Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Massage Therapy - Stakes, part 2

Edward Cullen’s Little Black Notebook
Monday, August 9

“You left.”

Two simple words. Yet the accusation implied in my sister’s judgmental tone and glare made it sound like my actions were worthy of the guillotine.

“I know, I know. I should have stayed and cuddled and all that bonding morning-after stuff that girls always want,” I sighed. I dipped a French fry in catsup and morosely gnawed on it.

“Don’t make me hit you. I will give you a black eye,” she threatened. She’d done it before, when we were kids. I’d hacked off her Barbie’s hair in retaliation for Alice forcing my GI Joe to attend an imaginary prom with the plastic blonde. I was incensed that a valiant soldier of war like GI Joe had been made to suffer such a frivolous, girly indignity. Alice begged to differ.

“Don’t bother,” I said. “I’ve been beating myself up enough for the both of us.”

“I doubt that,” she contradicted me. Her face softened slightly as she studied my dejected expression. “Were you really that sick?”

“I lost count of how many times I hurled. If I had done that at Bella’s place all day, I would have had to castrate myself and hand my balls to her at the end of it. Seriously. I couldn’t stay there.”

“But you called a cab while she was still asleep? Have Mom and I taught you nothing?” she began, and I feared she would continue the verbal tirade she’d launched during the first half of my cheeseburger. “I mean, you like Bella, right? She’s not just one of your mutual and forgettable one-night stands. Correct me if I’m wrong.”

“You’re not wrong. I tried to tell her that. I called to apologize and I got her voice mail. I haven’t heard back.”

“Hmmm. Well, either she didn’t get the message, or she’s still upset and she’s letting you stew in your own juices. And you deserve to marinate for awhile.”

“Fine. We’ve established that I’m a scumbag. Can we please move on to the redemption phase of this conversation? I’m trying to figure out the best way to make it up to her.”

Alice sucked on her soda straw thoughtfully, her brow furrowed in concentration. “Well, I think the traditional methods of groveling are definitely too cheesy. You know, flowers, mushy cards, Peter Gabriel tunes playing from a boom box held up outside her window,” she grinned. I gave her a withering look before she continued. “Although, you know, studies do show that flowers are the one gift that always make a woman smile. It’s impossible to look a bouquet in the face and not appreciate the beauty of nature.”

I tried to envision Bella’s expression when the florist graced her desk at work with cascades of Gerbera daisies. Would she smile at the bright colors, or sneer at the “please forgive me” card attached?

“Are you seriously suggesting that sending flowers is going to make her stop hating me for walking out on her?”

“Well, I doubt very much that she hates you,” Alice said in rather grudging consolation. “I mean, it sounds like you said all the right things. It’s just that the abrupt actions you took are probably screaming a lot more loudly right now.”

“Okay, fine. Then I need an action to counteract that. Something big. Something impressive.”

“Edward, I think you’re missing the point,” she sighed as she speared some salad on her fork. “I’m sure that all she wants from you is a little bit of honesty. She probably just wants to understand what went wrong, or to know for sure if it really did go that wrong. She’s probably feeling as uncertain about everything as you do.” I was surprised at this bit of advice. It was pretty down-to-earth for a girl who was so fond of grand gestures and epic moments. Maybe Jasper’s low-key sensibility was rubbing off on her.

“Who are you, and what have done with my sister?” I asked suspiciously.

She let out a small laugh. “Here’s the thing: maybe you should listen to that little voice inside you that made you want to escape. Figure out if why it’s telling you to back off, and whether or not you really want to. I think you need to be sure you really want to move ahead with this relationship before you do anything else. I mean, I know what I think you should do, and what I think you ultimately want to do. But if you just blindly charge ahead and then change your mind again, you won’t just be hurting yourself this time. You’ll be hurting Bella, too.”

I stared at Alice, stunned at this newfound clarity of hers. Cautiousness was not in her repertoire--that had become my specialty the past couple of years. So hearing this from her took me by surprise, to say the least.

