Chapter 21 – The Hallow's Eve
"Stimpy fucking suffered hard!" Jasper looked up from his conversation with — of all people — a convict-stripes-clad Truman, and smiled widely in my direction.
"Hey! Bella!" He reached out to pull me in for a hug. He was dressed as Peter Pan—what amounted to a short, green dress, a cute little green hat with a feather in it, a knife around his waist and green tights. The fact that Alice had answered the door dressed as Tinker Bell shed a lot of light on just why he'd made that particular costume choice, but I had to hold back the giggles when I got a look at him.
"My God, Jasper. You look..."
He rolled his eyes as he pulled out of our hug. "Whipped. I know. Can you believe she got me to wear fuckin' tights?" He rolled his eyes again and grinned.
"The things we do for love, eh?" I giggled.
"Well, the girl loves me, no doubt about that. But I find that getting her to show it in certain ways is a lot easier when I play along and just wear the damn tights when she asks me to." Jasper looked me up and down. "You look pretty flippin' hot, though, I must say Bella. Edward seen you yet?"
He winked at me and I smiled. I was dressed as a police officer. Well, a police officer from a Roger Corman movie, maybe. I had tall, tight, patent leather boots on over dark stockings. These were topped by a pair of extremely tight — and extremely tiny — black shorts. They just barely covered my ass and it was a good thing those shorts were made of a supportive material, because I was half-afraid said ass was going to get tired halfway through the night and just spill out the bottom hem without warning. Around my waist was a belt on which I hung my "weapons." Among them: a fake hand gun, a Billy club made of nerf material and a pair of handcuffs. Real ones. I had the key on my belt, too. The grey and black police uniform shirt I wore seemed to be about two sizes too small (although it said Medium on the tag). Only two buttons in the middle even made it closed. My breasts spilled through the top and bits of my black lace bra could be glimpsed beneath it. A tiny flash of my belly was likewise visible since the shirt didn't quite come together over my hips. I had a large pair of CHP-Standard Ray Ban sunglasses sitting on top of my head, holding my wavy hair out of my eyes.
Needless to say, I’d gone costume shopping with Rose. Also, we were buzzed when we walked into the store, so my senses of propriety and modesty were compromised. I'd had two glasses of wine at home the night of the party, just to get up the nerve to walk out of the house dressed like that.
I blushed a little and looked down at myself. "Yeah, thanks ... I haven't seen Edward, no." I looked around the room. "I just got here, though."
"He's around here somewhere. I'll tell him you're here if I see him." He patted my back and looked at Truman. "Guess I should go mingle, guys. I think I see an old friend wandering around like he's lost." He smiled at us both and waved a hand. "See ya in a bit."
I motioned to Truman's costume with my hand and grinned at him. "Steal some of your clients' clothes, did you?"
He looked down at himself and smiled. "Ha-ha," he said before motioning toward my get-up. "Look at you, though. Funny how we're dressed like we're ... well, together."
I crooked an eyebrow at him. "Did Rose give you the skinny on my costume ahead of time or something?"
"Not at all, I assure you. It was simply the fates, messing with us mere mortals."
"You have an open line of communication with the fates, do you?"
Truman merely raised his eyebrows over the plastic cup he had raised to his lips.
"Well, if you do, can you ask them if I'm actually going to stay in this tiny costume all night?"
He almost did a spit-take as he started to laugh. I laughed along.
"Because if not," I continued. "I'd really like to leave the party early. Don't want to make a spectacle of myself."
He laughed again.
"Where's the bar, anyway?" I asked as I giggled.
"Out back on the patio.” He motioned to his right with his cup. “Come on, I'll show you."
We moved through several clumps of people, through the festively decorated living and dining rooms, toward the back of the house. Alice stopped me at one point, telling me not to let her forget to give me "The Grand Tour." She was already three sheets to the wind and I just patted her on the back and sent her on her way.
As we approached the bar outside, I turned to Truman.
"So at the risk of being rude, Truman, who did you come here with? Or ... I mean, I just didn't know you were friends with Alice and Jasper."
He smiled, easing my discomfort and I ordered my usual from the bartender.
