for making me stop taking things so seriously.

From that standpoint, I realized that she and Emmett were a good fit. I always felt completely at ease whenever I saw his mischievous blue eyes and warm smile in greeting at our appointments. As I left early yesterday afternoon for my next session with him, Rose called after me, “Make sure you tell him I said ‘hello!’”

When I relayed the message to Emmett, he got the same self-satisfied expression on his face that Rose had been sporting after their phone call that afternoon.

“Tell your boss I’ll say ‘hello’ to her in person when I pick her up in--” he glanced at the clock, “--exactly seventy-two hours, and she’d better be on time since she moved our date up,” he replied with a grin as he ushered me to the chiropractic table.

I laughed as I stepped onto the metal foot plate. “She’ll be impressed that you’re counting the hours.”

“A woman like that deserves special attention,” he said. I thought I detected a smidgen of good-humored sarcasm in his tone. “I’m sure she’d agree.”

“That she would,” I mumbled through the narrow partition as the table lowered me face-down to a horizontal position.

Emmett let out a hearty laugh. “She’s a pistol, isn’t she?” His tone was that of admiration. “My weapon of choice.”

“She knows what she wants,” I answered, my voice muffled. He pulled my feet together to check my leg length, then moved up to my lower back and skewered those blasted pressure points again with his killer thumbs.

“And I’m sure she gets it,” he replied, his tone still amused. “That’s fine. I know how to get what I want, too.”

He sounded so matter-of-fact in his assertion that I had no reply. I only wished that I was as good at this whole flirtation game as he and Rose seemed to be. Those two would probably get engaged and married before Edward and I even held hands.

Emmett adjusted my hips, then moved up to my shoulders and neck. He told me I had a rib out again below my shoulder. I let out a resigned sigh, figuring it was from being at the computer all the time. Between work and writing to you, I know I sit typing too much. But I don’t see how I can stop doing either of those things. I can only hope that my physical therapy will cure the side effects of my mental therapy.

After finishing with my back, Emmett had me turn over and then he worked on my left hip joint in the same spot Edward did the other day. But of course with Emmett I was fully clothed, and he pressed much harder and more painfully on the pressure points in question than Edward ever did. He adjusted the hip bone as well, the table beneath me making its usual sharp grates of protest as it gave way under the quick, forceful movements of Emmett’s hands. He also checked my ribs in the front because I had so many problems with them in the back, and as it turned out, the cartilage was stiff and unyielding on one side. He pressed his fingers firmly beneath the edge of my rib cage as I winced from the discomfort. None of what he did was fun. But it was blessedly brief, and he pronounced me “greatly improved” from the first time he worked on me, so it was worth it.

“You’re doing great, Bella,” he smiled as he made notes on my chart. “Walk around a little and tell me how you feel.”

I did as he ordered and admitted that I felt good. Nothing was pulling or pinching or otherwise making me worry that I could do something stupid and have my back give out on me.

“That’s what I like to hear,” he answered. “I’m making a note for Edward to work on your rib cage during your next appointment. I tried to loosen up some of that cartilage that’s bound up in there, but I want him to really get in there and do some more muscle work.”

“Hmm,” I nodded weakly. So Edward’s hands would be mere inches from my breasts for a good chunk of our next session. Holy hell. I practically climaxed when his hands were on my thighs last week. And after he left, I actually did. How would I get through this without just grabbing him and tearing his clothes off? Starting with that stupid lab coat. But I’d let him leave on the glasses. Those were sexy. And he obviously needed them to see what he was doing up close and personal….

“Earth to Bella!” Emmett’s amused voice interrupted my train of thought.

“Sorry,” I apologized, blushing furiously. “What were you saying?”

“I asked how your sessions with Edward are going,” he repeated, his eyes questioning mine.

“Oh. Um, great. Really well. I definitely feel the changes in my muscles afterward,” I told him. That was true. I often felt more soreness after the myotherapy appointments than the chiropractic ones.

“That’s good,” Emmett smiled. “I can tell the difference already when I examine you, but I was just wondering if you felt any different.”

Oh, I feel different, all right. I feel a whole lot of things that I’ve never felt before.