“I think it may be too late for that. I think maybe I already hurt her. And God knows it’s the last thing I ever wanted to do,” I added quietly, pushing my plate away. I’d lost my already tepid appetite.

“Is it so bad for you to ask her for a little bit of time to think about this? Maybe there’s a reason she never called back. Maybe she feels like she needs a little space herself. Maybe things went too quickly for her, too, and now she’s worried that she’s blown it with you. She may be thinking the opposite of what you assume she’s thinking. Either way, it’s probably not as bad as you presume. You always see the glass half-empty,” she sniffed, taking another sip of her soda.

“Before I left, I told her that I knew we needed to talk, but that I just couldn’t do it that minute. But I’m afraid it sounded like a brush-off.”

“You’ve already apologized for that, even if it was via voicemail,” Alice reminded me. “I know it’s hard, but you may need to just wait it out until she’s in your office again. When’s her next appointment with Emmett?”

“Wednesday afternoon,” I answered. I already knew Bella came every Wednesday, late in the day. I used to make sure I had an appointment scheduled then, so I could avoid the temptation of seeing her. This week, I made sure I’d be available.

“So take a couple of days to figure out what you really want to say. That way you won’t jerk her around anymore, no matter what you decide.”

I studied my baby sister through narrowed eyes. I felt like I was watching her mature right in front my eyes. It was a bit of a revelation. I was now realizing how much I relied on her youthful optimism to pull me out of my deep abysses. Obviously, it was time for me to grow up, too. Way past time.

“I have to say, I’m impressed,” I told her as I drained my iced tea. “I was completely ready to pull any crazy stunt you suggested to get Bella back, no matter how humiliating it might be. You just missed a golden opportunity.”

She grinned and shrugged. “Eh, what I just told you may have been a bunch of hooey. Maybe I was just buying time so I could think of something outrageous,” she winked.

I laughed, pretty sure she was joking, but not entirely. I waited and watched the wheels churn in her head for a moment.

“Ooh! I know. You want a big gesture? You can’t get much bigger than Mom’s party next weekend!” she suddenly exclaimed.

I stared at her blankly before I realized what she was talking about. “You mean the Black and Red Ball? You want me to ask Bella to a boring fund raiser?” I had forgotten that the date was fast approaching. Ever since Mom’s older sister died prematurely of heart disease a decade ago, Mom and her brother Bill have hosted an annual dinner to raise money for Go Red For Women. Because February weather is so unpredictable, they usually schedule the party in late summer at Uncle Bill’s estate in The Highlands. It’s a very elegant affair, with plenty of Seattle’s elite in attendance. Most of them probably come so they can nose around the old family estate while enjoying an outdoor dinner and dance in its expansive gardens overlooking the Sound.

I’d always disliked the event because I had to wear a suit and tie and be on my best behavior all night. Besides, it always made me miss the times I’d spent at Aunt Jeanne’s place, listening to her awesome music collection. Most of my records had been hers. It made me laugh that Mom and Uncle Bill had come up with such a highbrow event to honor a woman who was so laid-back. Mom always reminded me that it was about raising money to save other women like Jeanne, and catering to Seattle’s deepest pockets was the best way to go about it.

“It’s only boring to us because we’ve had to do this every year since we were kids,” Alice argued. “To most people, it’s an opportunity to have a fancy dinner in a gorgeous setting, and contribute to a good cause in the process. I’ll bet Bella would love to come with you.”

“You think so?” I asked skeptically. The girl had told me she didn’t own a pair of high heels. She lived in t-shirts and jeans. She reminded me a lot of Aunt Jeanne, actually.

“You won’t know unless you ask. It’s a thought, anyway. At least you’d have fun for a change if she were there. And for once, you’d be bringing a date that Mom and Dad would actually approve of.”

