Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Cocky and the Cougar, Chapter Nineteen - The Words and the Wine

Chapter 19 ~ The Words and The Wine
I was rushing to get ready for dinner at the Cullen's home on Thursday evening when my home phone rang. There was nobody there when I answered. This was the third such call I had received that week and they were starting to unnerve me just a little. Edward had been out of town for a couple of days so I had been unable to ask him about it (I was certainly not going to call him). It was easy to put the first call or two down to wrong numbers, especially since I rarely gave out my unlisted home number. I honestly couldn't even remember if I'd ever given it to Edward. It just hadn't come up yet, since he had my cell phone number. But by Thursday the calls were bothering me.
The phone rang again a few minutes later and I picked up the receiver.
"Edward, if this is you, I don't appreciate this–"
"Is this Isabella Swan?" a female voice on the other end asked.
"This is Doctor Bourdain's office calling."
"Oh. I'm so sorry for being rude. I've been getting some prank calls."
She chuckled. "Not a problem. We have your test results and if you will hold for a moment, I will put the doctor on."
"Of course." I listened to the hold music for not just a moment, but several, getting a bit nervous. Finally, Dr. Bourdain picked up the line.
"Yes, hello Doctor. How are you? Or should I ask, 'How am I?'"
She chuckled into the phone. "I am well, thank you, and the good news is, you are well, also."
"I am?" I smiled.
"Yes. All of your test results came back negative. No STDs, no HIV; your immune system appears to be in good shape. To be safe, it is recommended that you have the HIV test repeated in six months or so, but you should be clear. You should use condoms in the meantime, to be safe. And have your partner checked, of course."
I sighed in relief even while I wondered if I would have the opportunity to use condoms in the meantime.
"That's great news, doctor, thank you."
We chatted only briefly after that. I thanked her for calling me so quickly after getting my results and we hung up.
I smiled as I pulled my red, sueded-silk dress over my head. I felt, if not exactly good, certainly better than I had all week. Of course, that wasn't really saying much at all.
I kept expecting things to get easier without Edward in my life, or at least in my ear by way of telephone calls, but they weren't; not at all. I missed him making me laugh and I missed his soft words of comfort before I would go off to sleep each night. I missed the little glimpses of vulnerability he would often show me. I missed his annoying, running commentary when we watched movies together. I missed his sweet green eyes that would often sparkle when he looked at me. I missed his expressive face and his goofy, fucked-up hair. And I definitely missed the jaw porn. I even missed the way his lips wrapped around a cigarette, for Pete's sake. I missed the way he tasted and the way his fingers would trail across my skin. I missed the simple feel of his strong, warm hand on my back as we lay in bed together. I missed the way his muscles felt as they moved under my hands. I missed his intensely passionate kisses as much as I missed his sweet and soft ones.
And holy hell was I horny.
I sighed as I slipped my feet into the camel-colored sling-backs I'd chosen to complete the outfit and grabbed my purse from off the bed where it had been sitting. It would take me about half an hour to get to Carlisle's house, since he and Esme lived in the hills of Rancho Palos Verdes. I was going to be lucky to get there on time and had no minutes to spare moping over Edward.
I did arrive on time, though just barely. I parked my truck along their curb and made my way up the long walk toward their huge and beautiful home, glad I hadn't bothered wearing a sweater. It was rather warm for mid-October.
The sun was setting over the ocean and I glimpsed it as I rang the doorbell. From their back porch, they had a spectacular view of the Pacific, but I could only see a bit of that view from the front of the house. In mere moments, a smiling Esme greeted me at the door.
"Bella, love! It's so wonderful to see you!"
She pulled me into a hug as I walked over the threshold and into their foyer.
"I hope I'm not late," I said.
She patted me lightly on the back. "Not at all, dear. You're right on time."
Esme pulled away from our hug and looked me up and down. "Bella, honey, are you never going to age? How pretty you are."
"Huh," I smiled. "Believe me, I'm–"
He turned from his place standing by the bar with Carlisle, his smile huge. He wore a dark grey suit with a blue shirt beneath it and no tie. A few of his buttons were open. He was clean-shaven. And he looked positively gorgeous.