I cleared my throat, and my head. “I definitely think you and Edward are both helping me a lot. He always says that the two of you work really well together as a team.”

Emmett let out a surprised snort. “Did he? Well, I suppose that’s true.” He shook his head, still smiling, as he finished up his notes in my file. My eyes narrowed as I tried to discern his meaning.

“Was that not always the case?” I questioned him.

“Hmm? Oh, we work together just fine. That’s never been an issue. I’m just surprised that things turned out the way they did, that’s all. If anything, I figured I’d be working for him someday rather than the other way around.” His eyes were on his paperwork as he spoke, like he was concentrating diligently on my prognosis or something.

“Why do you say that?” I continued, my curiosity burning like wildfire. “Had he planned to be a chiropractor, too?”

“Ha! No. He was pre-med at U-Dub. If he’d gone on to med school, I’m guessing he would have ended up as a surgeon of some kind. With his grades and those nimble fingers, I’m pretty sure he could have gone into whatever medical field he chose.”

My eyes fell from Emmett’s into the unfocused space between us as the weight of his words sank in. I knew Edward was smart. I wasn’t surprised to hear that he had done well in school. But I was more than a little surprised to learn that his life had dramatically veered off course somewhere along the line. Not that there was anything wrong with the field of massage therapy; far from it. He was excellent at what he did, and I was living proof. But what could have caused a guy with a promising future as a surgeon to suddenly switch to a career that required comparatively little training and education? As far as I knew, a massage therapy license could be obtained in less than two years. If Edward had decided to become a doctor, he’d still be grad school right now.

“What happened?” My words came out hushed, confused. When my eyes raised to his, he looked away a bit sheepishly, as if he had said too much.

“Life happened,” he said quietly. “Sometimes it throws you a curve or two. Takes you in a different direction.”

Alice’s words echoed in my head… her warnings about the “painful events” Edward had been through. As I looked at the firm set of Emmett‘s mouth, I knew I would get no more information on the subject from him.

I would have to get the truth from Edward himself.

“Do you think he’s happy being a massage therapist?” I asked tentatively, taking a different tack.

Emmett looked a little startled at the question. “Well…yeah. I think he enjoys what he does, maybe more than he thought he would. He seems to have a little more bounce in his step lately. Maybe you have something to do with that. He likes being able to help people.” He gave me a wink, leaving me to wonder if he knew more than he let on about Edward’s feelings for me, and vice versa.

“Well, he’s good at what he does. He’s really helped me. You both have.”

Emmett looked pleased. “Thanks. I’ll pass it along. Or maybe I’ll let you tell Edward that yourself.”

“I already have, but I don’t mind repeating it,” I told him with a smile as I picked up my purse to leave.

Edward, a doctor. A surgeon, even. I couldn’t get the idea out of my head after once the seed was planted. He would definitely give “McDreamy” a run for his money in that department. What could have disrupted his plans so thoroughly?

I couldn’t stop wondering, and suspecting the worst. You and I both know exactly the kinds of things that can happen to turn your world upside down in an instant. I just hope that Edward didn’t have to suffer something like that. But if he had, it would explain a lot.

His songs at the Java Shack tonight smacked again of pain, the ghost of his gut-wrenching set at Billy’s still haunting his performance. He and Jasper did an homage to one of my favorite bands, Foo Fighters, to the delight of the Seattle crowd. But I still couldn’t manage to get Edward to let me in enough to understand where the pain is coming from.

Today had a promising start when Alice called me at work to inform me that Jasper had offered to give us all a ride downtown tonight. I could almost imagine the four of us hanging out together as a double-date. My wishful thinking seemed justified when I heard the vehicle pull up outside my house this evening, then looked out the window just in time to see Edward jump out and nimbly climb the steps to my front landing. My heart was pounding when I opened the door to the sight of his glorious face.

“Hey,” he said in surprise, his finger still raised to the doorbell.

“Hi, Edward,” I smiled. “Just let me grab my purse and I’ll be right out.” I quickly scooped up my keys, threw them in my bag and checked my face quickly in the mirror. I had put on a little more eye make-up than usual, but it was the happy glow in my cheeks that made the difference in how I looked this evening.