“Nice. Thanks,” I said sourly. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if Alice wasn’t crazy like a fox. Even if Bella didn’t want to go, maybe she’d appreciate the gesture. After all, it was for a good cause. And the garden maze would certainly be fun to explore with her. In fact, there were a couple of secret spots where we could sneak away from the party entirely and make one of our own.

What the hell was I thinking, imagining such a thing? Wasn’t one taboo sex act enough without adding outdoor fornication to the list?

My cell phone vibrated in my pants, and for a second I wondered if my errant dick had set it off. I pulled out the phone and was shocked to see a text message from Bella’s number.

Hi Edward--sorry I missed your call last night; must have been in the shower. Didn’t hear your message until just now. Please stop apologizing for the weekend. I know you didn’t feel well yesterday. It’s fine. We can talk Wednesday after my app’t. w/Emmett. ~Bella

A dozen different thoughts duked it out in my mind at once. Thank God, she’s not mad. She was in the shower. She wants to talk on Wednesday. Damn… Bella in the shower. Why doesn’t she want to talk sooner? Maybe Alice is right and she wants some time to think, too. Mmm, Bella showering….. Why did she text instead of call? Maybe she’s afraid to talk to me. Why? Does she use a washcloth or one of those nylon loofah things? Why didn’t I look in her shower when I had the chance?

“Edward, what is it? Is something wrong?” Alice’s voice interrupted my mental breakdown.

“I don’t know,” I admitted, passing her the phone. She read the message, keeping her face carefully composed.

“She wants to talk to you. That’s good, right?”

I eyed her skeptically. “You don’t sound convinced.”

“Well… she did text instead of calling. And she agreed to talk to you, but two days from now. So I’d say you’re not out of the woods yet. But you will be, I’m sure of it,” she ended with forced cheer.

“That’s it, I’m sending her flowers,” I announced as the waitress dropped our bill on the table.

“It can’t hurt,” Alice agreed, giving me a somewhat sympathetic look as we rose from the table. I fished out enough money for the bill and a tip while she pronounced me “the best big brother ever.”

“No, just the biggest pushover,” I smiled.

“Don’t worry, I’ll figure out a way to pay you back,” she grinned mischievously. I wasn’t sure I liked that look. “You know, Edward, if you think about it long enough, I’m sure you’ll know exactly what to do to make it up to Bella.”

“You think so, huh?” I asked dubiously as she walked me back to Cullen and Cullen PC.

“I have faith in you,” she said, reaching up and giving me a peck on the cheek before I went inside.

“Glad someone does,” I muttered to myself as I entered the office.

My next client hadn’t arrived yet, so I made a quick call to the closest flower shop and ordered two dozen Gerbera daisies to be sent to Bella at Java Noise. I felt like a bit of a moron doing it, but I decided some sort of peace offering couldn’t hurt, no matter how clichéd. When the florist asked me what to put on the card, I told them simply, “Looking forward to Wednesday.” Bella did tell me to stop apologizing, after all.

I spent the rest of the afternoon waiting. After each appointment, I would check my phone, hoping to hear some kind of confirmation that she’d received the flowers. Twice I was disappointed. Finally, after my third appointment, I was greeted with the following:

Gerberas - my favorites. You remembered. They’re beautiful, thank you. Looking forward to Wednesday, too.

A bit of blessed relief filtered through my body. She didn’t seem mad. Maybe the flower idea wasn’t as lame as I’d feared. I quickly texted back.

Of course I remembered. I’m glad you like them. But I’m sure they pale in comparison to their recipient.

Too much? Maybe. I hit “send” anyway.

Her reply arrived before my next client did.

Very smooth, Mr. Cullen. You always know the right thing to say.

I snorted out loud at that. I replied: I wish that were true.

Jessica poked her head through the door to inform me my next client was here. My phone vibrated in my hand and I stole a look at the Bella’s answer.

You hit the mark more often than you realize. See you Wednesday.

I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face as I put my phone away. I didn’t need two days to think about it. If I still had a chance with Bella, I wasn’t going to blow it. I would do whatever took to get it right this time.