"Belle of the Ball!" Carlisle walked toward me, smiling and calling me by his favorite nickname. Of course, he only used it outside of the office, for which I was grateful.
Carlisle hugged me and when he pulled away, he followed my eye-line to Edward. "Surprised? Edward just got in this evening and I thought he could join us, since the two of you are ... well..."
"Um..." I didn't know what to make of this or even what to say to Carlisle. "Yes, I'm ... surprised."
Edward sauntered over to us, a drink in his hand.
"She didn't know I'd be back tonight," he said. He put his hand at my back and leaned in to kiss my cheek, lightly, as I stiffened. "You look beautiful, Bella," he whispered in my ear. I only thinned my lips in response.
"Wait," Carlisle said, apparently noticing something was awry with my demeanor. "You two aren't still arguing, are you?"
"You know, after the meeting on Monday."
"Oh," I blushed and looked down at my shoes. "No. Not at all."
Carlisle smiled widely. "Good. You know it's just business, Bella."
"Yes, of course." 
My heart pounded in my ears and I had the distinct desire to flee the premises. I didn't want to air my dirty laundry in front of Carlisle and Esme, but neither did I want to sit through dinner with a smile on my face, pretending all was well between Edward and I, which was apparently what he intended to do.
Of course, I also couldn't help but notice how incredible Edward smelled as he'd leaned in to kiss my cheek.
"Let me get you a drink, Bella," Carlisle said, moving back toward the bar just inside the living room. "Still a Grey Goose gal?"
"Of course," I said, still stunned.
"She actually let you off pretty easy, Edward. I've seen her chop guys' balls off and eat 'em for lunch." He and Edward laughed and Esme sighed.
"Carlisle, please." She smiled sympathetically at me as she ushered Edward and me into the living room. "Have a seat, Bella, please. I need to go check on dinner, but you all make yourselves at home and I'll be back in a jif."
I sat on the sofa and Edward sat uncomfortably close, next to me. I glared at him and he scooted away just a bit, a smirk on his lips.
"I'm glad the two of you could make it," Carlisle said, handing me my drink. “You can fill me in on all the office gossip."
I immediately took a large gulp of my drink and paled as Edward chuckled and sat back on the sofa, crossing his ankle over his knee and resting his drink on his thigh. I could see the faint outline of the muscle of that thigh beneath his pants and I wasn't sure if I wanted to punch it or run my fingers along it until I reached his zipper. I cleared my throat and shifted slightly in my seat.
"I'm afraid we're probably the subject of all the office gossip," Edward said.
Esme returned from the kitchen and Carlisle handed her a martini. 
"Dinner will be ready shortly," she said, smiling.
Esme was a beautiful woman in her mid-forties, with light brown hair and thoughtful, grey eyes. She always wore a bright expression and rarely had I seen her without a smile. She was possibly the kindest, most generous woman I'd ever met and never seemed to have an uncharitable word for anyone. However, I also knew she had Carlisle's balls in the vice-like grip of her hand and I loved her for that. He would do anything for her, before she even had to ask.
"I understand you met Edward up in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago, Bella." Esme smiled at her husband as he sat on the arm of the wing chair in which she was seated. "Carlisle and I do love that city."
"As do I. I nodded. “It was really beautiful while we were there. Not too cold yet. I was surprised at that."
"I had never been there," Edward said. "Bella played tour guide." 
His hand ran over my shoulder and touched my hair. I took another large gulp of vodka and noticed Esme eyeing me curiously.
"Yes, I took him to Mona Lisa." 
I tried to remain casual. I wasn't exactly going to make a scene at Carlisle and Esme's home after all, but Edward's nonchalance and familiarity with me was irritating to no end.
"Ah, Mona Lisa," Carlisle smiled. "Love that place. Bella took us there one time too."
Edward looked at me, his eyebrows high. "You all went to Frisco together?"
"Never call it 'Frisco', young man," Carlisle said. "If they hear you say that up there, you may never get out of the city alive." He chuckled, taking a drink. "Bella and I had to go up there on business a couple of years ago. Esme came up just for the fun of it."
"That was a fun trip," Esme said.
"Yes, I seem to recall you did quite a bit of damage to my bank account that week."
"Well, I had to keep myself entertained while you and Bella were tied up," Esme said, smiling as she sipped her Martini.
