Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Cocky and the Cougar, Chapter Twenty - The Cake and the Cooties


Chapter 20 ~ The Cake and the Cooties
"Bella."
His hands were on my face, in my hair, moving over my breasts, gripping my hips. His lips suckled at my neck before moving down my chest. My hands entwined with his and he raised them above my head and said my name again, his voice like velvet in the pitch black of the night. I could not see his face, but I knew his voice. The voice that had made me smile, made me quiver with delight.
"Bella."
His kiss was fire against my lips, his tongue a burning ember inside my mouth. I couldn't catch my breath, but moaned into his mouth as I felt him moving inside of me, filling me, completing me in a way only he ever had.
I woke with a start, his name on my lips. I was gripping the pillow — what he used as his pillow not so long ago — so tightly I thought the feathers might start bursting through the seams. A light sheen of sweat covered my body and I kicked at the sheet tangled between my legs until it no longer covered me. I threw the pillow to the side.
I'd barely slept. My fitful rest was populated with, alternately, dreams of two types.
In one, Edward's hands and his lips and his ... everything made key appearances. I'd wake up heated and agitated, my legs pressed together and my mind racing with unbidden, lustful images. I began to hate Edward for doing this to me—for making sex so exciting, so intense, so fun that I could think of little else now that the well had run dry. But I hated him more for fucking up our relationship to such an extent that he wasn't in bed with me when I wanted him so damn badly.
The other dreams I wrestled with that night featured a leering, looming, faceless figure, his hands around my throat.
At sometime around midnight, I got out of bed and wandered into the sun room, wearing only a T-shirt and boy shorts. I opened the shades a crack to peer out and saw that the Volvo was gone. I'd assumed it would be. I'd told him to go home, after all. But there was a part of me that hoped he'd still be out there, keeping watch over my home. I wasn't certain what I would have done, had he been out there, but I'm not entirely sure I would not have opened the front door and beckoned him inside.
At seven a.m., as I got ready to leave for work, I picked up my cell phone and typed a message.
Happy Birthday, Teddy was all it said. I didn't expect a reply, nor did I receive one.
I stopped by the bakery on the corner of Second and Joshua on my way to work. I decided not to think about why I wanted to do this or how it might be perceived and just did it. Following my instincts hadn't always worked to my disadvantage when it came to Edward.
***
I poked my head around the corner, my hands behind my back. I was nervous and it showed in the goofy smile on my face.
"Are you busy?"
Edward looked up from his desk, a bright smile on his own face.
"Bella! Good morning." He stood and walked around the desk as he spoke. His hands went to the pockets of his jeans. "Please, come in."
I brought the small cake out from behind my back and held it in front of me. It was chocolate and decorated with purple ribbons and writing that said Happy Birthday. It was only big enough for two people.
I'd brought one of these small cakes in a few months prior, for Angela's birthday. I thought it would be perfect for what I had in mind for Edward and me. It was so small that we couldn't include others in our celebration. It would just be him and, hopefully, he would ask me to stay and share it with him. And hopefully, sharing cake would lead to talking.
"Happy Birthday," I said, smiling. I walked toward him, holding the cake as if in offering. I noticed my hand was shaking slightly in front of me and I hoped he couldn't see it.
He smiled, widely, and his eyes sparkled at me, nearly taking my breath away. He wore a dark color again, which always made his eyes look dark green.
There were parts of the forest where Charlie used to take me, where the trees were so tall and grew so thick that the sun barely poked through the branches to light the forest floor. When they were dark like this, Edward's eyes reminded me of that forest. Sometimes when I looked at him, I thought I could even smell its comforting dampness.
"But you already said Happy Birthday to me," he said, taking the cake. He seemed nervous himself, though it was hard to read the expression on his face through his smile.
"Yes, but now I'm saying it with cake."
He sat back at his desk and put the cake in front of him. I sat in the chair across from him. He looked at me sheepishly.
"I know it's early, but would it be bad if we ate this now? I haven't eaten yet."
"It's your birthday.” I shrugged. “It's your cake. Eat it when you want to."
He grinned like a boy and opened his desk drawer. "I only have one fork. Do you mind sharing? I promise I don't have cooties."
I rolled my eyes. "I think whatever cooties you might have, Edward, you've already given to me."
"Yeah, you're right." He chuckled, but paused as he closed the drawer. "Listen, I'm glad you brought that up."
"Cooties?" I looked at him quizzically.
"Yeah ... um ... I'm gonna close the door, okay?" He rose from his seat and stopped by my side. "Do you think if I close the door, it'll spur some evil gossip about us?" 
He smirked down at me, making light of my concerns over such matters. I might have found it annoying if he wasn't so damn cute while he did it.
"Close it.” I shrugged. “I have decided to turn over a new leaf, anyway. I am embracing the gossip and want to make as much fun out of it as possible. Going forward, I'm just gonna make shit up and have it spread like wildfire. In fact, our dinner last night gave me an idea. I'm going to have Angela start a rumor that you and I are involved in some kind of partner-swap situation with Carlisle and Esme."