Wednesday, August 11

I wish cats could talk.

Lucky is currently staring me down with this superior expression on his face that makes him appear as if his tiny brain contains all the secrets of the universe. If it does, I wish to God he’d clue me in.

The past forty-eight hours leading up to seeing Bella were interminable. The clock was an enemy whose face became aggravatingly familiar as the minutes marched slowly by. Each massage appointment seemed to drag on forever, but at least I was occupied while I was at work. When the night fell, I begged Jasper to bring his band over to practice, or let me crash their rehearsals. Thankfully, he was game to keep me from losing my marbles. Monday night I hung out in his drummer’s garage, listening to the trio try to work out a tricky bridge in the middle of one of their original numbers. Last night they hauled their gear over to my place and jammed for awhile on the ground floor, even letting me improvise on a few numbers. They loved the acoustics in the old mill, so I know they’ll be back, thank God. Maybe they’d like to come back tonight. I should call Jasper right now.

Or maybe I should try to figure out what the hell just happened.

My last client left shortly after 4 p.m. Bella was already in Emmett’s office for her chiropractic work. I went out to the front desk to tell Jessica that I needed to see Miss Swan for a moment before she left, and to show her back to my office. Bella had never actually been in my office, because I really only use it to finish up paperwork and take care of some of the more mundane tasks in between massage sessions.

And now, I paced. I tried to actually accomplish something at the computer, or with my files, or even just rearrange my desk; but I could concentrate on nothing. So I paced. And I sweated. And I couldn’t believe how nervous I was, nor how badly I wanted to see Bella. She hadn’t left my mind since Sunday, but even my most vivid fantasies came nowhere close to the real thing. I needed to see her. More than that, I wanted to touch her, smell her, taste her. Remembrances of Saturday evening kept coming back to me, splicing themselves together like reels of film in my booze-ravaged brain, creating a more linear moving picture of everything that had transpired between us. Reminding me just how amazing she was, and how lucky I’d been that she’d let me paw her and devour her over and over like some kind of insatiable animal in heat. I wanted to do it again. And I wanted her to do the same to me.

Shit. Stop it. Stop thinking with your dick before she walks in this room, my humanity demanded. I took deep, cleansing breaths and tried to tame the beast.

And then she knocked on my door, and every urge I had retreated under the blanket of anxiety that enveloped me. I took another deep breath and tried to calm down as I headed for the door. I reminded myself that I had a plan, and I’d already put it in motion. This morning I had arranged for Katrina to start treating Bella so that I could no longer use ethics as an excuse to keep her at arm’s length. I was going to be the kind of man she deserved. And I was going to start by asking her on a formal date. I figured it didn’t get much more formal than my family’s Black and Red Ball.

I opened the door to see her standing there alone, the sound of Jessica’s heels clicking down the tiled hallway behind her as she returned to the reception area. I found myself inhaling again sharply at the sight of Bella still in her work clothes, a surprisingly feminine cotton blouse and slacks. I had figured that at an indie label, the dress code was probably shredded denims and a concert tee. Then again, knowing Rosalie Hale, maybe she required her assistant to be a little more professionally attired. Bella’s hair was pulled back into a sleek ponytail, even my favorite errant lock tamed and put in its place. I found that a little disconcerting.

But then the chocolate drops gazed up at me and drew my full attention: heart-breakingly beautiful, and every bit as anxious as mine. I wanted to pull her into my arms and kiss her, but I felt awkwardly frozen to the spot.

“Hi,” I finally breathed, somehow finding my tongue. “You look great. Come in.” I managed to step back and beckon her into the room.

“Thanks,” she said, blushing slightly. Her eyes swept the small room for a moment, then settled on the two chairs in front of my desk.

“Have a seat,” I offered, pulling out one of the chairs for her. As she sat down, I grabbed the other chair and turned it to face hers, sitting directly opposite her. Our knees were nearly touching. She folded her hands tightly in her lap and stared cautiously up at me.