"I'm not, really. Rose and Emmett brought me along. I think Rose is worried that I have no social life."
I grinned and nodded. "That sounds like Rose. Always trying to take care of everyone. She's very maternal."
Truman looked out into the crowd of people gathered outside. "Yes."
"It's kind of annoying," I said.
"Yes." He grinned.
I giggled and sipped my drink.
I turned at the sound of Edward's voice greeting me from behind.
I watched his face as I turned and stood in front of him. His eyes both widened and darkened at once, his mouth fell open slightly before lifting at one corner. His eyes raked over my body slowly, from head to toe. I wanted to offer him a tissue to catch any errant drool that might drip from his chin, but didn't have one. There wasn't any place in my outfit in which to carry one.
Silently, I thanked Rose for her bad influence on my costume choices. And I thanked God for Lycra-spandex.
I set my drink down on the bar and walked toward him, slowly. I felt his hand at my back as I stepped up on my toe to whisper in his ear.
"You're welcome," I said.
Edward's dark chuckle tickled my ear. "Ah, but my birthday was last week."
I shrugged and pulled away, but he grabbed my arm with a growl and pulled me around and behind the bar, to the side of the house. I laughed as he pushed me against the wall.
"Teddy, Teddy ... Be good now. I don't want to have to cite you for public indecency."
My voice left my throat in a stifled squeal as he pressed his mouth to mine, forcing his tongue between my lips. I heard a soft thump and briefly wondered what it was before all thought left my head and I only felt Edward's body, hard against mine. His hands traveled up my sides and around my back, one clutching my ass to him. The heat of his kiss took my breath away and I was panting by the time he pulled back to catch his own.
"What the fuck are you doing to me?" He almost growled the question, but smiled down at me, taking the sunglasses from my head so he could run his fingers through my hair.
I craned my neck so I could nibble on his chin and pressed into him. "Mmm ... Whatever I can get away with."
He drifted a hand down my back and chuckled as he looked up to the sky. I continued to nip at his chin and neck.
"I think you're trying to kill me," he said.
I realized with a start that his right shoulder was bare, his left covered by some leopard-print material that fell to just above his knees. I pulled away, visually taking him in fully for the first time. I had been too busy watching his reaction to my costume to notice what he had on.
"What the hell are you wearing?"
He pulled away, laughing, and bent to pick up a large wooden club he’d dropped to the ground. I gasped.
"You're a caveman." I giggled. I was giddy and giggly. I felt drunk, though I wasn't.
"I am, yes." He grinned.
"Ah!" I threw my hands in the air. "You're finally admitting it."
Edward moved toward me again, his hand around my waist pulling me close to him. His eyes were mischievous; a sly smile danced on his lips. At that one moment, I thought my heart might burst from joy.
"Be nice," he said. He watched my lips as he spoke. "Or I might decide to drag you off by the hair to my cave, have my way with your body, seeking only my pleasure."
"Ooh, promises, promises."
He kissed me deeply, his club again falling to the ground beside him. He ground his hips into me and smiled against my lips as his actions elicited a soft groan from my throat.
His forehead rested against mine as his cool and rapid breaths drifted across my lips.
"You're lucky I took the bone out," he said, breathing rapidly and smiling.
I crooked an eyebrow and moved my head, unable to fully pull away due to the wall behind me. "Excuse me, young man?"
"The bone." He grinned and reached a hand to his side. It disappeared into a pocket I hadn't known was there, and pulled out a white, plastic bone. Edward brought it up to his face, played with it at his nose, and when he pulled his hand away, it appeared that he had a bone through his nose. "Out of my nose." He winked and grinned at me, his hands falling to caress my sides. He pushed his hips in closer.
"Delightful," I said. "Thank you for removing that before assaulting me."
He chuckled and pushed his hips into me again. I could feel his erection against my hip and it was driving me mad.
"Assault? That was not assault."
"Oh no?" I reached a hand down to my belt. "Let me just get my handbook here and look it up."
He grabbed my hand and pinned it against the wall behind me, pressing his body even closer into mine. Even as my heart raced at his actions, I couldn't help but laugh at that damn bone in his nose.
"You called me Teddy," Edward said, his voice low and his eyes burning into mine.
