A/N: Time to talk their differences over, right? Sorry for the delay in posting this..
As usual, thank you to Eifeltwr and Black Hale for beta'ing and beautifying - you are awesome girls. PeepToe took a break from her awesome merger and is back on board. She rocks too!
Thank you to Lory and Debbie for still holding my hand. 3 Days till we hit London (and the Patz is safely concealed in the Great State of Louisiana, guess he knew we'd come along...)
Special shout outs for this week: Mina for swamping me with beta'ing work (no pressure, eh?). Lady, you are one slave driver, but you did introduce me to Ted Sr. I'll never complain for that. The Fantabulous RPatz EasyV, who left the 90th review last week and has elected, as her rightfully earned freebie, to get a glimpse of Business Class Girl's mind on third flight she unwittingly (sure?) shared with CluelessWard. This will come up...in the near future, TBA...
CluelessWard always thanks the regulars, and wouldn't actually remember to do this, without BCG's help. A huge thanks, of course, to everyone reading, reviewing and pimping my little story all over the fandom. You all rock too. :)
Disclaimer: Not mine. All Stephenie Meyer's genius. Plot is mine, though. I enjoy making them do crazy things.
BUSINESS CLASS GIRL - CHAPTER 13
Jasper is right. I was wrong. I must not run away. I must stay and face this.
I repeat this mantra in my head as I leave the offices of White, Devlin & Hale and make my way back to Angela's office.
When I get there, Jessica silently ushers me in.
Ang is waiting for me, with a concerned expression on her face. This is news indeed, since I expected a cold shoulder, a tongue-lashing, or at least, a good yell in full Angela style.
"Ang, I think we might have something to deal with, and you won't like it."
"You mean lunch at Morton's?" She says, the same concerned expression on her face.
"Precisely. I should have…"
Angela stops me but then I begin again, her raised hand notwithstanding.
"Wait, how do you know?"
"Who do you think booked that table, Edward himself? He's not that evolved…yet," she quips, with a raised eyebrow.
I breathe a deep sigh of relief. At least she knew beforehand, but…
"Angela, what's wrong? I mean, apart from the throng of paparazzi who cornered us outside the restaurant?"
"Edward, that's what's wrong. What the heck possessed you to walk out on him? I got a frantic phone call from the guy, I rescheduled his interview with E-Weekly and sent him home to regroup," she replies sternly. She sounds upset.
I plop down on the chair in front of her gigantic desk.
"Angela, if you want me out, I understand. Just say the word."
She discards her tortoise-rimmed glasses and takes my hand from across the desk.
She eyes me sympathetically, all traces of her professional, shark-like persona gone. She's just Angela, my friend, right now. The one who knows perfectly well why I fled London, the one who knows why I had to leave my old life behind, and what I want to achieve in this new life I'm trying to create for myself.
"B, you're my best and oldest friend. I don't want you out. I want you in, but you need to get your shit together. The paps are a permanent fixture in this business, you gotta learn to live with that. You are not an inexperienced girl swept off her feet by the glamour of this life. You are a professional, that's why I chose you, because I expect you to behave like one."
I shake my head and squeeze Ang's hand.
"You're a saint and I feel like a huge, fat failure for freaking out on Edward like that. It wasn't even really the paps, it was something he said. I overreacted, I took it the wrong way and twisted it in my head. You know how my mind works." I try my best not to sound too much like a self-deprecating, whining bitch.
"Your beautiful mind works on constant overdrive, but that's one of the reasons why I love you. You wouldn't be so creative, if you weren't so twisted," she replies, on a lighter note.
"Thanks, Ang. What do we do now?"
She flashes me a sly smile, her killer instincts back in full gear.
"Absolutely nothing, because there's nothing to tell. You need to call that poor guy. He begged me to chase you to the ends of the earth to make sure that you were ok, and to do whatever I had to do to bring you back."
I can't help blushing. I feel guilty, because I bailed on Edward, and also a tiny bit flattered, because he wants me back, regardless of my fuck-up. I nod, incapable of formulating a verbal reaction to this. I also notice that, surprisingly, Ang has no comments on the fact that Edward has been wining and dining me. My brain is busy analysing the possible implications of this turn of events.
"By the way, B. I have good news for you," she announces, bringing me back to reality.
"You mean, for Edward?"
"I said for you, B. Are you deaf, all of a sudden? Are you still in shock?"
"No, I'm not, but I assumed…"
"Stop assuming, and listen. First piece of good news: I have two people interested in what you wrote. One of them is here in LA, the other is in NY. Second bit of good news: no need for you to fly your ass anywhere, because they will both be at the Christmas bash at my house next month. You are coming over, aren't you?" She speaks at the speed of lightning. This is just how Angela works, no nonsense and no time wasted.
My eyes go as wide as saucers and my bag, until now safely held in my free hand, clatters to the floor. Screw the blackberry, I'll buy another. This is more important.