“How are you?” I asked her.

“I’m fine,” she said quickly. “Good. It’s been really busy at work, getting the band signed, helping them find good representation, starting the pre-recording process, figuring out which studio to use….” Her ramble trailed off as she bit her lip. “There’s a lot to do. How about you?”

“I’ve been keeping busy,” I replied. “Jasper’s band has started rehearsing in my building downstairs, so that’s been kind of fun.”

“Really? That’s cool. I’d like to hear them sometime.” Her smile was polite, reserved.

I sighed and rubbed my hands up and down my thighs. “Why is this so awkward? I don’t want this to be awkward. I want things to be okay between us.” I searched her eyes for some reassurance.

Her answering sigh sounded like one of relief. “I want that too. I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable around me. That’s why it bothered me when you left like that. It felt like you were shutting me out again.”

“I’m sorry. I know that’s what I was doing, and it was a knee-jerk reaction. I haven’t let myself get close to someone in awhile, and all of a sudden it just felt like too much, too soon. Like we were moving too fast. I guess I panicked. It was stupid, and thoughtless, and I’m sorry.” I couldn’t stop the words, and the apology, once they started spilling out.

She still looked a little troubled. “So… how do you feel now?”

I let the Hershey’s syrup surround me as I looked deeply into her eyes. If I was going to drown, this was the perfect place to do it.

“I feel like I don’t want to let the panic win anymore. Like I don’t want to be so careless trying to protect myself that I hurt other people in the process.”

She nodded but was silent, waiting for more. I took a deep breath.

“I’d like the chance to start over with you. To do things right this time. You know, actually ask you out on a proper date, take you someplace nice, treat you the way you deserve to be treated.” Her slowly growing smile gave me some long-awaited comfort. “I don’t want to blow it this time with you,” I finished.

She shook her head, her smile wry. “You didn’t blow it, Edward. We don’t have to start over completely. I kind of like where we are now, getting to the middle of things.”

“Yeah?” I replied uncertainly. “But we went from our first kiss to… some pretty heavy stuff, in about twelve hours’ time. I don’t want you think this is all about sex for me. You mean more to me than that. I want this to be more.”

She still looked curiously perturbed, and I couldn’t quite figure out why. Wasn’t this the kind of stuff girls wanted to hear? Unless she didn’t feel the same way about me….

“I never thought it was just about sex. That’s not how it seemed to me. I guess you really don’t remember our weekend very well,” she said. The tiny line would not leave the middle of her brows. I had to figure out a way to erase it.

“I do remember,” I insisted, then faltered at the look on her face. “I’m pretty sure I do. A lot of it was really wonderful. But I feel like we missed a few steps somewhere over the past few weeks. I just want to do this the right way.” I couldn’t seem to find the right words to tell her that she was more than a one-night stand to me, and that I wanted what we had to grow into something strong and lasting.

“Maybe there is no right or wrong way,” she suggested. “Maybe we can just do things our way.”

I looked at her in surprise. She must be the most understanding girl alive, I thought.
“That sounds very wise,” I agreed. “But just to be clear, getting bombed and performing questionable sex acts on a girl I really like and respect is not my idea of the right way to do things,” I asserted, feeling the need to set the record straight.

The line deepened between her eyebrows, which was not the reaction I was hoping for.

“So what is the right way to do things, in your opinion?” she asked. I suddenly felt like this was a test. I hoped my answer would let me pass with flying colors.

“Well, I’d like to make all of that up to you, if you’ll let me,” I began.

“You already sent me flowers, and that was more than enough. They’re gorgeous,” she interrupted.

“Not too cheesy?”

“No! I told you I love Gerberas. I can’t help but smile every time I look at them.” Damn that Alice, she knows her stuff.