“You could have just honked the horn,” I told him as I slammed the door behind us and checked to make sure the latch was in place.

“No, I couldn’t,” he answered smoothly. “My mother raised me better than that.”

I looked up to see giving me that delicious lopsided smile as he put his hand on the small of my back to guide me downstairs. “Ladies first,” he insisted.

“Such a gentleman,” I teased as I descended the steps to the street where Jasper’s Charger idled.

“Sorry if I offend your feminism,” Edward grinned as he opened the car door for me. “Maybe I should let a girl wearing a Sex Pistols t-shirt fend for herself.”

“No way,” I replied as I climbed in the back seat behind Alice. “I like a guy with good manners.”

Edward was still smiling as he walked around the car then climbed in next to me.

“Hi, Bella!” Alice exclaimed from the front passenger seat. “Have you been to this place before?”

“A couple of times,” I answered. “I didn’t realize they did open mic nights regularly. I’ll have to add it to my list.” I looked at Edward, and he was still giving me that crooked grin that did such fitful things to my insides.

“I think you’ll like it,” he said. “It’s one of my old hang-outs. It used to be just a coffee house, but the owner got interested in making micro-brews and decided to turn the place into a lounge at night. It’s been hopping lately.”

“That’s because word about the talent is getting around,” Alice interjected, glancing back at us and then settling her gaze on our driver. “It’s also where I first met Jasper, so it has a special place in my heart.”

Jasper raised an eyebrow at her and let out a short laugh. “It’s a very auspicious place, obviously.”

“Then we ought to have a good time,” I said, my eyes drifting to Edward. He was still looking at me, and his gaze still sent waves of goose bumps rippling over my skin. I already knew that the best thing about the Java Shack would be that Edward was in it.

As soon as I walked in the door, I wondered why I hadn’t hung out there more often. The mood was laid back and the d├ęcor eclectic, from ordinary bar furniture to modern chairs and overstuffed couches in cozy arrangements throughout the establishment. It definitely had more of a coffee house vibe than that of an ordinary bar.

We had arrived fairly early and one of the sofas was still available. “Shall we?” Edward suggested, his hand brushing the small of my back again. I found it amazing that even though I’d had his hands all over me, this slightest of intimate touches still felt like something significant.

“So, you said you used to hang out here a lot,” I commented as I sat down at one end of the deep gold couch. “Were you in school then?”

His eyes were wary as he seated himself next to me. “Yeah, I was.”

Undeterred by his reticence, I pressed further. “You mean massage therapy school?”

“No, I did some undergrad work at U-Dub,” he admitted.

Jasper and Alice asked what we wanted to drink, and then left for the bar. I refused to let Edward off the hook, especially now that we were alone.

“You went to U-Dub? What did you study?”

He shifted uncomfortably and raked his fingers through his hair. “Lots of things. Science, chemistry, math. The usual guy stuff.” He shrugged, then made a face. “Sorry, that came out sexist-sounding. Or stereotypical, anyway.”

“No worries,” I reassured him. “There’s usually a reason stereotypes exist. I guess I fit them, too, because I studied music, English and art in college. I took business classes, too, but only because I couldn’t get out of them,” I finished with a laugh.

“Was that so you could work in the recording industry?”

“Yeah. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. When I was eleven I used to stand in front of the mirror and sing into my hair brush. I wanted to be Sheryl Crow, or Shirley Mansen of Garbage, so bad,” I laughed.

“Do you have video of these hair brush performances? ‘Cause I’d love to see them,” Edward teased good-naturedly, nudging my arm gently with his elbow. The hairs on my arm stood at attention.

“Did you ever take any music lessons?” he continued. “You know, so you could actually become a rock star instead of just dreaming about it.”

The nerve he inadvertently hit vibrated painfully inside me. I could see your disappointed face in my mind as the lie slipped out. “No, I just took music theory and appreciation classes. I’m way too shy to get up onstage and do what you do. I prefer to stay behind the scenes. Much safer. Much less terrifying.”