"I did, yes."
"I haven't heard that in a while." As my breaths started to come faster at the feel of his body against mine, his eyes darted to my chest where they stayed for a moment before lifting back to meet mine.
He chuckled, softly. "Yes?"
"I wanted to warn you about something."
He raised an eyebrow. "Yes?"
"I didn't want to take you by surprise."
Both of his eyebrows raised, then, and I grinned.
"I'm about to grab your bone."
Before my words fully computed in his mind, I reached up with my free hand to pull the bone from Edward's nose and leaned my face up to his. With a growl, his body again urged mine against the wall behind me, his lips on mine.
"Still feel assaulted?" he asked as he pulled away. He had a knowing smirk on his face as he looked down into my undoubtedly flushed face.
"I feel ... something. Is that a deadly weapon in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?"
"I'll show you a deadly weapon." He grinned, grinding into me yet again and bending to kiss me as I giggled.
"What are you guys doing over here?"
I tried to stop giggling as Edward released my hand from the wall and it then flew to my mouth. He took a step away from me.
"Come join the party!" Alice pouted.
"Oh Alice, come on," I said. "We were just saying hello."
She stood with her hands on her hips, her head cocked to one side. I almost laughed at the way her Tinker Bell wings bounced slightly behind her, completely undermining her attempt to look stern.
"The whole purpose of having a party is to mingle with people, you guys. It is not so that you can steal off into dark corners and make out."
I looked blankly between Alice and Edward. Edward was grinning. "Dude, I don't know what high school you went to, but where I come from–"
Alice sighed, exasperated, as she reached out and grabbed my forearm. I heard Edward laughing behind me.
"Come on, Bella. Let's find Rose and I'll show you my new house!"
Alice was walking. She was putting one foot in front of the other on the grass as it rolled out in front of her. But for some reason, when Alice did it on that Halloween night, it looked like she was skipping across the lawn. Or dancing across it. She was elated. Of course, she was also drunk as a skunk, but it was great to see her so happy.
Luckily, she dropped my hand and left me to my own devices, though. I trailed behind her, Edward at my side.
"I'll have you know, I was just totally rude to Truman because of your assault," I said, smiling. "Not to mention, I lost a perfectly good cup of vodka."
"Who's Truman?" he asked.
I looked around, even walking backwards for a moment to do so.
"Hmm ... well, I don't see him right now. He was the man I was talking to when you walked over and forcibly pulled me away from the party." I grinned.
"Huh. Well, pardon me if I'm not the least bit upset about that," he said.
"Rose!" Alice's voice carried back to us and I followed her line of vision as she waved.
Rosalie stood by what appeared to be a covered hot tub, next to Emmett. She was dressed as a cheerleader and he as a football player. They looked adorable, of course, but that was not at all the costume we had picked out a few days' prior.
We all said our hellos and complimented each other on our costumes before Edward and Emmett decided to hit the bar and get drinks for each of us.
"Rose," I said when they'd left. "What happened to I Dream of Jeannie?"
Last I'd heard, Rose and Emmett were to dress up as Jeannie and Major Nelson. She had purchased a beautiful and extremely skimpy costume to go along with the Air Force uniform Emmett already owned from his days in the service.
She looked down at herself. "Um ... well, we had a slight change in plans."
"Why is that?" I asked.
"Well...” She grinned. “I modeled the outfit for Emmett when I got home after shopping and ... well, let's just say he liked it. A lot."
I laughed and shook my head.
"Ugh!" Alice said, a hand up. "Please do not share your role-playing fantasies with us Rose."
"Well, it wasn't my fantasy," she said, grinning. "But apparently, it was Emmett's."
"What is it with guys and Jeannie?" I asked.
"Right?" Rose asked. "It's almost as bad as that Princess Leia bikini thing."
We were laughing as the guys walked over to us again.
"What's so funny?" Emmett asked, handing Rose a plastic cup filled with her Cosmopolitan.
"Just girl stuff," she said, as she kissed him on the cheek.
I was still giggling and could barely look at Emmett. I kept seeing him in an officer's uniform and while that was far from an unattractive image, it wasn't exactly appropriate to be thinking of my friend's boyfriend in that way.