“Well, I’m glad. But I had something a little bigger in mind. I’d like to ask you on a formal date. And when I say ‘formal,’ I mean that literally. My family hosts a big fund-raising dinner every year for the American Heart Association, which doesn’t sound like much fun, but it’s actually a pretty cool evening.”

“The Black and Red Ball?” she asked, her tone oddly hesitant.

“Yeah, you’ve heard of it? It’s kind of a big society event, I guess. I know you may not think of that as your kind of party, but it’s actually pretty nice, with a really excellent dinner and a formal dance afterwards with an orchestra and a band. It sounds kind of stuffy, I’m guess, but my Uncle Bill’s estate is really beautiful, and there’s a huge garden maze that we could escape to if it gets too boring.” Way to undersell it, Cullen. I halted and studied her face, but I couldn’t understand her expression of faint dread.

“Anyway, it’s a week from this Saturday. I’d be honored if you would be my date this year. I’d love to introduce you to my mom. I think you two would really hit it off.” That last bit kind of shocked me when it popped out of my mouth. But now that it was out there, I didn’t want to take it back. If Bella hadn’t thought I was serious before, she surely did now.

Her face looked unusually pale and her eyes shifted around uncomfortably. God, what did I do now? Was the idea of meeting the mom too much? Were we doomed to keep scaring each other to death before we ever got this relationship off the ground?

“Wow,” she finally said, her voice still hushed. She let out a humorless laugh. “I would love to attend the Black and Red Ball with you… but… I’m already going with someone.”

I stared at her, uncomprehending. Surely I hadn’t heard that last part right.

“Um… you’re already going? But that’s impossible. It’s extremely hard to get tickets. They’re very pricey and exclusive. I should know,” I said. I felt like I was boring holes through her with my disbelieving gaze.

“That’s the funny thing--the tickets actually came from your brother,” she said with a slightly hysterical chuckle. She looked horribly uncomfortable, and at the moment, I couldn’t seem to feel too bad about that.

“My brother,” I repeated in a none-too-happy tone.

She cleared her throat. “He invited Rosalie to be his date, and when she found out what the cause was, she asked him about the possibility of Java Noise buying a table at the event so that several of our employees could attend. She thought it would be a great opportunity to get the label some exposure and ‘hobnob with some of Seattle’s movers and shakers,’ as she put it,” Bella explained. At least she seemed as unhappy to tell me this as I was to hear it.

I began to put the puzzle pieces together, and I didn’t like the picture that was appearing. “So Emmett arranged for your company to purchase a table. Good PR, tax write-off… I get it. Do I need to ask you who’s going to be representing your label?” If she said his name, I was going to lose it. I’d have to keep myself from losing it somehow. I could feel my hands forming fists as I shoved them under my thighs.

She swallowed hard, her cheeks growing pink. “The president of the company, of course, and his wife; our A&R VP and his wife; and me, as Rosalie’s assistant, along with a member of our latest acquisition, to represent the talent.” Her eyes were pleading now. She didn’t want to say his name any more than I wanted to hear it. So why did I force her?

“Of course. Sam Uley would be the obvious choice, right?” I needled her. I couldn’t stop myself. The realization of what was happening was too galling to take it lying down.

Her face was scarlet now. “It would be, except that he’ll be back home visiting his girlfriend Emily for her birthday,” she explained. I wondered if my face looked as rigid as it felt while I tried to keep my composure. I could feel my nostrils flaring like a stallion’s. The thought of her on Jacob Black’s arm all night at the ten-year anniversary of my aunt’s memorial dinner made my blood boil so hot I was sure there must be steam coming out of my ears.

“Edward, please,” Bella entreated, leaning forward and placing her hand on my knee. This first touch from her since our last time together was like a flame-thrower engulfing my thigh. “You know this is nothing but business. You know I would give anything to be there with you instead.”

I was fairly certain of that, especially given the frightened look in her eyes right now.