Edward had closed the door during my speech and raised his eyebrows as he walked back to his desk. "Ooh. I think that works well for me. That Esme is one sexy woman."
"You do realize that you don't actually get to have sex with her, right?"
"Well, sure, but I can live vicariously through the rumor-mill, can't I?" He looked slightly disappointed, all the same.
"True. And now all those people who wonder how I keep my job will know it's because I keep Carlisle very, very happy."
"I was wondering why you always have bruises on your knees."
I laughed out loud.
"I don't think anyone wonders how you keep your job, Bella."
I shrugged. "Well, I know a lot of them wish I didn't have it."
"I think you'd be surprised by what people really say about you. They have a lot of respect for you."
"Well, Edward, they also know that we're–" I swallowed the words in my throat, since I wasn't exactly sure what we were anymore. "Well, what are they gonna say to you? 'I can't believe you're sleeping with that bitch'?"
He sighed and leaned forward. "Let's just eat my cake, okay?"
I leaned forward as well, putting out my hand to halt him. "Wait," I said. I pulled out the small candle I had cradled in my palm and stuck it into the top of the cake. "You do have a lighter don't you, Mr. Smoker?"
He grinned, his hand going to his inside jacket pocket. I held out my hand and he handed it to me. His fingers drifted across my palm as he dropped the lighter into it and visions of the several dreams I'd had the night before flitted through my mind.
I dropped my eyes abruptly, lit the candle and smiled at him. "Make a wish," I said.
"You know full well what I wish, Bella." His eyes burned into mine.
I felt heat coming across my face and it wasn't from the tiny candle. "Well," I said slowly, "if you blow out the candle, maybe it will come true."
He hesitated, looking at me. My chest rose and fell quickly as my breaths started coming faster. I almost — just almost — reached out to touch his face. I was so close to doing it that my hand twitched where it lay on the desk in front of me. Instead, Edward bent his head forward, his eyes never leaving mine, and his lips pursed as he released his breath to extinguish the flame.
"Good boy," I said, smiling to break the mood. I crossed my arms on top of his desk.
He smirked as he picked up a knife and cut the cake in two, putting my half onto a paper napkin. He pushed it toward me.
I looked down at the large piece of chocolate cake in front of me. "You know there is no way I'm eating all this cake, right?"
He speared a piece of cake with the fork. "Ah, it's my birthday, Isabella. Live a little."
He winked at me as he popped the cake into his mouth and handed me the fork. I smiled a little as I looked down at my cake.
"So," I said. "Cooties?"
He quirked an eyebrow at me. "Huh?"
"You closed the door so that we might discuss cooties. Do you have some you need to tell me about? Should we have discussed this before I agreed to share a fork with you?" I kept it light, but in truth, I was a bit nervous about what he had to say.
"Oh.” He shook his head and took the fork from my hand. “No. I mean, I hope not. That is, I went to the doctor this week and had a blood test done. I'm finding out for sure. You know, in light of our little ... um ... accident. I know you were concerned."
He swallowed and handed me the fork. His eyes briefly reflected—what? Wistfulness? Grief? Regret, perhaps? It was gone in a moment.
I took the fork. "Oh, well ... I had the tests done already, actually."
His eyebrows shot up.
"All clean," I said, my hand moving to cover the cake in my mouth. "I found out yesterday, just before dinner."
I speared another piece of cake without realizing I had skipped Edward's turn. When we noticed what I had done, he raised an eyebrow at me comically, nodding his head.
I held the fork out toward him. "Here, you have it."
He looked at me over the fork, hesitating only briefly before taking it between his teeth. His lips followed in kind, gripping the fork and trailing over it to pull every morsel of chocolate into his mouth as I pulled the fork out.
He wasn't just eating cake and I wasn't just feeding it to him. The look in his eyes conveyed all the pent up want and need I had been feeling. The air was crackling, thick with sexual tension. My face was close to his as we leaned over the desk; so close that we shared the same chocolate-scented air.
"Bella, what are you doing?" His voice was low and smooth, silky. It sounded so familiar.
I smiled at him and leaned back in my chair, putting a bite of cake in my mouth and some distance between us. I wasn't being deliberately coy or evasive. The truth was, I didn't know the answer to his question. So instead of answering it, I asked one of my own.
"Why haven't you called me all week?" I tilted my head as I looked at him, handing him the fork.
His jaw dropped and I almost laughed at the crumbs of chocolate cake that covered his lips.
"Uh—pardon me, Bella." He handed the fork back to me. "But did you or did you not make it fairly clear that you didn't want to hear from me?"
I put the cake-covered fork in my mouth and shrugged. "I didn't want to hear from you. But your not calling told me that you didn't want to talk to me. Which was confusing since, last we did talk, you told me you were going to try to get me back."
"Bella, this is nuts." Edward dipped his head until he caught my eye. "I wanted nothing more than to talk to you, every night and every day."
"And yet, my phone never rang."