“I’ll bet you could do it,” Edward said with confidence. “I’m pretty shy myself until I get onstage, and all of that just disappears. I just get lost in the song and that’s all I can see or hear or think about.”

“I can tell. That’s what makes you such a compelling performer,” I told him.

Edward shook his head modestly. “If I can do it, anyone can do it, trust me. You’d be fine up there. You have a lot more strength than you give yourself credit for.”

“You think so?” I replied dubiously.

He nodded sagely. “I know so.”

“How can you know something like that?”

“Your body tells me so.”

A whip-crack of pleasure ripped through my nervous system at his simple, but direct, reply.

“Would you care to explain that? It seems to me like my body’s been betraying me for quite awhile now. I feel much weaker than the average 22-year-old.”

“On the contrary,” Edward argued. “Your body has been working overtime to keep you going despite everything you’ve been through. You’re stronger than you know. You’re a fighter.”

I studied the seriousness in Edward’s deep jade eyes, flecked with gold in the amber bar light. I looked at the mirror of myself in those eyes and asked, “What about you? Are you a fighter?”

Edward’s face darkened, and the windows to his soul closed. “Sometimes,” he finally said quietly. “The trick is to know what’s worth fighting for. And even if you do, sometimes you still lose the battle.”

Jasper and Alice returned with our drinks then, and Edward looked grateful for the diversion. I was disappointed to realize that not only had I not gotten any real answers from him, I’d also let him turn the conversation around so that I felt like the one who’d been put on the spot. Apparently sneakiness runs in the Cullen family.

Jasper and Edward began discussing their set, while Alice asked me when I was going to yoga class with her again. I was tempted to reply, “The twelfth of never,” but I agreed to meet her on Saturday again after my appointment with Edward.

The guys were set to perform early, and Edward began to show visible signs of anxiety as the time drew near. I wanted to rub his shoulders to relax him, but I didn’t dare make such a demonstration in public. It didn’t seem fair that he’d had his hands on nearly every part of my body, yet I couldn’t muster the courage to so much as touch him directly, let alone rub him down.

I settled for leaning against him, the left side of my body flush with his right, the skin of his tricep hot against mine. I looked up at him and said simply, “Don’t be nervous. You’ll be great.”

The smile that spread across his face was reward enough, though he added a verbal “thanks” as he rose from the couch and grabbed his guitar case. He and Jasper disappeared to a small side-stage area to warm up, leaving Alice and I to make small talk. She was thrilled to inform me that Jasper had finally asked her out on what she called “a proper date,” which would include dinner and an art exhibit on Saturday night. She was understandably excited, since she had made her interest in him clear since the night she met him, or so she said. It seemed like everyone was pairing up all of a sudden--Emmett and Rosalie, Jasper and Alice. Was it just wishful thinking to hope Edward and I could be next? I’m used to being the third wheel around Angela and Ben, but it’s getting old.

Edward and Jasper settled in on bar stools and did a quick tuning check on their guitars before beginning their set. I surreptitiously took out my digital recorder and set it between my purse and the arm of the sofa, glancing at Alice to make sure she hadn’t seen. She appeared to be too absorbed in watching Jasper onstage to notice what I was doing.

Edward and Jasper each took turns singing lead, Jasper opening with the lazy, rollicking “Summer’s End,” with Edward backing him during the choruses. Edward followed with the stark and haunting “Razor.” His finger-picking on guitar was nimble and seemingly effortless. I couldn’t help but picture those skilled fingers artfully suturing a patient with stitches so tiny that the scar would be nearly invisible to the naked eye. But was that any more important than the more subtle healing he performed as a therapist, or the emotional healing his singing provided? I didn’t think so. But as long as he relegated himself to amateur status as a musician, only a select few would be able to benefit from the latter.

As I listened to Edward’s raw-sounding voice, I shuddered to think what the words of this song might mean to him.

Sweet and divine
Razor of mine
Sweet and divine
Razorblade shine

Patience my dear
We could spend a lifetime waiting here
Maybe this time
I hope I get the chance to say goodbye


After he finished to loud applause, he and Jasper launched into a trio of songs, “Stranger Things Have Happened,” “Resolve” and “Times Like These.” They took turns singing the verses and improvised gorgeous harmonies on the choruses. Bits of the lyrics swirled in my head, demanding that I assign meaning to them and form a message from Edward to me, even if it wasn’t solely about me.