“Were you going to tell me about this? Or were you just going to show up and surprise me?” I asked, failing to keep the bitterness from my tone. I knew she probably got railroaded into the whole affair by Rosalie, but I still couldn’t keep my irrational resentment of Jacob Black from seeping out around the edges.

Bella leaned back, freeing my knee from her warm grip. “Well, it’s not like you asked me. You didn’t even tell me about this family party of yours. For all I know, you already have another date,” she accused.

I wish I had a picture of the stupefied look on my face at that moment, because I truly couldn’t believe what I had just heard fall from Bella’s lips.

“How the hell could you even think that?” I demanded.

“You could have asked someone before we even met,” she clarified. “How was I supposed to know you weren’t already going with Kate or something?”

I let out a derisive laugh at the absurdity of the idea. “You’ve really got to get over this weird phobia you have about Katrina, especially if she’s going to be treating you from now on. We met in massage therapy school, she’s a good friend of mine, and that’s it. End of story.”

Bella’s eyes were huge, incredulous black holes as she gaped at me. “What did you just say?” she whispered, her voice trembling with what sounded like rage.

I desperately tried to remember the words I’d just uttered in the heat of the moment. “We’re just friends, Bella. That’s all it will ever be,” I tried to assure her.

“No. The part about Kate treating me from now on,” she said in a low, shaky tenor.

Shit. This was not how I had planned to break that bit of news to her. I suddenly found myself in the defensive position.

I took a deep breath and said, “I arranged for you to start seeing her for your therapy. Surely you understand that I can’t keep treating you, after everything that’s happened between us.”

Her head shook violently from side to side. “No, I don’t, actually. All I understand is that you’ve helped me when no one else could.” Her eyes quickly lost their anger and were beseeching instead. “You know me, Edward. You know my body, and what I need. I don’t want anyone else touching me but you,” she whispered plaintively.

Were we still talking about massage therapy? As I sank into the dark pools staring up at me, I could think only of making love to her again, worshipping her with my hands and my mouth and my body. I didn’t know if that was what she was getting at; if that was what she really wanted. But I did know it was pure folly to confuse it with my vocation.

“Bella,” I said hoarsely, reaching tentatively toward her face. I wanted to brush my favorite lock of hair out of her face, but it was nowhere to be found. My thumb stroked her bare cheek gently. “Please try to understand. I have to separate this from work from now on. I can’t do it any other way. It’s too hard for me.”

She shook her head again in refusal, her face scrunching up pitifully. I knew tears would be falling soon. I couldn’t take it. “You’ve already admitted yourself what a bad idea it is to mix your personal life with business. If I were a doctor, it would be illegal for me to treat you. You know that.”

“But you’re not a doctor,” she said matter-of-factly.

My hand froze in place, then dropped away and came to rest on my lap. She knew how that well-placed barb would sting. We stared at each other a moment, a sad resignation settling over us. It was the empty victory of the moment when you know someone well enough to hurt them, and you do it deliberately. We had just taken our first intentional shots at each other. It was another milestone in our relationship; another that was reached too soon.

I finally tore my eyes from hers and reached over to my desk, retrieving Katrina’s card from where I’d placed it. I had planned to give it to Bella after delivering the good news that we could see each other freely and openly now because my professional obligations to her would be coming to an end.

“Please, Bella,” I implored her as I handed her the appointment card. “Don’t compromise your treatment because of anything that’s happened between us. You’re getting to the point where you won’t need to see a massage therapist regularly anymore, anyway. And Katrina is excellent at what she does. I hope you’ll give her a chance.”

Bella took the card from me and looked at it a moment. I tried to read the expression on her face, but could come up with nothing to call it except “extremely upset.”

“All right,” she said quietly. She reached for the small handbag that still hung over one arm and placed the card inside. She rose from her chair, and a wave of panic rolled through my gut.

“Don’t leave,” I begged, jumping to my feet. “I’m sorry I flew off the handle about the Black and Red Ball. It’s not your fault that I didn’t ask you sooner. It came up a lot faster than I realized.”