He rolled his eyes in exasperation. "I thought I was respecting your need for personal space—for time, to think about all of this."
I shrugged again. "To-may-toe, to-mah-toe."
His jaw would not stay shut as he looked at me. "You make no sense, you realize that."
I dropped the fork on the desk in front of me. "You know, Edward, for a man with such experience with the opposite sex, you really are ignorant to the ways of women."
"Huh. So I am beginning to learn." He sat forward, picking up the fork I had dropped and digging into the cake and shaking his head.
I looked around at the artwork on his walls: fairly generic, but nonetheless pleasing prints of oils by Cezanne and Klee. He cleared his throat and I looked over at him, hunched over the chocolate cake. 
"So last night," he said with a small shrug. "It was fun."
"It was, yes. I love Esme and Carlisle, especially away from work functions."
"I hope I didn't..." He sat back in his chair, wiping his hands on his denim-covered thighs. "I hope I didn't make it too weird for you. I mean, when Carlisle invited me ... I just didn't even want to get into explaining to him that we're not ... well, that we were ... whatever, I just thought it would be easier to pretend everything was okay." He looked at me earnestly. "Well, plus, Bella—I want things to be okay with us. I mean, I want us back."
Whoa. I can't say I was totally surprised by his words, but ... Well, I was used to Edward and me flirting along edges and dancing around issues for a good long while before we got around to them. I wasn't expecting a full frontal assault just yet. And he was so confident and so flirty — so fucking cocky — at Carlisle's. The look in his eyes sitting across from me in his office showed so much more—that little hint of vulnerability that never ceased to amaze or endear me when revealed.
He must have read the shock on my face because he smiled sympathetically. "I know, Bella. I'm not expecting miracles here. I'm just saying that, yeah, I guess I played the confusion last night to my advantage. I mean, I wanted to see you. I wanted to hear you laugh. I wanted to hold your hand. I wanted to ... well, I wanted to do a lot of things to you last night."
I felt a blush on my cheek and looked down at my lap. Dinner at Carlisle's had been frustrating and irritating, but I couldn't deny that I had also enjoyed it on many levels.
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you it was my birthday, Bella."
I blushed again as I looked at him. "Yes, that was ... embarrassing."
"It's not like I kept it from you, really–"
I bristled internally at his use of terms that related to, once again, not intentionally keeping things from me and I wondered if this was to be an ongoing conversation with him. However, the truth was that we hadn't been seeing each other long, we hadn’t talked much for a couple of weeks and honestly, birthdays were just something that hadn't yet come up in our conversations. Just another in a long list of things we didn't know about one another.
I waved a hand in front of me. "It's not your fault, Edward. It just never came up before."
"You know, I'm now twenty-eight." He grinned.
"That makes sense." I nodded. I poked a thumb at my chest. "Director of Credit, remember? I can do math."
He chuckled. "Yes, well, I'm only ten years younger than you now."
I chuckled as well and shook my head. "For a few months, yes."
"When's your birthday?"
"January. Fourth."
He raised his eyebrows. "What, that makes you a Capricorn?"
"Indeed, yes."
His fingers played at his chin, his elbows resting on the desk in front of him.
"Hmm ... what are Capricorns like?"
I shrugged. "You know me. What do you think I'm like?"
"You know what I mean, Bella."
"I do know what you mean, but I don't really pay attention to these things. Um ... I think Capricorns are supposed to be ambitious, that I do remember reading."
He raised his eyebrows, excited. "Ambitious, eh? Well, that's accurate."
"I think that's why I remembered that particular trait." I smiled at him, his comically expressive face leaving me no choice.
"So what are you?" I asked him.
"What?"
"What's your sign?"
"Libra." He grinned.
"Okay, so what does that mean?"
"I'm charming and attractive to the opposite sex." He chuckled.
"Yeah, don't you also have trouble making decisions?" I recalled having read that at one point, when I was a teenager and researching John Lennon's horoscope.
He smirked at me over his desk. "Yes, I often have difficulty deciding whether it's better that I'm charming or that I'm attractive to the opposite sex."
We laughed, looking at each other almost shyly through our chuckles. As our laughter died down after several moments, we were left staring at each other awkwardly for several more. He looked as if he wanted to say something and even though I wanted to hear it, I had the feeling it wasn't something I was ready to hear. I wasn't even sure I understood what was going on in my own mind at that point. I was still so hurt by what he'd done, but I could not deny that I missed him terribly.
"You know, I've never actually been in your office before," I said abruptly, looking around.
"Really?" He scratched at his scalp and scrunched up his face, making me smile. "No, I guess you haven't. Why not?"
I shrugged. "You never give me the chance. You're always camped out in mine."
"True, but yours is nicer. I don't have a window."
"Yes, well ... one of the perks of having been here so long, I guess." My hand went nervously to my hair and paused. I smiled to myself as I realized I was picking up on Edward's nervous gestures.
"Listen, not that I didn't want to help you celebrate your birthday, but I kind of have an ulterior motive for showing up here and bribing you with cake."