"So can I show you our house now?" Alice asked petulantly.
The men went off in search of other men with whom to scratch and burp and discuss sports and boobs or whatever it is that men do together, while Rose and I trailed behind Alice, singing "Our house is a very, very, very, fine house" as she showed us around the three-bedroom home she now shared with Jasper. It was lovely and warmly decorated and looked very Alice. We discovered a pool table in the third bedroom, which had been converted into a sort of game room. Three large video games stood against one wall and there was a dart board on another.
"Obviously, this is Jasper's room," Alice said as we peeked in.
"Fuck that," Rose said, moving past her and into the room. "I totally want to live here now."
"Yeah," I said, following her in. "Let's play, Alice!"
"Actually," Alice said, moving into the room. "I'm getting really good at pool. Jasper's teaching me."
Rose grabbed a pool cue from a rack on the wall. "I'll bet he's teaching you," she said saucily and I laughed.
"Rose, does your mind ever leave the gutter?" Alice asked, giggling.
"Thankfully, no. Now rack 'em up!"
"Whose rack are we talking about in here?" Edward peeked into the room, Emmett just behind him.
"Bella's of course," Alice said. "It is hanging out for everyone to see, after all."
I gasped in horror and smacked Alice's arm as she giggled.
"Well, gee, Alice," Rose said, chalking up the end of a pool cue. "We would talk about yours ... if you had one." She blew chalk dust off the end of her cue and Emmett idled up beside her.
This time it was Alice's turn to gasp and she smacked Rose on the arm. Rose laughed.
Edward slid an arm around my waist and he kissed my cheek. "You guys gonna play pool?" he asked.
I shrugged. "Guess so. Wanna play?"
"With you? Always."
"We're talking about pool here, pervert," Rose said.
"Why don't you four play?" Alice said. "I can't hole myself up back here anyway. I'm supposed to be the hostess, you know."
"Actually, that's why we came back here looking for you," Emmett said. "Jasper is in need of your company in the kitchen. He had a question about the location of salsa."
Alice flitted through the room, toward the door. "Toodles, you guys. Play nice. And don't spill anything on the pool table. Use coasters!"
"That woman's kids are going to be neurotic," Rose said after Alice was out of sight.
I nodded my head. "Yes, but they'll be impeccably dressed and will always send thank you notes."
"So what are we doin' here?" Emmett asked. "Guys against girls?"
Edward laughed beside me. "Yeah, that seems fair."
Rose and I gave each other meaningful looks.
"Edward, Edward," I said, shaking my head and moving toward the rack of pool cues. "Will you never learn to check your pompous ego at the door when contemplating any sort of competition with me?"
His eyes brightened as I reached for a cue, looking at him. I heard Rose laughing behind me.
"Besides," I said. "Don't you want to be on my team?"
Edward reached for his own cue, longer than mine of course.
"I'm always on your team, Bella," he said meaningfully.
We ended up splitting into couples and Emmett won the coin toss, which enabled him to break. He sank two solids on his break and so continued to shoot.
"So how'd it go this week?" Edward asked as we stood in the corner, watching. He took a drink from a beer bottle.
"Good. Alice and Rose have kind of alternated staying with me. Even Angela came over the other night and all four of us hung out. It's almost been fun."
“Why is the prospect of you girls all hanging out in your nighties for some sort of slumber party extremely exciting to me?"
"Because you're a boy and you're a perv."
"Oh, yeah." He grinned and took another drink as I rolled my eyes.
"We weren't wearing nighties, Edward–"
"Really?" he interrupted me. "Even better."
"Oh, please," I huffed. "You know what I mean. They were just keeping me company."
"Whatever. I like the version of events currently playing out in my mind much better."
He wrapped a hand around my waist and squeezed as he kissed my cheek before heading toward the table, where it was his turn. Including his break, Emmett had sunk a total of four balls before also sinking the cue ball and thus relinquishing his turn.
Edward only sank two balls before he missed and Rose sauntered cockily up to the table. I held out my hand as Edward walked toward me, shamefaced.
"Okay, I changed my mind," I announced. "I think we should play boys against girls."