A young girl in a maid's uniform came into the room and announced that dinner was ready.
"Bella, I see you're empty," Carlisle said. "We're having wine with dinner, but would you like another?"
"No, no, thank you." I shook my head. "I'm eager to see what wine you're serving tonight."
We all stood and followed the maid into the dining room.
"Hmm," Edward said, not whispering low enough that Carlisle and Esme didn't hear him as they walked ahead of us. "I think we should get you a maid outfit like that Bella."
"Really?" I glared at him, gritting my teeth. "How do you know I don't have one?"
He raised his eyebrows at me and I noticed Carlisle and Esme chuckling as they turned the corner into the room.
"Too bad you'll never see it," I whispered when I knew they wouldn't hear me. 
He just chuckled in response. I wanted to smack him.
One wall of the dining room was made up entirely of windows, through which we could see the faintest pink of the fading sunset. The large table was set beautifully in bone china with a gold and slightly pink pattern along its edges. A centerpiece of greenery and sunflowers sat in the middle of the table. Carlisle pulled out a chair for Esme before sitting at the head of the table. It was apparent that Edward and I were to sit next to one another and Edward pulled a chair out for me, as well.
"We aren't usually so formal around here," Carlisle explained to Edward. "We aren't Rockefellers or anything. We only break out the good stuff and hire help when we have guests. I don't like Esme to spend the entire night in the kitchen."
Edward chuckled. "Hell, you don't need to worry about making me uncomfortable. Everything is lovely."
"Is this what it was like for you growing up, Edward?" I asked. "Maids in cute little outfits to serve you your meals? Do your laundry? Tie your shoes?" I knew I was being snide, but I couldn't help myself. I was irritated by the entire situation.
Edward smiled at me, his lips thin. "We had a maid, yes. And a cook. Mother wasn't much of a cook herself." His smile toward Esme was more genuine.
"Oh, Esme is a fabulous cook," Carlisle said, smiling at her. "She usually cooks for the two of us, but she oversees all of our meals, even when we do have the extra help come in."
"You studied to be a chef, didn't you, Esme?" I asked. "Up in Napa?" 
I felt Edward squeeze my knee and I kicked at him under the table.
"Yes," she said, a wistful smile on her face. "At the Culinary Arts Institute. Those were wonderful days. Of course, I've never worked so hard in my life, but I truly loved it."
A maid brought a bottle of wine to Carlisle's side for him to examine and he nodded. As she started to pour small glasses for each of us, he explained that it was a Pinot Gris he had purchased in Spain that year.
"It should go nicely with the Butternut Squash soup we're having as our first course," Esme explained.
"Have you ever been to Spain in your travels, Bella?" Carlisle smiled as he stuck his nose into his glass of wine.
"Not yet, I'm afraid. It's on The List." I grinned. 
Carlisle and I had discussed The List many times. I had a long list of places I longed to visit and rather than getting shorter as I checked places off, it just seemed to get longer, the more I discovered.
"I've been," Edward said. "Well, to Madrid and Barcelona. And I ran with the bulls in Pamplona a few years ago."
"I'll bet," I said, and Edward looked at me. "I'll bet you can run with the best of the bulls."
Carlisle laughed. "That's fucking fabulous!"
"Carlisle, please." Esme chastised him again for his language and I giggled behind my napkin. "He wanted to do that, to celebrate his fortieth birthday. I convinced him that living until his forty-first was far more important."
Edward chuckled. "I actually hardly even saw a bull the entire time. But I saw plenty of drunken men running and pushing each other through the streets. My friend did break his arm, though."
"See?" Esme looked at Carlisle, as if this proved her point.
"Have you traveled abroad often, Edward?" Carlisle asked.
He nodded, putting down his soup spoon. "I have. I like to travel. Growing up, I spent most summers in Europe and I guess I took to it. I go back as often as possible. There is still a lot here in the States I'd like to see, though, too."
"What about you, Bella?" Carlisle asked. "When did you catch the travel bug?"
I shrugged. "I never travelled much growing up. Charlie and I went to Olympic National Park for a few days every summer, but that was pretty much the extent of it. I think he was afraid the town of Forks wouldn't survive without him." I smiled. "Jacob and I went on a lot of road trips while we were married, but it's only been since we separated that I've essentially gone hog-wild."