His eyebrows flew to his hairline and he sat back in his chair, a devilish smirk on his face.
"Oh?"
I ignored his body language, to the best of my ability. "Yes, well, Christmas buying season is rapidly approaching and I've only heard from one of your sales reps in regard to credit lines."
His face betrayed his ignorance. "Come again?"
"At the beginning of September each year, I send out a list to every rep, listing their customers and the customer's present credit lines, open balances, all of that information. I ask the reps to go through their forecasts for the season and let me know if their customers are going to need credit line increases. That way, we have plenty of time to get everything done before the orders come in for Christmas and hopefully nothing goes on hold because they're over their credit line."
He nodded. "And you're saying only one guy has gotten back to you."
"Scott Anderson, yes. No surprise, he's always on top of these things."
"Well, Bella, who's to say that the other guys just don't need credit line increases?"
I rolled my eyes. "Give me a break, Edward. You think this is the first Christmas season I've gone through with your sales team?" I took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
"Sorry," I said. "It's just that I've been through this a few years in a row, now, and the same thing happens every year. The reps don't tell me what kind of credit line they're going to need, then all of a sudden there are orders on hold because they far exceed the line we have given the customer, and everything needs to ship immediately because it's Christmas and we aren't given enough time to do what we need to do to update their file." I shrugged. "Guess I'm taking it all out on you."
He grinned and crossed his legs at the ankles, leaning back in his chair, his hands crossed behind his head again. His long body stretched out in front of him and I couldn't help but admire it.
"Tell you what," he said. "I will have a meeting with the reps about this ... if you have dinner with me tonight."
I peered at him over his desk. "You still haven't had the Sexual Harassment training, have you?"
He made an extremely amusing face and I had to stifle a laugh. "Actually, now that you mention it, no I haven't." He shrugged. "No matter, I don't need training. I can harass with the best of them."
"Yes, I've noticed."
He leaned forward in his seat, becoming serious. "Bella. Come on. Yes, I will have a meeting with my guys—no problem. Let's put that aside, though ... Agree to have dinner with me. It's my birthday, after all."
I thought about it for a moment before I asked, "When will you have the meeting with your team?"
"I'll have it Tuesday morning.” He grinned. “If I don't, you can back out of Jasper's Halloween party."
"Gee, thanks for giving me that out, but Alice would kill me if I miss that party and you know it." 
I knew this was a bad idea ... sort of. Something told me that even within the myriad of reasons to say no, however, there was one very good reason to say yes.
That reason's phone began to ring.
"God damn it," he muttered. 
I chuckled, thankful for the interruption even if it irritated him, and he picked up the phone.
"Yes, this is Edward. Yes, she's here with me." He glanced at me, an amused look on his face as he did so. I watched as his smile faltered. "I'll tell her. Thanks." He hung up the phone, looking at me.
"You've got a delivery downstairs. Seems somebody sent you flowers. They're waiting for you at reception."
I crossed my hands in front of me on the desk again, giving him a pointed look. "Oh, somebody did? Edward..."
He returned my gaze. He didn't look very happy.
"Edward," I said. "You need to stop. It's too much."
"Stop what?"
I watched as his expression changed from irritation to confusion. The longer I stared, the more the cake in my stomach churned.
"I didn't send you flowers, Bella," he said, finally realizing what I meant. "You think these are from me?"
"Well..." I sat up straight. "I assumed so, yes. I mean..."
A feeling of dread came over me as everything hit me at once: The tulips. All the roses left for me. The notes I'd received. 
"Edward, have you sent me ... well, have you even given me any flowers — anything — since ... you know, since we fought and..." 
My eyes were pleading and Edward sat slowly forward.
"Bella, I haven't sent you flowers since—well, since the hickey."
I thought I was going to throw up. My hands felt clammy and I was sure the color had drained from my face.
"Bella?" Edward's face reflected the concern in his voice. "Bella, what the fuck is going on?"
"I need to call Angela." I looked up at him. "Can I use your phone?"
He handed me the receiver and turned the telephone toward me so that I could dial her extension.
"Hello, Edward," Angela said brightly, obviously reading the name off the Caller ID on her phone. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"Ang, it's me," I said.
"Oh, hi. Um ... you're in Edward's office?" I could hear the insinuation in her voice.
"Not now, Angela. Listen, remember when I gave you those tulips a couple of weeks ago?"
"Of course. They were lovely."
"Did you keep the card by chance? Or do you remember what it said?"
"There wasn't one."
"Really." 
It was more a statement than a question as I sat back in my chair. Edward's eyes were piercing as he stared at me from across the desk, his brow furrowed in concern.
"Yeah. I assumed you'd kept the card, actually."
"Okay, thanks Ang."
I hung up and sat back, staring at Edward. I could feel my heart pounding in my temples, blood rushed through my ears, sounding torrential.
"Bella, what is it?"
I cleared my throat and asked for a drink from the bottle of water he had sitting next to him. After I'd swallowed, he took a swig, as well.