Rose laughed as she sank her first shot.
"Hey, it's not my fault," Edward said. "Your bodacious ta-tas distracted me."
Rose chuckled and chalked her cue stick again. "In that outfit, I think the man in the moon is being distracted by her bodacious ta-tas. I'm sure he can see them from there."
They laughed while I blushed.
"Okay, can we stop talking about my bodacious ta-tas, please?"
They all laughed again and Rose sank another ball. I finished off the drink I'd been carrying around and leaned against the wall.
"Any phone calls?" Edward asked, leaning against the wall next to me.
The anonymous telephone calls to my house seemed to have dried up the night Edward stayed with me. We'd had it all planned out. He would answer my phone if and when it rang and tell the caller what-for in an effort to stop the madness. We'd hoped his male voice might intimidate whoever it was. But the phone never rang that night. It had only rung twice in the evenings since—once it was the local newspaper calling to ask if I wanted a subscription and not realizing I already had one and the other time it was Jake, calling to ask to see me for dinner the next week.
I shook my head and shrugged. "Nope. Maybe it really was just a wrong number or some misunderstanding."
Edward narrowed his eyes at me. "Yeah, sure. Maybe."
"You're not making me feel very good about this, Edward."
He gave me a small smile. "Sorry. I just worry about you."
"I know.” I smiled. “And anyway, I haven't gotten any flowers or notes or anything this week, so maybe my secret admirer has moved on to Katy Perry or someone more worthy of their attention."
Finally, Rose missed a shot, leaving only two solids on the table, one of which was the eight-ball.
"You've got your work cut out for you, huh?" Edward asked as I moved toward the table.
"Yeah, well, you just keep your bodacious ta-tas covered and we may be okay." I winked at him as I took my first shot. And then I proceeded to clear the table, finally sinking the eight-ball after calling its corner-pocket destination.
I raised my hands in victory, putting my cue stick on the table.
"Ack. I knew that would happen," Rosalie grumbled. Emmett patted her back and kissed her temple in an effort to comfort her.
Edward lifted me off the ground in a bear hug.
"Ah, my Bella. I should have known you'd be a pool shark."
I chuckled. "Actually, you should simply know that I do not attempt things unless I know I have a good chance at winning."
"Yeah, like softball," Rose chuckled.
I stuck my tongue out at her as Edward set me back on my feet.
"Thank you for saving me there, sweet tits."
Rosalie laughed when Edward called me by her nickname for me and I slapped at his arm.
"Well, you know—I owed ya one. I did mess up your birthday last week, after all."
Edward shrugged. "Ah, Jazz and I went out Saturday night instead. Besides," I felt the pool table hit my lower back as his hands went around me so he could brace himself against it, effectively trapping me in his arms. He whispered in my ear. "That night, you gave me the best present ever." His lips softly met my cheek in a kiss. "The only one I truly wanted."
His lips touched mine and I smiled as he looked down into my eyes, sighing just a little at his words.
"Really? That's all you want?"
He chuckled. "Well, now that I have the first, I will eventually get the second."
Edward chuckled again as he kissed my neck. I lifted my arms to his shoulders.
"You seem awfully sure of yourself," I said.
His kisses turned to nibbles, making my arm break out in goose flesh before he caught my lips in a kiss and my neck bent back as he deepened it. Edward moved even closer to me, his arms encircling me and pulling me tightly to him. I sighed as he pulled away only slightly. My hands rested on his chest and I looked up into his eyes. I saw reflected there such adoration, such affection; I really wanted to trust in that and forget everything else that had happened.
As if reading my mind, Edward said, "I love you, Bella."
My cheek fell to his chest as I wrapped my arms around him again and squeezed him to me. My heart was in my throat and I could barely breathe, let alone speak. Edward's hand wrapped itself in my hair and we stood together that way for untold minutes, swaying slightly to the soft sounds of the music we heard streaming into us from the rest of the party. Occasionally, he would kiss the top of my head as we stood there.
I pulled my head up, suddenly. "What happened to Rose and Emmett?" I asked.
He chuckled and ran his hand through my hair, whisking it from my shoulder as he did so. "They left a bit ago."