"Two? You said two? How is that even possible? Tell me more…Ang, is this for real?"
She smiles again and continues to debrief me, in another single, pragmatic, lightning-speed gush of words. "Yes, B. For one very simple reason: your writing is not just good, it's dynamite. It's a great story, and it's honest and dreamy at the same time… It's not perfect, but we'll get there. The two guys are from two very different publishing houses, with different goals and distinctively different authors in their will find that they will take different approaches to your work, but they both want to meet you, and meet them you will."
I blink once, then twice, then my jaw goes slack with pleased shock, and I truly panic.
Ang senses my impending freak-out and continues the pep-talk. "Don't panic, don't freak out, don't open that document and start making changes at random. Leave everything as it is. Don't read it, don't go near it. We'll go over the details nearer the date. Now go home, bake cookies, play Guitar Hero with Emmett or go for a walk on the beach. I'll see you tomorrow. And…"
I'm on my feet in a flash, and as I'm dashing out of Ang's office, I call over her shoulder.
"And I'll call Edward …"
I need fresh air and a mug of tea, but I want to go home first, and I need to tell Emmett. As if on cue, Weezer's 'Troublemaker' thunders from my iPhone.
"Em, have you grown a new frontal lobe?"
He snickers over the phone. "Well, good afternoon to you too, Hot Stuff."
"Hey, I was just going to call you."
"Well, little sister with a very prepaid corporate phone, why don't you call me, then, and help this poor self-employed ex-jock to save some bucks?"
My turn to snicker. Once a penny-pincher, always a penny-pincher. "Em, you'll never change. Could you come pick me up? I'm at Ang's office. Oh, and I have news, Em."
"Sure, little sis, see you there in twenty, I was headed downtown anyway. Wait, what? News? Be there in ten, screw the speed limit!"
While I wait for Em to show up, I email Jasper to thank him again and tell him that I'm ok. His curt reply is 'Check out TMZ.'
Since when does Jasper ogle the gossip sites? Oh, right, since his bestie and former assistant works for a prominent Hollywood stud, who also turns out to be the embodiment of his sister's literary hero.
Right after that, Rosalie calls me. Am I a magnet or something, today? Why is everyone calling me?
"BeeBee, why are you on Just Jared?" She begins, archly, without so much as a greeting.
Fuck me sideways. Well, I guess it was only a matter of time.
"Hi Rose, I'm fine, and you?"
"BeeBee, sorry, I was just…" she stammers, clumsily back-pedalling in a very non-Rosalie way. She never stammers.
"Fooling around on the net, combing the web for pictures of….my boss, in the dead of night?"
I've cornered her, and she knows it. She huffs. "Oh, well…I can't hide anything from you, can I? But yes, and then your face turned up…You have some explaining to do, missy!"
"It's nothing, Rose. We were out for lunch, after a casting call. The paparazzi were there. They got pictures as we were leaving the restaurant, end of story."
Rose lets out another huffing sound. In Rosalie-Speak, this means that my explanation sounds like complete crap to her.
"Uh-uh, and what about His arm, draped across your waist, Isabella Swan? What is that supposed to mean?"
I can hear her, all worked up, capitalising the possessive pronoun, as if she was talking about the Queen. Fan girls are an alien race, and my BFF is one of them. I'm relieved at the thought that Edward will be safely back in England when Rosalie is here visiting. I can't think of a more awkward situation than my boss and Rosalie in the same room.
"He was just guiding me safely through the bunch of paps, Rose. It's nothing."
"But he's looking so pissed, what did you do to piss him off? And why were you out for lunch together? And why haven't you called me in a week, you traitor?"
Rosalie's grilling me as if I was a dangerous suspect in a murder case, but she's right, I've been neglecting her since the Jake fiasco.
"Rosalie, I'm waiting for Emmett to pick me up. And I'm sorry I blew you off for so long. I was trying to wrap my mind around…"
She relents, as she always does whenever I mention her latest findings on Mr. Asshole Extraordinaire. Luckily for me, mentioning Jake to Rosalie is the best sidetracking method ever, and now Rosalie and her gossip rag questions are off my back.
"…around the sick fuckery he pulled on you, and you were wondering why your best friend would be such a bitch to tell you? I'm sorry, BeeBee..."
"No need to apologise, Rose. I needed to know. I needed some closure. I just ran off, after all, and all this time, I was questioning myself, wondering whether I was wrong, thinking I was letting him down."
"Yeah, right, but you needn't thrash the kitchen in the process…" she quips, finally joking. Her chime-like laugh definitely lightens up the mood of this conversation.
Emmett has blabbed, again. Seriously, I should think about a non disclosure agreement, a watertight one, signed by both parties, on penalty of disappearance of all gaming equipment, in omnia saecula saeculorum*.