"Someone has been sending me flowers. I got a bunch of tulips right after we fought and I just assumed they were from you."
"Wait. You gave tulips you thought were from me to Angela?"
I rolled my eyes. "Edward, that's hardly the issue right now, is it? Anyway, someone has also been leaving me random roses, here and there."
"Here and there?"
"There was one left on my car here after work. There was—oh god." My face paled further as I stared, gape-mouthed, at Edward. "There was one left on my porch last weekend. If this is ... whoever this guy is does know where I live."
My heart pounded as blackness started to surround me. My chest heaved under the weight of my rapid breaths and my stomach churned in nauseous waves. I vaguely heard Edward's voice in the background.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, Bella. Here, put your head between your legs."
I felt his warm hand between my shoulders, pushing me forward. His other hand was at my knee, his fingers lightly tapping at it.
My breaths started to come more slowly and I felt Edward's fingers at the nape of my neck, lifting my hair. He blew soft, cool breaths along the heated, exposed skin, soothing me as I caught my breath and the waves of nausea dissipated.
"You okay?" His lips were close as he whispered and he kissed me softly at the shell of my ear.
"Yes," I whispered. I took a deep breath and pulled back to sit up a bit, but I remained close to him. "Thank you. Yes."
I looked into his eyes, dark with concern, bright with affection. The skin of my face felt damp and cool and my body tingled with a surge of quiet panic.
"Edward, I don't like this."
"I don't like it either." He laced his fingers through my hair and he didn't move from his position, crouched in front of me.
"I have to go home," I said, sitting up in the chair. "I have to ... make some calls." I looked at Edward, not really seeing him. My mind was racing. "Whatever, I need to go home."
He touched a hand to my arm and as I looked at it, his voice came to me from someplace distant.
"Bella, hold on. Do you really want to go home, alone?"
Why does he sound like he's under water?
I stood and hit my thigh on the edge of his desk. The pain barely registered as compared to the vulnerability that overwhelmed me. I felt exposed. I wanted to be home, wrapped in a blanket and safely ensconced within those walls I had loved for so many years, but then it hit me that those walls might not be so safe, after all. Visions of some faceless predator parked across the street, watching, assaulted me and I stumbled on my way toward the door of Edward's office.
Edward's arms wrapped around my waist as he caught me mid-stumble. His voice was full of concern. "Bella ... Bella, wait. Sit down for a moment."
I returned to the seat I had just vacated and looked up at him with wide eyes.
"I really need to get out of here, Edward. I can't deal with all of this ... here."
He again crouched in front of me. His hand squeezed my knee. "I know, Bella. I know. But you're not driving anywhere like this. I'm gonna take you home, okay? I'm not gonna leave you alone, Bella."
Relief flooded over me and I grabbed his hand in mine, looking into his forest-deep eyes. "Would you mind?"
He smiled up at me. "Of course I don't mind, Bella."
***
We had left my truck at work, intending to go back and retrieve it later that night or perhaps over the weekend. We made phone calls. There was again no card sent with the flowers, and the flower shop would not tell me who had sent them, no matter how I begged and cajoled. Finally, I called out the big guns and snuck Edward's formidable charms on the lady who answered the phone. I rolled my eyes and threw my hands up in the air when it became obvious within moments that she had relented and was looking up the information for him. However, it turned out that whoever had purchased the flowers had done so using cash and they had no record of his or her name anyway.
During my other call, the police took a report and asked that I drop off the note that had been left on my windshield, but since all actions taken up to that point had been "harmless," there was probably little they could do at apart from start a file and try to obtain additional information from the florist. There was little they could do even if they were able to determine who was sending me the flowers, however, since, as I was told by a voice on the other end of the phone, "There's no crime against sending flowers, ma'am." But I was told that it was good to start keeping track of the information at any rate, so that should anything happen in future — "should matters escalate" — they would have the file already started and, therefore, hopefully, some leads.
None of these calls made me feel the slightest bit better. I had never missed Charlie more than I did in those moments after hanging up with the local police. I felt lost and alone and frightened and I wanted my daddy.
Instead, Edward and I sat on the sofa in the sun room. I had changed into a pair of sweats and was curled up under an afghan, a mug of chamomile tea in my hand. Edward had a cup of coffee in his, resting it on the arm of the couch. His right leg, crossed over his left at the ankle, bounced out a staccato beat, betraying his agitation.
"I guess you haven't really eaten yet," I said. "I mean, cake hardly counts."
He smiled and his leg stopped bouncing. He put an arm on the back of the couch.
"It counted," he said, looking at me with a soft smile. His simple words brought heat to my face and I looked down into my tea as I drank it.
His leg started to bounce again.
"I guess I should let you get back to work, huh?" I asked.
He ran the hand that had been on the back of the sofa through his hair. "Well ... I mean, Bella, do you want me to go?" He looked over at me. "Because honestly, I don't really feel good about leaving you here alone."