Oh maybe, maybe, maybe
I can share it with you
I behave, I behave, I behave
So I can share it with you

You were not alone
Dear loneliness
You forgot
But I remembered this
Oh stranger, stranger
Stranger things have happened, I know

*****************************

A little bit of resolve is what I need now
Pin me down, show me how

One more year that you're not here has gone and passed you by
What happened to you, what happened to you?

*****************************

I, I'm a little divided
do I stay or run away and leave it all behind

it's times like these you learn to live again
it's times like these you give and give again
it's times like these you learn to love again
it's times like these time and time again


When they were finished, the audience erupted into loud applause and shouts of approval, none louder than Alice next to me. My head was spinning, heart swimming with emotion. Clapping seemed like a lame acknowledgement for such an affecting performance, but I joined the rest of the bar, wiping a quick tear from my cheek. I’m still the biggest wimp on the planet, Mom, as you can plainly see.

I quickly put my recorder in my purse as Edward and Jasper bowed and nodded to the crowd and headed back to the gold sofa. Edward knew that I intended to record Jasper for Rose sometime, but we hadn’t discussed him being part of the deal. I was afraid to ask his permission. If he said, “no,” I would hate myself for every recording I’ve made of him. And I know there’s no way I can keep myself from recording him in the future, simply for my own selfish reasons. I listen to him every day. His voice is becoming as essential to me as oxygen.

Alice practically ran to Jasper as he strode toward us, throwing her arms around him and giving him effusive compliments. I wished I was even half as brazen as she was. Instead, I stood awkwardly waiting for Edward as he approached.

“You were amazing,” I said, feeling that my words fell as far short as my applause. “And you did one of my favorite bands justice, which is a bonus.”

“Thanks. If we had screwed up a hometown favorite like that, I think we would have been dodging tomatoes,” he said with a wry laugh. He leaned past me and grabbed his guitar case, opening it on the couch and putting his Gibson away.

“That’s a beautiful instrument,” I commented as he snapped the lid closed. “What year is it?”

Edward looked up at me in surprise. “A 1974 Dove flattop. Not everyone likes the flattop design, but the sound is so amazing that I had to have it he minute I heard it. Do you want to take a look?”

“No, that’s fine,” I said, waving a hand to stop him from undoing the snaps on the case. “I don’t really play or anything. I just appreciate a nice guitar when I hear it.”

Edward eyed me with suspicion. “A girl who knows guitars. Nice. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, though, considering your line of work.”

“I have been exposed to some fine instruments,” I agreed. Why does that sound dirty? I wondered as the words left my mouth.

Edward’s raised eyebrow and slight smirk made it feel even dirtier.

“All right,” Alice’s soprano rang out, getting our collective attention. “Who’s up for a game of quarters?”

She was met with simultaneous groans of protest.

“Come on, it’ll be fun! Like reliving freshman year in the dorms. What do you say?”

“Fine,” Jasper sighed. “But I get to drink Cokes because I’m the designated driver. Somebody has to drive you drunken fools home.”

“Watch who you’re calling a drunk,” Edward joked. “Don’t make me tell Isabella about your behavior at Irina Denali’s wedding reception.”

Alice’s eyes grew big as saucers. “Tell me! Tell me!” she demanded.

“There’s not that much to tell,” Jasper claimed with an embarrassed grin.

“That’s just because he doesn’t remember most of the evening,” Edward laughed.

“Long story short, I ended up nearly drowning myself in the wishing pool at the Plaza because someone dared me to count the pennies at the bottom. I remember that part distinctly. I just don’t remember exactly how I got there, or how I got out,” Jasper admitted sheepishly.

“Correction. He fell in the pool because he was doing the chicken dance on the edge and lost his balance,” Edward said with a snort. “Emmett and I fished him out before we had to perform any life-saving procedures on him.”