One maid took our soup dishes away while another brought in a second bottle of wine.
"Ah," said Carlisle. "I've been looking forward to this. A Sauvignon Blanc from right over the hill in Malibu. A small winery called Rosenthal. Do you know it?"
"I don't," I said. 
Edward shook his head indicating that he'd not heard of it, either.
"Oh, good." Carlisle smiled. "This will definitely be new to you then."
"Carlisle, most of the wines you serve are new to me," I said. "Not that I don't love you two, but that's half the reason I come over here."
We had a taste of the delightful white wine before our main course was served to us: roasted herb chicken, French green beans with shaved almonds and garlic, and a sinfully cheesy potato gratin. The wine was perfectly paired to set off the subtle tastes in each dish and I had two glasses as we chatted and laughed our way through dinner.
"So what are you doing for your birthday tomorrow, Edward?" Carlisle asked as I was finishing the last bite of my chicken.
My head turned toward Edward so fast I might have gotten whiplash. He fidgeted in his seat as I stared at him.
"Do you have plans to celebrate, Bella?" I looked toward Esme as she asked.
"Um..." was all I could think to say. A blush was creeping up my cheeks at the knowledge that I was obviously the last to know Edward's birthday was the following day. I was thankful I was chewing so that it wasn't so obvious that I had nothing to say.
Esme smiled graciously. "I'm sorry. I'll bet it's a surprise."
I chuckled humorlessly and played with my fork as I swallowed. "Oh, it's a surprise all right."
Edward cleared his throat and kept eating, wordlessly. I don't know why I was so angry at finding out it was his birthday. It's not like we'd spoken much over the last two weeks and when we had, it hadn't been about birthdays. But I was. I was upset and embarrassed and ... well, a bit sad that I hadn't known.
Carlisle had a bottle of Chimney Rock Elevage opened to go with our dessert. It had been decanted and left to breathe during our meal.
"Oh my God, Carlisle," I said with a smile. "You have to tempt me with this wine? I love this stuff. You're gonna get me drunk."
"Oh, good," said Edward with a chuckle. "She's a lot of fun when she's drunk."
Carlisle winked at him. "I'm just looking out for you, my friend."
"I hope you like chocolate mousse," said Esme as it was being served. "I made it just before you all arrived."
"Oh my ... this is–" Edward stuttered as he took a spoonful, his eyes closing. I felt his leg tapping against the floor. "Esme, I may jump over this table and kiss you full on the mouth."
Esme giggled.
"Hey," Carlisle said. "Here I'm trying to get your girl all liquored up for you. Don't be chasing after mine."
"Sorry, Carlisle," Edward said. "But any woman who can make a dessert like this is a woman I want as my own."
"Bella is quite a fine cook herself," Esme said.
"Yeah. I made you my famous TLT sammich remember?" I winked at Esme. I knew there was no way my simple foods could compare to her gourmet cooking.
"Please," Edward said, waving his spoon. "Bella would never be so sinful as to make something like this."
I raised an eyebrow as I looked at him. "I'm not sinful enough for you?"
Carlisle laughed uproariously and Esme giggled, a hand in front of her mouth.
Edward grinned, raising his eyebrow at me in return. "We were discussing eating habits, my love. But if you'd like to broaden the subject matter, I am more than willing to admit that you–"
"You're welcome to have another mousse if you'd like, Edward." 
I chuckled at Esme's not quite grace-saving interruption and Edward's smile broadened.
"Much as I'd love to say yes, Esme, I really shouldn't."
"Bella doesn't like fat guys?" Carlisle asked, winking at me.
"I don't know," Edward said, looking back to me. "Do you, Bella?"
"Depends. It's not the fat that counts, it's the guy." I put down my spoon and looked pointedly at Edward. "So long as he's not a fat head."
Carlisle laughed again. "I think Edward's got a big head, but not necessarily a fat one."
I laughed as Edward's jaw dropped. 
"What are you saying, Carlisle?" he asked.
Carlisle shrugged, a teasing smile on his face. "I just call 'em as I see 'em Edward. You have to admit that you think rather highly of yourself."
"Since when is confidence a negative trait?"