"Sheesh," I said, my head returning to his chest. "I'm being so rude to everyone tonight."
I felt the vibration in his chest as he chuckled again. "Well, not to me."
"Yes, well, you're the only one." I moved out of his arms and grabbed him by the material of his costume. "Come on, let's go mingle."
We walked through the house, stopping to chat with several people I knew. We had another drink and I allowed Rose to give me grief about "grossing her out by shoving my tongue down Edward's throat in her presence and forcing her to evacuate the room" before I rubbed in the fact that we'd kicked their asses at pool and hypothesized that she was just a sore loser.
Edward looked across the patio where we stood, laughing with Rose and Emmett. When he set his eyes on Jasper, he touched my arm. "Hey, I'll be back in a minute, okay?" He kissed my cheek. "I'm just gonna go talk to Jazz real quick."
I nodded and he made his way toward Jasper.
"You know," Rose said as he walked away, "I like you two together."
I turned to look at her. She was smiling.
"I had my doubts ... I had many of them, after what he did."
I nodded. I already knew this. Rose had been a rather vocal advocate for removing certain of Edward's body parts and shoving them down his throat after we learned of the La Perla Bimbo.
"But I like him," she continued. "And I like you with him. I hope you guys can make it work."
I smiled and leaned into her, hugging her with one arm.
"Thanks, Rose. I hope so, too."
"And with that," she abruptly moved away from me and set the glass she had been holding on the table beside us. "We are out of here."
Emmett looked at her with wide eyes. "We are?"
"We are. We got stuff to do. I don't want these costumes to be wasted on this shindig."
She winked at him and he grinned and I just shook my head and pretended I had no idea what they were talking about.
I stood by the table, which was filled with assorted snacks, and waited for Edward to finish his conversation with Jasper.
"So that's the guy, huh?"
I glanced toward the deep voice and briefly met Truman's eyes. I smiled and looked back to see Edward laughing at something Jasper had said.
"Yes, that's him."
"Edward." He stood a bit behind and to the side of me, watching Edward over my shoulder. One of his hands held a fistful of nuts and the other took one at a time, popping them into his mouth as we spoke.
"Edward," I echoed with a nod.
"He's got a lot of personality, doesn't he?"
I chuckled, softly, and shifted my weight onto one foot, still watching Edward as he spoke animatedly with his friend. "That he does."
"I meant that in a good way." Truman's smile was evident in the tone of his voice and I smiled in response.
"As did I."
We were quiet for a few moments. I watched Edward goof around with Jasper and it dawned on me that both the guys were dressed in, essentially, dresses. Their long legs stuck out from beneath their costumes as they stood together talking about god knew what, Edward's hands flying through the air as he spoke, Jasper standing calmly next to him, holding a beer bottle and smiling widely. It was all I could do not to laugh. I put my empty cup on the table in front of me and was debating interrupting their fun when Truman spoke again.
"He's a lot younger than you, isn't he?"
I turned quickly and must have had a fairly fiery look on my face, judging by his reaction when he looked at me. He held one hand out in front of him and chuckled a little.
"No, wait. Don't misunderstand me. Now, you know I think you look great Bella, come on. I only mention it because ... well, honestly..." Truman popped one last nut in his mouth and rubbed his hands together to wipe off any remaining crumbs. "Well, there's this girl at the office. She doesn't work for me, but I see her often. She just started there about a month ago and ... well, frankly, Bella, I think she likes me."
He smiled sheepishly and as soon as I could pull my jaw up from off the ground I smiled back at him. I almost laughed at myself, for being so self-involved.
"And actually, I think I like her, too." Truman continued. “The problem is, she's a good deal younger than I. I'm unsure just how much younger she is, but it's fair to say..." He looked at me, uncomfortably. "Well, a good deal."
I chuckled, softly at first, but then started to laugh openly and loudly. After several moments, Truman started emitting sympathy laughs as he continued to gaze at me, clueless as to what had gotten into me. I put my hand on his arm as I got hold of myself.
"Oh my God, Truman. We need to talk." I patted his arm. "Let's have lunch soon."
I felt Edward's hand on my back. "Having fun over here, I see."