We all had a good laugh as we set up the table for quarters, then swapped stories about the weddings we’d either been in or attended. Alice made me laugh so hard at her description of a particularly hideous bridesmaid’s dress she’d been forced to wear that I nearly choked on my beer. I think Edward was ready to perform the Heimlich maneuver on me until I finally caught my breath and my lungs began to calm down.

“Are you okay?” he asked worriedly, rubbing my back as my breathing struggled to return to normal.

I nodded vigorously, afraid to try to speak. He kept rubbing my back softly, almost absent-mindedly, and it felt so good that I considered drawing out my coughing a little longer. Alice apologized and then blamed the bride in question for choosing a style so hideous that the only sensible reaction was hysteria.

“Don’t make me laugh again or I’ll dump this entire beer on your head,” I warned her, only half kidding.

“Come on, Bella. Didn’t you ever have to wear a crappy bridesmaid dress? Or a sweet sixteen, or some other ruffled nightmare?” she laughed.

“Nope. The only wedding I was ever in was when my mom re-married about ten years ago. We picked out my dress together. It was very simple and pretty… appropriate for a twelve-year-old,” I smiled.

“I think that’s an excellent idea, having your bridesmaids wear what they like. You know, pick the wedding color you want and then let the bridesmaids choose any dress style they like as long as it’s in that color. That way the dresses are flattering on everyone but your wedding color scheme is still intact,” Alice declared.

“It sounds like you’ve given this a great deal of thought, Alice,” Edward intoned ominously, giving Jasper a warning look.

Jasper’s eyes bugged in mock horror. “What are you looking at me for?”

Alice elbowed him in the ribs, making him yelp in protest.

“Guys never think about this stuff. We’re lucky if they just show up for the ceremony. But girls always have a dream wedding of some kind.” She turned to me. “What about you, Bella? What kind of wedding do you want?”

The kind with a guy like Edward at the end of the aisle, I wanted to say. “Actually, I haven’t really thought about it that much. Something simple. Tasteful. Not too fussy or expensive. I think that kind of ruins the point. It’s really only about the bride and groom and the vows they want to make to each other. Everything else is just… superfluous.”

Alice gave me a blank look. “Superfluous? I think the word you were searching for is ‘fun.’ Weddings should be fun! I want mine to be a huge party where everyone dresses to the nines, gets drunk and has a great time. I want people to talk about it for years afterward.”

“Like Grandpa Cullen’s wake?” Edward suggested with a sly grin. Jasper began to chuckle.

“Yes, exactly! Only without the death and mourning part,” Alice replied, undeterred.

“Well, that depends on how much the groom will be mourning the passing of his bachelorhood. If he gets all misty, you’ll know the real reason why,” Edward teased.

“Ha, ha. Very funny. Do you hear this, Bella? Men are all the same. Run. Run away from this one, as fast as you can,” she advised, using her other elbow as a weapon against Edward’s rib cage.

“Maybe you should take a lesson from Ms. Swan. Her idea of a wedding sounds like something that wouldn’t make a guy run screaming in the opposite direction.”

Alice quirked an eyebrow at her brother, then at me. Edward avoided looking at me, which was just as well, since my cheeks had grown warm at his words.

“Interesting,” she commented. “What do you think, Jasper? What kind of wedding would you want?”

Jasper’s eyes bugged again. “I think that whatever my bride wanted would be fine by me,” he said carefully.

“Good answer!” Alice exclaimed, reaching over and giving him a quick peck on the cheek. I wondered how on earth she managed to get away with such familiar behavior when she and Jasper hadn’t even had a real date yet, according to her. I’d had as much beer as she had, and I still would have balked at doing something like that with Edward.

We decided to call it an evening after our pitcher was empty. Everyone but Jasper was a bit inebriated, and I almost felt like I might fall asleep during the ride home. I imagined laying my head on Edward’s shoulder and closing my eyes, while he wrapped his arm around me to pull me closer.

Something in my expression must have given me away, because I heard Edward’s voice piercing my daydream.

“What are you thinking about?” he asked softly.

I was just drunk enough to speak the truth. “You.”