Relief flooded through me at his offer. I hated feeling like a scaredy-cat girl who needed a man to protect her, but the prospect of being alone just then was frightening almost beyond reason. I knew I'd figure out how best to handle the situation eventually, but for now the fear of not knowing exactly what was going on and who was responsible and how dangerous that person was and where, exactly, that person might be, was paralyzing.
It might have been slightly awkward, having Edward sitting there with me at the opposite end of a sofa. Only a few weeks ago, I had lay my head in his lap while we laughed through Clerks and then threw popcorn at one another until I punched him and we ended up making love right there where he was sitting. There was, however, still a glimmer of the joy and comfort that had accompanied his presence in my life since we'd met. And there was, of course, the ever-present, ever-potent sexual tension.
I smiled and pulled the afghan around my shoulders a little tighter. "Really? Because yeah ... I mean, I'd really like you to stay, if you can. I mean, if you don't mind."
His face broke into a smile, mirroring mine. "Okay, good then. I'll stay."
"Are you hungry, though? I could make you something."
"We could order pizza." He grinned.
"Yes, because that's worked so well for us in the past."
"I can't believe you wanted to see me again after that." His head fell back against the sofa as he chuckled at the memory.
My sock-clad foot snuck out from underneath the afghan and kicked at his thigh, lightly. "It's not like getting sick was your fault, you dork." I shrugged. "Besides, you showed a tremendous capacity for recovery, which was most impressive."
He chuckled and smirked, his hand tapping his belly. "I really am quite the ├╝bermensch ain't I?"
I shook my head in exaggerated exasperation, a smile threatening at the corner of my mouth. "Anyway, any man who can eat salsa on his eggs a mere twelve hours after puking his guts up is a man after my own heart."
"That's all it took, huh?"
"Pretty much, yeah. I'd say I was basically yours from that point forward."
My mouth dropped in surprise at the words that came from my own mouth. Edward's brows drew together as he studied my face for several moments before he leaned forward to put his coffee down on the table in front of us. He sat back with a deep breath and turned in his seat, toward me.
"Okay, Bella. Can you please explain to me what the hell is going on?"
I shook my head, my eyes wide. "What do you mean?" 
I knew what he meant. I was being ridiculous. I had been the Queen of Mixed Messages over the past two days and what's worse was I had no idea what I truly wanted. Rather, I knew what I wanted. I just didn't want to want what I wanted.
"What do I mean? What do you mean, what do I mean? I mean, last I heard you wanted nothing to do with me and today—well, Precious, today you're acting like that is not the case." He leaned forward and laid his hand at my ankle. "Not that I'm complaining about this change in attitude, but I'd just like to understand what train I'm on, here. What's going on Bella? Are you...? I mean, are we...?" His hand moved back and forth between us, saying as much or more with them than with his stuttered words.
I leaned down to put my now-empty mug on the floor. My other hand was at my face, holding my hair back and out of it. I sighed and looked up at Edward with weary eyes. I felt horrible for running so hot and cold and, worse, for not fully understanding my own thoughts and behaviors. It was fairly obvious that on more than one level I was willing to forgive him and move on. But when I would start to relax about the notion, some sort of panicked self-preservation kicked in and something snarky and borderline obnoxious would fly out my mouth.
"I don't know, Edward. I know that I miss you. I know that I lay in bed at night, thinking of you and wondering if you're thinking of me. I know that last night I was inches away from asking you to stay with me. I know that right now I really want nothing more than to crawl into your lap and camp out there for about a decade or so."
My knees came quickly up to my chest, almost in defense as Edward moved across the sofa toward me. He smiled and took my face in his hands before I put a hand to his chest to keep him from getting too close.
"I miss you too, Bella. I think about you all the time and not just when I'm lying in bed at night and—oh, my God, why do you have to smell so good?" 
He chuckled and his lips touched my forehead as I closed my eyes in an effort to focus on what I needed to say.
"I do feel those things, Edward, but I'm so scared right now." I looked into his smiling eyes. "When I'm with you, I don't feel scared. I feel safe. And I want to feel safe and warm with you Edward, I do. But I don't want the fact that I'm scared right now to push me into your arms, either."
His face fell and he started to pull away. "Fuck, Bella–"
I put my hand to his cheek, pulling his face back toward mine. "Edward, can we just go slow? Can we start over and ... maybe do it the right way this time?" My eyes searched his face; his were focused on my lips. My hand moved over his jaw until it landed in his hair, my fingers moving through the tendrils at the back of his neck. "Can we just—get to know each other? Learn to trust one another?"
His eyes darted to mine. "I trust you, Bella. I'd trust you with all that I have."
I looked into his eyes, trying to communicate my thoughts without having to verbalize them. When his eyes fell, I knew he understood. I would have to learn to trust him.
I put a hand to his cheek, knowing that wasn’t the only stumbling block. "Edward, if you trust me, why don't I know anything about you?"
He sat back a little, exasperated. "Bella, I don't understand what it is you need to know. I mean, my life hasn't been that entertaining."
"I don't want to be entertained, Edward. I just want to know you. I want to know who you are, how your mind works, what you value and how to came to those values. Whether you preferred Maryann to Ginger." I smiled at his smirking face. "You know, the important stuff."