"Always," I said, my laughs petering off. "Have you met Truman?"
Truman held out a hand toward Edward. "Truman Kennedy. Nice to meet you."
Edward shook his hand, but I saw the tension in his jaw as he did so. "Edward Masen. Likewise."
"Well, I'm going to call it a night," Truman said.
"Oh," I said. "Well, it was nice to see you again."
He gave me a hug. "You too. Let's do that lunch next week sometime."
"Sure. Just give me a call." I looked up at him as I pulled out of our hug. "Good luck."
He chuckled. "Thanks. It was good to meet you, Edward." Truman gave him a little wave as he started to turn away.
"You, too," Edward said. The tone of his voice, though, said otherwise.
I looked at him sideways, out of the corner of my eye.
"What?" he asked.
"You know what. He's a nice guy, Edward."
"Yeah, sure. I'm sure he's very nice to you." His hand dropped from my back. "And I'm sure it's just a friendly lunch he wants to have with you, too, right?"
I turned toward him. "Actually, yes, it is. He wants some advice on dating a coworker."
Edward looked at me, suspiciously.
"A coworker who is significantly younger than he."
He rolled his eyes. "Let's just get out of here, Bella," he said, abruptly.
I smiled. "Get out of here ... together, I take it?"
"That was the plan, yes."
I stared up at him, a smile on my face. I enjoyed that he’d made the request, but Edward already knew what my answer was going to be.
Finally, he rolled his eyes again. "Okay, I know. But let me take you home. Who's going to stay with you tonight?"
I sighed. "I was giving my babysitters the night off. I was also hoping I'd already heard the last of my secret admirer."
"Well, let me stay," he offered.
I crooked an eyebrow and he smirked in amusement.
"I'll stay in the guest bedroom, Bella."
I smiled and sighed. I wanted him to come home with me, no doubt about it. The problem was, I also wanted him. Badly. It had been great having my girlfriends stay with me all week and they had kept me pleasantly distracted for the most part ... until I went to bed, alone, each night. My thoughts then inevitably returned to Edward and how much I missed having him in bed with me—missed having his lips on me, his arms around me.
I cleared my throat. "I think I'm gonna stay alone tonight, Edward. I mean, I can't exactly live like this forever right? Having my friends rotate shifts?"
I shook my head, smiling. "Really, Edward. Things seem to have calmed down and ... well, I'm gonna have to cut the umbilical cord sometime, ya know?"
He looked at me, warily. "You're sure about this?"
"I am." I nodded.
I wasn't, really. But I also knew there was truth to my words. It was time I pulled on my big girl pants and started living my life again, without allowing myself to be crippled by fear, especially of something that might turn out to be nothing.
"Well, let me walk you out to your car, at least."
"Now that you can do."
I smiled and stood on my toes to kiss him on the mouth. His arm wrapped around my waist.
We said goodbye to our friends and Alice of course pouted at the news we were leaving. She said she'd call me the next day, though. I did feel a bit bad about my somewhat antisocial behavior during the party, coupled with leaving early, but it had been a stressful week and I felt tired—both physically and emotionally.
Edward's hand gripped mine as we headed out of the house.
"So shall I just follow you home?" he asked.
I smiled. "Stay here and have fun, Edward. I'll be fine."
"Bella, you sure you don't want to change your mind about this?" He squeezed my hand.
"I'm sure," I said. "If it will make you feel better, I'll even text you when I get home."
"Yes, please do."
I was smiling up at him when he stopped walking, abruptly, his eyebrows drawn together as his face fell. The hand not being held by his went to his forearm.
"Edward? What's wrong?"
I turned my head, my eyes following his line of vision, and saw what it was that had him concerned. My truck was sitting on four flat tires.
I dropped his hand and made a beeline across the street, toward my truck. Edward followed, closely. I stomped my foot in irritation and walked around the truck, verifying that, indeed, each of its tires was flat.
I stomped my foot again. "Fuckin' a! What kind of stupid Halloween prank–"
He bent down to inspect the front, passenger side, tire. After a moment, he stuck his finger into a hole that now graced its side.
"Yep," he said. "Slashed. You're gonna need new tires." He stood and looked at me.