"Jeez, Edward," I said. It was all I could do not to laugh again. "Don't get defensive."
Esme was again the calming influence at the table. "It's not a negative trait, Edward. They're just giving you a hard time. You never know what will happen when these two get together."
"Well, whenever you get tired of Carlisle's antics, Esme, you just let me know."
Edward smiled at her and winked as she blushed and giggled behind her hand again.
Carlisle laughed. "Well, Bella might have some argument about your proposition there, my boy."
"Huh," I said. "Or maybe not."
Carlisle raised his eyebrows and I chuckled. 
"Well, when Esme gets tired of you, Carlisle, and Edward sweeps her off her feet, you and I can run away to Spain together."
I felt Edward's arm across the back of my chair and his thumb traced along the top of my shoulder. It might have been all the wine I was drinking, but I didn't mind so much.
"Ah!" said Carlisle. "Now there's an interesting proposition!"
"Okay, I think we should move this conversation into the living room before it devolves into something completely torrid." Esme said, shaking her head and giggling like a school girl.
As we turned the corner into the living room, Carlisle's cell phone rang. He looked at the phone and touched Esme's arm.
"Edward, would you mind making my wife a dry gin martini? I need to take this call and she should be in on it as well. We won't be long."
"Of course," Edward said. 
I followed him to the bar while Esme and Carlisle huddled together in the foyer.
"Do you know how to make a martini?" I asked. 
"One thing I learned growing up in my house was how to mix cocktails."
"Oh, I see.” I chuckled. “Charlie was more of a beer drinker."
I watched him work as he stirred Esme's cocktail in a small pitcher. His beautiful hands moved gracefully, lightly gripping the long glass spoon in his long fingers, and I couldn't help but recall how magical those hands felt on my skin. He caught me staring and grinned down at me, knowingly.
"Whatcha lookin' at?"
I just rolled my eyes at him. I must have been tipsy, because I couldn't even come up with a witty comeback. I found this to be completely irritating.
When he'd poured Esme's drink, he asked me if I wanted one and I shook my head. He grabbed the decanter of Bourbon and a glass for himself.
"Gee, drinking much tonight?" I asked. "You know, it's not really good form to get drunk at your boss' home."
"I'm not getting drunk." 
I grinned knowingly as I watched him put down his glass in spite of his words. 
"Besides, I've been stressed out lately.” He bent to whisper in my ear. “Why don't you help me out with that? I seem to recall you have some great ways of relieving stress."
"Why don't you relieve your own stress, Edward?"
He chuckled and put a hand in his pants pocket, his jacket pushed behind his forearm. "What do you think I've been doing? I'm getting calluses."
"You're calloused now?” I looked up at him saucily. “And this is supposed to be attractive to me?"
"I was referring to my hands, Bella."
I turned, grinning. "Yeah, sure."
"Edward, you're a smoker, are you not?" Carlisle asked from across the room as they walked in. 
"I am, yes."
"Would you care for a cigar? I have some special ones I really shouldn't legally have, if you know what I mean."
"I would love one, thank you.” Edward grinned. “I've never had a Cuban."
"Shh. We don't say the C-word around here."
"In the other room, please," Esme piped up, sitting in a chair. "I do not want to smell like cigar smoke for the rest of the evening, thank you very much."
Edward handed Esme her martini as I walked over to stand next to her.
"What is this, Victorian England?" I asked, looking at Carlisle. "The men will now retire to the library for cigars and brandy?"
Carlisle clapped his hands together and headed for the bar. "Ooh, yes. Brandy."
"We'll be back, beautiful." Edward leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. I stiffened and it was all I could do not to step on his toe with the heel of my shoe.
I took a seat in the chair next to Esme's as the men took their leave.
"Would you like a brandy, Bella? Or another vodka perhaps?"
I shook my head. "I don't think I'd better. That wine was so wonderful, I'm afraid I overindulged."
"Yes, well, a stressful evening can do that to you."
I swallowed. "Stressful?"
Esme smiled softly at me. "Well, it's rather apparent that you and Edward are having ... difficulties?"
"Um..." I suddenly became very interested in the pattern of the fabric on my arm rest.
Esme chuckled. "Don't worry. Carlisle is oblivious, as most men are to these things. I hope I'm not being intrusive. I just couldn't help but notice that something is off."