“It’s okay,” she replied. “I really didn’t want to go, especially if it might lead Jake on. Believe it or not, I do care about sparing his feelings. But Rosalie can be pretty persuasive when she wants to be. And, well, she is my boss.”

“I know. It’s fine. It’ll be fine. Maybe I can cut in for a dance or two,” I tried to joke.

She gave me a rather pained smile.

“Can I take you to dinner or something?” I asked, desperate to keep her from leaving.

“I’m already meeting Angela for dinner, actually,” she said. She looked down a moment, then took a deep breath before lifting her eyes to mine. “You know, Edward, I think you might have been right about us missing a few steps… going too fast. Maybe we should slow down; take a little time to think about things.”

My eyes closed; my heart sank. I should have known that my bright ideas would come back to bite me in the ass.

“What are you saying?” I asked, not really wanting to hear the answer.

“Maybe we should take a little break. See how we feel about everything the next time we see each other.” She didn’t sound convinced of her suggestion.

“And when would that be?” You really are a glutton for punishment, Cullen.

“Well, since I won’t be seeing you for massage therapy anymore, then I guess that would be at the ball,” she replied.

Touche, Miss Swan.

I nodded and said simply, “I look forward to it.”

I looked forward to seeing her with MonkeyBoy all night the way I looked forward to a root canal, I thought grimly as I watched her hurry down the hall from my office. But how could I argue against her desire for some space, when I knew it was probably for the better anyway?

It didn’t mean I had to like it, though.

“What should I do, Lucky?” I just asked the tiny fur-covered swami next to me on the couch. I’ve been half-heartedly scratching and petting him since I dragged my sorry ass home, and even my absent-minded affections have been enough to keep him purring contentedly beside me.

He squinted his eyes a couple of times and purred more loudly, the rumbling noise oddly comforting.

“So you’re saying there’s not much I can do, and that I need to take it in stride,” I offered. He squinted again, and I swear his mouth curved up a little more in feline grin.

“Easy for you to say,” I grunted.

I don’t know how I’m going to stay away from her for ten days. I could barely get through the last three without seeing her. But maybe she’s right--maybe the time apart will bring us some clarity about where we stand with each other. Obviously today’s communication breakdown was a red flag. I need to figure out what went wrong, and how to make it right. Maybe Alice is right, too - if I really think about it, I’ll figure out exactly how to make it up to Bella. What would she really love? What would really touch her? Not fancy parties or flowers, but something real and from the heart.

And then, with the speed and brilliance of a lightning bolt, clarity came.

"Sorry, Lucky," I announced as I gave him a final pat and rose from couch. "I've got work to do."

I picked up my notebook and headed straight for the piano.


  1. Aww, Edward's gonna write her a song! So sweet! Could he be brave enough to play it at the ball? Hmm... can't wait to see!

    Amazing chapter even with the misunderstandings and hurting each other, they just make the story more real. I can understand why Bella's pissed off because Edward transfered her to Kate's treatment, I'd be angry too. Though I guess Edward is right, he probably shouldn't treat Bella anymore.

    Anyway, thanks Leann! :)

  2. oooh, what a fabulous idea, Edward playing a song for her at the ball! If I use that, I will definitely credit you for the idea! I was going to have that happen a little later, but I am really liking your suggestion. We'll see!

    Yes, things aren't going so great between them at the moment, and they have some communication problems to work through. They are both smarting and lashing out at each other a bit. Things will soon come to a head though, probably at the ball. ;)

    Thanks for reading and reviewing, as always, and for having such great ideas and insight! xoxoxoxoxo

  3. Wow! I keep thinking, how can this story just keep getting better? Gemgirl65, you don’t disappoint. E/B have reached a new dynamic in their relationship, and I couldn’t be more invested. Great, great writing!

  4. Thank you for this wonderful story, thanks for all times, I love elo yestoy course you are taking forward read you again. Sorry for my English.