He sat back against the sofa, turning his head to look at me for several long moments. His usually expressive face held a thoughtful, almost dark expression and his shoulders were slightly hunched in a way I'd not seen them before. I sat quietly, letting him process his thoughts.
"Bella, please know that it's never been my design to, like ... keep stuff from you; to keep me from you. I just..." His eyes dropped to his hand, which ran along the thigh of his jeans. "The way I grew up, Bella ... It's not like we all sat around and shared our feelings with one another. We didn't talk about ... fuck, I don't know that we ever talked about anything, not really." He looked into the air ahead of himself for a long while before he shrugged. "Honestly, I was always given the distinct impression that people were out to get what they could from us, you know? To latch on to my family's money or ... I don't know, social standing or whatever. I don't ever remember having an actual conversation about it, exactly, but somewhere along the line I learned to hold back. Sort of ... if you don't share your position, the enemy doesn't know where to attack, you know?"
He gave a small, sad smile and returned his eyes to me. "I don't know. It's not like I want to be that way. But I never even really thought about it until ... well, recently. When we were up in San Francisco, you know, and you asked me all those questions about myself. At the time, I didn't really get it. I didn't understand why you thought you knew so little about me. But I've been thinking about it in the last couple of weeks, about how I hold back without even really being conscious of it. I make a joke out of everything, so I don’t have to really look at anything." 
He put his hand over my foot again and my hand covered his. He turned toward me again and I touched my hand to his cheek. I couldn’t help but touch him.
"Edward, I just feel like ... I feel like we've been so intimate with each other, in so many ways, from so very early on in our relationship ... but in truth, we don't really know each other. You're not the only one with walls up, you know." 
I smiled and his hand slid up my arm. 
"And I think ... I think maybe my expectations of you were out of whack a little and based on our level of intimacy rather than ... I don't know, I mean, did I expect too much?" I shook my head slightly, closing my eyes. "Don't answer that. Because the real point is, we never even discussed it: what my expectations should be, or yours. We jumped over a lot of levels in our relationship, you know? We've always had such fuck-hot sex–"
He chuckled and gripped the back of my neck. I smiled.
"I know, thank God for that, right?" 
I blushed and smiled as Edward continued to chuckle softly. Again, he kissed my forehead.
"But listen,” I continued. “I think we've concentrated so much on that that we neglected to build some of the fundamentals of our relationship. And I think maybe if we hadn't, if we'd known each other better and been more secure in our relationship and what we could expect from one another, we might have been in a better position to handle the La Perla Bimbo. In a lot of ways. You would have maybe trusted me — trusted in us — enough to talk to me about her instead of keeping it from me. And I could have been there for you instead of–"
He had stiffened steadily as I spoke and he now smirked at me.
"What?" I asked.
"La Perla Bimbo?"
"Oh...” I blushed. “Well, yes, that's what I've been calling your friend from Chicago."
He started to chuckle, but I pulled his face tighter to me and kissed him. He stopped laughing and I felt his hand at the back of my neck, pulling me toward him. I pulled away, however, before either of us could truly deepen the kiss. His eyes were damp as they looked into mine. His thumb ran across my cheek.
"I'm sorry, Bella."
I sighed. "I know you are, Edward."
"No, I mean–" He dropped his hand from my face and pulled away, dropping his eyes to his lap. "I don't know what I'm doing, here, you know? I've never done this before." He looked up at me from under his lashes, very much a boy. "I've never been in a relationship before. I'm not at all sure how they even work."
I don't know that I was surprised to hear him say that, but it was something I hadn't known for sure. I shrugged. "Well, what do I know? My only real relationship ended in divorce."
He chuckled and looked again at his lap. "So how do two fuck-ups like us make it work then?"
"I don't know. Maybe we won't be able to." 
His head shot up and he looked at me, his brows pulled together. 
"I don't know, Edward.” I shrugged. “As a wise lady told me recently, it's pretty much a fuckin' crap shoot."
I took a deep breath, the pieces of my scattered thoughts perhaps only at that moment coming together. But they felt right. They were finally in place, where they belonged. "But I think I'd like to try. Wouldn't you?"
He hesitated all of half a second before he flew toward me. His hands held my face as he pulled me toward him in a kiss.
I almost cried when I felt his tongue dart out to touch mine; in fact, I did whimper a little. We both stood on our knees on the sofa and I threw my arms around him and pulled him to me as if I was drowning and his clothes were made of life-preservers. His kisses fell so perfectly on my lips, his tongue moved so tenderly over mine. I felt I had come home. I wanted to laugh for the joy of it.
His lips moved to my cheeks as he kissed my smiling face. His hands ran through my hair.
"Oh my God, Bella," he said softly, between kisses. "I can't lose you. I love you so much."