I shook my head. "No, of course you're not being intrusive, Esme."
"He sure seems taken with you."
"Um ... yes, that is not a problem."
"Are you? I mean, do you care for him?" Esme smiled at me. "I know this isn't my business, Bella, but I've always considered us friends. I just haven't seen you with a man who was your match in ... well, ever, honestly. Even Jacob. I never thought he was good enough for you."
I smiled. "Well, I guess we all know that now, don't we?"
"Edward is young, but he's smart. He's got a lot on the ball. Carlisle thinks very highly of him and to have his position at Con-Vert at such a young age..."
"Yes, it's impressive," I agreed, nodding.
"Is that the problem, then? His age? It certainly can't be that you're not attracted to him. A blind man could see the attraction between you two, even if you are currently on unpleasant terms."
"No, that's not it.” I shrugged and smiled halfheartedly. “I mean, I hesitated initially because of his age, but that's not something we can't work through. We've been seeing each other for several weeks now. We just recently ran into ... some problems."
"Do you want to talk about it, Bella? It might help, just to get a different perspective."
"He wasn't very ... forthcoming with some vital information, is all. And even though I understand why he wasn't, the whole experience just left a bad taste in my mouth. I don't know if I can fully trust him."
"Hmm ... Trust is important." She took a drink of her martini and chuckled. "And he is a salesman. You never really know how much of what they say is true and how much is just so much smoke blowing up your bloomers."
"True." I smiled.
"So where do you stand now?"
"Well... I guess we're not together."
"You guess? Because he certainly seems to think you are."
"Well ... we're not, really. He wants to be, but we're not."
"Bella, look at me."
I looked at Esme's kind eyes for the first time in minutes. She smiled.
"Do you want to be with Edward?"
"I want to be able to trust Edward."
She chuckled. "That's not really what I asked, is it?"
I sunk back in my chair with a deep sigh, finally letting my guard down completely.
"I'm just unsure, Esme. It's actually been almost two weeks since we ... well, since I found out about all of this. We haven't really been together for almost two weeks now. I rarely see him, we barely speak. I just—I would think it would be easier by now, right? Instead, it seems to be getting harder. The longer I go without seeing him, the harder it's getting."
She gave a little gasp and I looked up at her.
"You're in love with him."
"Well..." I fidgeted in my seat and looked away. "Yes..."
"Oh well, this is even better than I thought!"
I looked at her, my jaw dropped open. 
"Or, well, worse of course." She smiled again.
I sighed. I might have even been pouting a little.
Esme's voice softened. "Bella, hon, don't you think your trust is something he can win back? If he wants to, of course?"
"Well, yes ... I mean, I hope so."
"And do you think he wants to?"
"Well, forgive me, but how is he supposed to do that if you won't give him the opportunity? It appears to me that he would certainly like to have it."
I thought about what she said. I hadn't been giving him any opportunity at all. I hadn't even been speaking to him, really. I was afraid to do so.
"So, I'm just supposed to lay it all out there? Take all the risk and gamble everything I have when he might well prove to be untrustworthy again?" 
This, in a nutshell, was the crux of everything for me. I was so afraid to be hurt again, the prospect of letting Edward back in felt like something akin to jumping from a plane with no parachute.
Esme smiled sympathetically again. "Well, isn't that what love is? A risk? A gamble?" She took another drink before she continued. "Trust is something that is built over time, you know. I understand you don't trust him right now and that you may well be wary because of things that happened in your past. But you and I both know that love doesn't come knocking on your door every five minutes. If he wants to try and prove to you that he can be trustworthy ... well, I guess you need to decide if the rewards of love are worth the gamble."
We heard Carlisle's laughter as the men came back into the room. He had his hand on Edward's shoulder and they were both smiling broadly.
"So how are my two favorite ladies doing in here?" Carlisle asked.
Esme smiled affectionately at her husband as he bent to kiss her on the cheek. I admired the love they had for one another. Rarely had I seen anything like it in my life. I envied it.
"We're just fine, my drunken husband.”
"I am not drunk," he said with a smile. "I'm just feeling good, is all. In fact, I'm feeling even better now. Can I tell them, dear?"