His eyes were hypnotic, impossible to ignore. His lips parted as if he was about to speak; then he pressed them firmly together for a moment, his eyebrows knitting.

“You shouldn’t be thinking about me,” he finally said.

I didn’t give a damn about “should” or “shouldn’t” anymore.

“I can’t help it,” I told him.

His troubled eyes pierced mine for several more agonizing moments before he said, “Neither can I.”

His hand found mine on the car seat between us and he closed his fingers over mine. My heart increased its pace as I turned my hand, palm up, so that he could hold it properly. His fingers laced through mine felt like electrical wires, connecting us in a current so strong that I could feel the voltage surging through every cell of my body.

I glanced at his face; he was studying our hands, joined as one. His thumb stroked the fleshy base of my mine, slowly, deliberately. My breath quickened and I felt like that twelve-year-old girl at your wedding reception, right before the little brother of one of the ushers gave me my first kiss as we hid behind a potted palm. I probably never told you about that. But that was the first time a boy had ever shown any interest in me, or wanted to kiss me. And now, with Edward Cullen holding my hand, I felt as many nervous butterflies as I did that day. I know how ridiculous that sounds now that I’m a grown woman, but it doesn’t make it any less true.

He let go of my hand when we pulled up in front of my house, and my fingers were shocked at the loss. But as soon as we got out of the car, he caught up to me and I felt his hand on my back again, whisper-light, propelling me forward as he followed me up the stairs.

“Thanks for inviting me to come see you tonight,” I told him. “You really are one of my favorite singers, and I’m not just saying that. You…create magic onstage. You have a special gift.”

“I’m glad you think so,” he said, looking down and shaking his head a bit before his eyes captured mine again. “Your opinion means a lot to me. I think you’re pretty special yourself.”

My eyes were speaking, and I wondered if Edward could hear them.

Kiss me.
“So, did you enjoy your yoga class last Saturday?” he asked abruptly.

Apparently my eyes weren’t nearly loud and clear enough. “Sure. It was okay. I told Alice I would go with her again. I really am going to start doing it regularly, I promise.”

Edward chuckled softly. “That’s not what I was getting at, although I think it’s a good idea for you to continue. But I was wondering if you’d be interested in trying a different kind of exercise.”

My eyes flew open wide. Perhaps they were shouting a lot louder than I thought they were. “Such as…?”

“Hiking. It’s supposed to be a nice day Saturday, and I thought maybe we could take a walk through the Seward Park trails. We could grab some sandwiches from the coffee shop and eat them in the park. If you’d like,” he added at the end, suddenly looking a bit unsure of himself.

“Yeah, sure. I’d love that,” I replied, a bit shell-shocked.

“Okay. Great. So…I guess I’ll see you Saturday, then. Bring your hiking boots,” he added with the crooked grin.

“Absolutely, I will,” I agreed, even though I don’t actually own any hiking boots, that I’m aware of. I also had plans to do the yoga thing with Alice, but I was sure she’d be more than happy to reschedule in light of this new development. I wondered if Edward had a tennis date with Kate that he’d have to cancel. My inner devil danced a little jig at the thought.

We stood smiling at each other and the awkward are-we-going-to-kiss-or-not conversation began to take place between our eyes again. I was pretty sure his were screaming the same thing mine this time: Kiss me.

Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me.

He reached out one of his beautiful hands toward my face, and I waited with bated breath for the sensation of his skin touching mine. He gently tucked a stray strand of hair behind my ear, then trailed his fingers gently down my jaw. Disappointment washed over me as his hand dropped away and fell to his side.

But right before he turned to leave, he leaned in slightly and murmured something that was almost better than a kiss.

“Sweet dreams, Bella.”






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2 comments:

  1. Gah! You're killing me, LeAnn! There's so much UST between these two... Thank you, I loved this chapter. :) They're slowly getting there, it's wonderful to read how Edward and Bella are opening up to each other! :)

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  2. Yay, it's working! LOL I like stories where the UST builds to the point where it's a big deal when the tiniest thing happens, like holding hands. I may throw a curveball in there in a chapter or two, though. It will be interesting to see how people react! ;)

    Thanks for reading and reviewing, as always! :)

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