My arms went around his shoulders and I lay my head against his chest. A few tears drifted down my face as I inhaled his musky Edward smell. His hands threaded through my hair as he cradled my head to him and he kissed the top of my head. After a few moments, he lowered us together and slowly sat back against the arm of the sofa, pulling me with him. I lay between his legs, my head on his chest, and I listened to the steady, strong beat of his heart against my ear.
I fell asleep on his chest like that, Edward's arms wrapped around me and the rhythm of his beating heart lulling me, comforting me in my slumber. I woke an hour or so later, my neck and back stiff from the position I'd been in, but not willing to move. I buried my face a little deeper into Edward's chest and felt him stir, his hands running through my hair.
"Mm ... Sorry," he whispered. "I fell asleep."
I chuckled lightly against his shirt. "So did I."
One of his hands ran up and down my back slowly, leaving a heated trail in its wake. I stretched up and kissed the underside of his jaw.
"Hey, Bella?"
"Mmm?" I lay my head back against his chest and curled as close as possible into him. I had never felt such warmth surrounding me.
"So this going slow thing." He pulled away slightly to look down at my face, but kept his hands on me. "What does that mean, exactly?'
I smiled up at him and turned slightly, so that I lay on my side between his legs. He moved a hand to my thigh and the other stayed wrapped around my shoulders. 
"Um ... that means no sex." I said.
His eyes opened wide. "No sex? For how long?"
"I don't know.” I shrugged. “Until we feel ready for it."
"Huh." His eyes twinkled at me and his face started moving slowly toward mine. "Well, I feel ready right now."
I turned, but his smiling and nibbling lips were at my neck before I pushed at his chest.
"Come on now, Edward. Be fair. Be a good boy."
He pulled away, a small pout on his face. He settled back against the sofa with an exaggerated sigh.
"I guess this means I'll have to take you out on dates and stuff, huh?
"Ooh ... forced to spend time with me. Whatever shall you do under the strain?" I slapped at his chest.
"Eh. I'll figure out some way to make it enjoyable for me." He looked down his nose at me, comically. "You don't have a problem with sports bars and strip clubs, right?"
***
We decided Edward was to stay the night so I wouldn't be left alone. I decided that meant he would sleep in the guest bedroom.
That notion did not go over well.
"It's important to me, Edward. And I think it's important for us." We stood in the hallway, where I was retrieving fresh bedding from the linen closet.
"Okay, fine. Can we at least sleep together? Just cuddle?"
I chuckled sarcastically and handed him the pillow I had pulled from the hall closet. "No way, son. I was seventeen the last time I fell for that line."
He grinned, not even bothering to pretend he was innocent. "What's the matter?" He winked at me. "You don't think you can keep your hands off me?"
I rolled my eyes and nudged him back down the hallway. "Don't make me be the responsible adult all the time, Edward. Help me out, here."
When we reached the guest room, he threw his pillow on the bed and leaned back against its edge, forcing me to drop the blankets I had been carrying and pulling me between his legs. He rested his hands just beneath the curve of my backside and he brought his lips to my neck.
"Come on, Bella," he whispered as he kissed and licked my neck. "I miss you ... I can be a good boy. I promise—no funny business."
Just the way he whispered that into my ear made me want to participate in more funny business than I would, on some days, be willing to admit knowing how to describe.
I took a deep breath and put my hands on his shoulders, pulling away from him slightly. "Edward, I think we'll both sleep a lot better if the temptation isn't pressed right up next to us all night."
I pulled away, bending over to retrieve the sheets and blankets I had dropped. I felt his hand on my ass and straightened up quickly, moving toward the other side of the bed. Edward chuckled as he watched me and held out his hand.
"Here, hand me my end of the sheet."
I threw the sheet at him as he smirked at me.
"I'm just giving you a hard time, Bella," he said, almost laughing as he tucked the sheet under the bottom edge of the mattress.
"So to speak," I said, with a wink.
"I know what you mean about going slow."
"You do?" I tossed him the edge of a blanket and eyed him, skeptically.
"Of course. I mean, I can't say I've ever gone slow before, but it's fine. I think I can wait."
I straightened and watched as he shoved a pillow into its case.
"You think?"
"Sure. You may find this hard to believe, but somehow I think I can manage to keep my hands off of you."
I chuckled and walked over to him, patting his cheek. "Uh-huh. Okay, then. Goodnight, Edward."
I leaned into him, up on my toes, to give him a soft, chaste kiss on the lips before turning toward the bedroom door.
"Hey, Bella." I looked back to him. "In all seriousness ... Thank you. Thank you for giving me another chance."
I walked back to him and wrapped my arms around his waist, looking up at him as I felt his arms wrap around me. I stepped up on my toes to kiss him softly, sighing into his mouth. As I pulled away from his lips, I rubbed my cheek along his and molded my body to his, wrapping my arms tightly around his neck. His hands were practically lifting me off the ground, his lips were buried in my neck. My lips were right next to his ear and I whispered into it.
"Thank you for wanting one."

1 comment:

  1. I like that they're taking it slowly...that he agreed to, that she wanted to....yes, this is nice. Now, when is james going to show his ugly face?

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