"I don't see why not," she said.
Carlisle turned toward me and Edward, who stood behind my chair. His position made me acutely aware of how low the cleavage of my dress dipped.
"Well, kids, it would appear that Esme and I are to become parents."
Esme held up a hand. "Well, technically, legal guardians."
"Yes, yes—legal guardians. My younger sister, Jane. She has two boys and ... well, she cannot properly care for them. They've been living in fucking foster care for a few months. The call we just received was my attorney, telling us we have been granted custody."
"Oh my gosh, Carlisle," I said. "Esme. That's wonderful." 
I reached over and squeezed her hand and noticed that Edward shook Carlisle's hand as well.
"Yes, we're very excited." Carlisle put his hand on Esme's shoulder. "They're only five and three years old. I've never met the younger boy—Marcus. And I haven't seen Caius since he was an infant."
"We've never had children, you know," said Esme. "I just can't wait to have them here."
I understood how important this was to Esme and I squeezed her hand again. She and I had discussed her longing for children on several occasions. There had never seemed to be a physical reason that she was unable to conceive, but she never had, in all her years of marriage to Carlisle. It was one of the few dark clouds that hovered over their life together.
"I'm so happy for you, Esme," I said.
"When will they be here?" Edward asked from behind me. I could feel the heat emanating from his body and the pressure of his hands on the back of my chair.
"Next week," Carlisle said as he moved toward the sofa. "Actually, they should be here by Monday. We have a lot of work to do to get ready." 
He smiled at Esme and I could feel love and happiness emanating from them. It made my heart jump to my throat. It also made me feel as if I was intruding.
"Well," I said, standing. "I feel I should get out of your way; let the two of you celebrate."
"Oh, you don't have to do that," Esme said, even though I could see her eyeing Carlisle in a way that communicated their desire to be alone.
"It's getting late anyway," said Edward.
"We did so love having you over," Esme said, her smile sparkling as she drew me in for a hug.
"Thank you, Esme," I said. "Everything was wonderful, as always."
Edward moved to give Esme a hug and Carlisle grinned, cautioning him. 
"Watch those hands, young man."
Carlisle hugged me and I gave him a tight squeeze. 
"I'm so happy for you, Carlisle," I said, my voice muffled by his chest.
"Thank you," he said, looking down at me. "We are very happy, indeed. And relieved. Sadly, this has been a long time coming."
As we walked down the path from their house, Edward asked me if I knew about the custody situation.
"I don't know much, no. I know his sister had some legal problems, but only because I overheard a phone call he received maybe six months ago or so. But I really don't know much more then you."
"Hmm ... well, I hope it works out well for all of them."
"Me, too," I said.
He followed as I walked toward my truck.
"It was good to see you tonight, Bella," he said. "It was ... you know, good to talk to you for a while."
"Yeah, by the way," I said, glancing at him over my shoulder. "If you want to talk to me, Edward, why not just talk to me instead of hanging up every time you call?"
"What are you talking about?"
I eyed him knowingly as we stopped in the street by my truck, irritated. "The phone calls all week? Calling my house and hanging up?"
He raised his eyebrows and looked at me as if he were lost. "Again I ask: what are you talking about?"
I put a hand on my hip. His eye darted down to watch my movements and he grinned at me, which of course only irritated me more.
"You're saying you haven't been calling me every evening this week and then hanging up when I answer the phone?"
"Uh—why would I do that? It kind of defeats the purpose of calling, doesn't it?" He leaned back against the door of my truck, his arms crossed in front of him.
I watched his face. He looked truly puzzled and actually a little concerned underneath his constantly amused expression.
"Okay ... so it's not you. Well, who the hell is it?"
Edward chuckled and shrugged his shoulders. "I'm supposed to know?"
After a brief moment, he straightened and his face became serious. "Bella, you don't think it's James, do you?"
Actually, that was exactly who I thought of when Edward said it wasn't him. "Well, but he doesn't even have my home phone number. He's not calling my cell, he's calling me at home."
"It's not hard to get someone's home phone number, Bella."
I shook my head, trying more to convince myself than Edward that it couldn't be James. "My number's not even listed. There are like three people on the planet who have that number."
He leaned back against the door again, looking slightly dejected. "And yet, you thought it was me calling. I'm not even one of the three, Bella."