I seriously almost lost it. Sure, it was only a set of tires and honestly I needed new ones before winter kicked in anyway, but what the hell else was supposed to happen in my life before I lost it completely and ended up in the psych ward with Girl, Interrupted?
Edward must have read the desperation in my face, because he put a hand on my arm, rubbing it lightly. "Okay, Bella. Let me just get you home tonight and we'll get this taken care of tomorrow, okay?"
"Well, I guess I don't have much choice now, do I?"
I glared up at him and he looked down at me, blankly.
I sighed, irritated with myself. "I'm sorry, Edward. I don't mean to take it out on you. I just–"
He rubbed my arm again. "I know, Bella. It's okay. Let's just go home."
His arm went around my shoulders as we walked toward his silver Volvo in silence. I remained quiet as we got in and I buckled the seat belt. I said nothing as we drove down the street and onto the main highway. Even my mind was quiet. It was almost as if I ceased to think about anything, afraid that the one thought I would allow myself would be the one to push me over the edge. I listened to the sounds of cars passing us, of the occasional radio coming from someone's window, of our tires on the pavement as we drove.
When we were about halfway to my house, I finally spoke, my mouth dry and my voice somewhat hoarse.
"That wasn't a Halloween prank, was it?"
I stared straight ahead, but I heard Edward sigh, softly.
"I don't know, Bella. But if I had to guess? In light of everything else that's been happening?"
"So I guess I should call the cops and let them take a look before I get new tires."
"I would say so, yes." His voice was quiet, almost as if he were afraid any sort of volume might break the glass that had become my demeanor.
"Do you think it's really James, doing all of this?"
"I don't know, Bella. But again ... if I had to place a bet?"
I sighed and looked over at his face, finally.
"I just can't believe he's this crazy. I mean, not that I knew him that well, but I did work with him for a few months. I talked to him a lot during that time. You would think I'd get some kind of clue..."
"Well, I don't know. I didn't know him at all, but ... I mean, did it surprise you when he grabbed you? Or when he and I got in that fight?"
I sighed again. "Yes. Both things."
We turned onto my street and a few moments later Edward had parked his car in front of my house.
"I'm staying in the guest room," he announced. I wasn't going to argue this time.
"You don't have any PJs." My voice sounded so broken, so young. I felt like a child and I hated the feeling. I'd always prided myself on being strong, independent. Now I was being reduced to a scared, insecure girl because of actions I didn't understand, could not predict and had no control over.
"I think I can manage," he said.
"And tomorrow? You're gonna walk around in that all day?" I smiled softly as I glanced down at his costume.
"You complainin'?" He winked at me and my smile became larger in response. "Come on, Bella. I'll work it out. Maybe I'll wear King Kong's sweats again. Let's just get inside."
We walked up the path toward my front door and I fished my keys out of my purse. Once they were found, I looked up and noticed a white, square box sitting on my doorstep. My footsteps slowed.
"What is that?" he asked, obviously noticing the box at the same time I did.
We approached the doorstep cautiously, as if we were members of the bomb squad or something. I bent over the box, not touching it, but looking at it. There was writing, in black ink, on the top.
"It says, 'Happy Halloween,'" I announced.
I reached for it, but Edward grabbed my arm.
"What are you doing?"
"Um ... I don't know ... Picking it up? Opening it?"
"No way," he said.
We stood and stared at each other for a moment, neither of us knowing what to do.
"So what do we do?" I asked.
"Uh ... you got a pen?"
He fidgeted as I fished in my purse before bringing out a ballpoint pen.
I handed him the pen and Edward crouched down. He stuck the pen slowly into the lid of the box, carefully lifting until the lid shifted up and off, dropping to the ground. There was tissue paper inside, white but with streaks of a dark color, possibly black. I stood behind him and peered over his shoulder as he fished through the tissue paper with the pen, pulling the paper back.
He gasped and almost dropped the pen. A soft shriek flew from my throat as a large amount of blood became visible in the tissue paper below. As if out of some morbid curiosity, Edward continued to pull back the paper until it revealed what was inside.
It was a rather large piece of meat, covered in blood. It was a heart.