"Well..." I kicked the front tire with my shoe. "I couldn't remember if I gave you the number."
He gaped at me.
"I didn't think I did, but ... It wouldn't exactly be the first time you've stalked me, Edward."
"Oh ... Okay, I get it now. It's easier for you to think I would be doing this because I happened to follow you home one night–"
"And watched me through my windows," I muttered toward the hood of my truck.
"Still—you'd rather think it's me than someone we already know is a complete loon. Thanks, Bella."
"Well ... yeah, I'd rather it be you."
He looked at me, his features softening. I rolled my eyes.
"Don't get excited, you idiot. I just mean I don't want it to be James."
"Yeah, okay.” He chuckled. “I get it."
I looked at him. His smile sparkled in the light coming from the street lamp above us and his eyes were filled with affection. I really wanted him to touch me.
"I should go, Edward." I moved to get past him and into my truck, but, as if he read my mind, he held out a hand to touch my arm.
"Wait, Bella. Don't leave yet, okay? Can't we ... can we go somewhere? Just to talk?"
I looked up at his earnest face before I sighed a little.
"We've kind of talked a lot tonight, Edward."
"Yeah, but I mean talk. You know what I mean, Bella." 
His hand moved down to mine and I let him take it between both of his. He rubbed the back of my hand, lightly.
I spoke to the ground in front of me. "I just ... I'm tired, Edward. I don't think I have the energy for this tonight."
"Well, we don't have to talk about ... you know—stuff. We can just ... talk."
I looked up to see him smiling softly.
"I miss just talking to you, Bella. Just hanging out."
"I know." I looked back at the ground.
"You know?" He sounded incredulous and I knew he'd misinterpreted my meaning.
"Well, yes ... I mean, I miss talking to you, too." 
I looked back to his face and his eyes were alight and I felt I'd said too much. I pulled my hand from his.
"I gotta go, Edward."
"Well ... wait. At the risk of again being accused of stalking you, can I at least follow you home? I'm a little nervous about these phone calls."
I shrugged, trying to seem casual, even though I had begun to get nervous, too.
"James doesn't know where I live, Edward."
"He doesn't know your home phone number either, does he?"
I looked up at him. "Are you trying to freak me out?"
He chuckled. "No. Of course not. I just ... I'd rather make sure you make it home all right."
I shrugged again, my exhaustion evident in the movement, and moved to open the door. "I can't stop you from following me."
He touched my arm again before I opened the door. "Bella..."
I looked up into his face and my heart caught in my throat. Not only did I want him to follow me home, I wanted him to come in and stay for a good long while. Like maybe through the weekend. It wasn't even about sex, really. I just wanted to feel his arms around me. I wanted to bury my face in his chest and inhale the scent of him as I fell asleep.
"Edward, please follow me home, okay?"
His face looked tired, too, but it lit up in a smile. "Yeah. Okay." He backed up toward the Volvo across the street and my smile reflected his as I watched him.
I watched as Edward pulled his Volvo over beside the curb across the street from my house. His eyes were on me as I got out of the truck and walked toward the side door that entered into what was now my office, since the remodel. It used to be a larger living room, before we'd expanded the sun room. As I opened the door, I turned and held up my hand in a wave. He raised his hand as well and it hung in the air in front of him as I turned and walked into my home.
I closed my front shutters that night. I rarely did that, because I liked the sun to come through the windows and I also loved looking out at the many trees that lined the street. With all the talk of James, however, I was sufficiently creeped-out enough to feel the need for more privacy than usual.
I noticed that Edward's car was still parked across the street as I drew the last shutter closed.
My phone beeped with the announcement of an incoming text message and I grabbed it from my purse and read the display.
Glad you got home OK. Good night, Bella. – E
Tears welled behind my eyes as I thought about what, if anything, I should say in return. After several moments of internal debate, I typed out a reply.
Thanks for being my bodyguard. Now go home.
And have sweet dreams. – B

1 comment:

  1. Wise words from Esme! I like what she had to say. I wonder why it didn't occur to me that James was stalking her....It probably is him, isn't it? Creepy! I'm glad that Bella is maybe going to let Edward try to prove she can trust him because the love is already there!