"My brother is a gossiping old lady, and you indulge him. Still…I'm glad you told me. At least now I know."
"BeeBee, that doesn't change anything, you know that, right? He was an asshole before, now he's an asshole with ulterior motives. So what?". She has never been very fond of Jake, and now her dream is to have his nuts on a silver platter.
"This coming from the very girl who introduced him to me… Remind me not to set any store by your matchmaking skills in the future, girlie…" I try to joke, throwing her one ill-advised youthful mistake back in her face. Ouch.
"Yeah, but there's no way you're gonna hold me jointly and severally liable for that!"
She's herself again now, back to the hard-ass investment banker I know and love. The fan girl is gone, back into the closet. I hear tires screeching in the background. That must be Em.
"No worries, Rose. Em is here. I'll talk to you later."
"Great, say hi to my monkey man. BeeBee, I can't wait to see you at Christmas. We're gonna have a blast."
"I can't believe it's only three weeks away. Bye, Rose."
The line disconnects as I get in the Viper. Emmett is sporting a wide, pearly, but sheepish, grin.
"Sis, I should have told you Rosie would pester you. Sorry about that."
I reply with an unintelligible grunt. I am not really in the mood for Em's antics and his talking behind my back. True, it's not deliberate, and there's no malice in it, but sometimes, I really wish my friends and family would refrain from holding these conferences without me. It's disturbing.
Still, I have some news to share with Em.
He throws me a one-eyed glance, his other eye on the road and his hands not leaving the steering wheel. "Hot Stuff?"
"You not gonna grill me about the pics?"
"You saw them? Already?" he sounds shocked.
"No, Rose and Jazz mentioned them. Funnily enough, the trash hits the old continent first. Have you seen them?"
"No, but Eddie told me. You need to call your boss, sister, before he starts stalking you and camps out on our doorstep," he replies, and he doesn't even sound bothered.
I scoff. Tu quoque, Emmett?* And now he's even talking to Edward. Correction: my friends and family are not just starting a forum on me, they are also all ganging up on me, and that includes my boss.
"I will when we get home. I made a mess, and now I'm gonna clean it up. But first…I have news, brother. Major news."
"Major news call for steaks, BeeBee. But don't tell me anything now, just let me stew a little. Let's get out of here." Emmett is speeding along the PCH, and with his maniacal driving skills, we're home in less than half an hour.
As we make our way upstairs from the garage, I feel something vibrating in my bag, and it's my blackberry, that I've woefully neglected for the past five hours. I notice an envelope flashing almost angrily in a corner of the screen.
I have some 25 missed calls, and a shit-ton of texts. Except one missed call from Angela and one from Alice, all calls and all texts are from Edward. I scroll through the texts, and my sense of guilt trebles with each of them.
*Bella, I'm sorry. Please come back.*
*Bella, I tried calling you. Please call me back.*
*B, I talked to Angela. We'll sort this out. Please call me.*
*B, still not picking up your phone. Panicking here…*
*B, I'll do whatever it takes to bring you back. Please call me.*
*B, I want this to work. Do you, too? Call me.*
*B, hurry back to me, please.*
I collapse on the wooden stairs to my room. Emmett is nowhere to be seen. Somehow, I get back on my feet and trudge to the safe haven of my room. I desperately need to clear my head before I can take some action and deal with the collateral damage of what will go down in history as the Morton's Lunch Fiasco. I ditch my pinstriped Dolce&Gabbana pantsuit, fling my Jimmy Choo's in a random corner of my room, and jump into the shower.
A long while later, slumped barefoot in the middle of my bedroom floor, I look back on this hell of a day, finally with some perspective that will hopefully prevent me from running for the hills again.
Angela is right. I need to get my shit together. I chose to deal with the craziness when I accepted this job. My additional inducement is that I get to stay in this business and work by Edward's side, not without some pleasant, but insidious side effects for me. Angela's all the more concerned about my future resilience to the media circus, and for a very good reason which she has been wise enough not to mention. I, myself, dare not even entertain the thought, yet, but I am going to follow Angela's advice and try to be cool about this.
Jasper is also right. I panicked because I feel guilty. Thankfully he did not force me to elaborate but, deep down, I know it's not just a question of wanting to shag the boss. I manage Edward's time, I make sure he is on top of all his commitments, I try to anticipate his needs, I shield him from any and all hassle that he can't, won't or shouldn't sort out for himself. In short, I look after him, and I spend a lot of time with him, loads more than I did with Jasper. Hell, even more than I spent with Jacob.
In one week, I've come to care about Edward and to know him pretty well. Knowing him, right now he's holed up in his impersonal, shabby flat chastising himself for not doing this right, and dreading that I'll never speak to him again. This false impression needs to be rectified without further ado.
But first, my newly-gained perspective also tells me that my self-imposed secrecy with Edward about all matters personal is not working out as well as I hoped. Worse, it threatens to backfire on my ass with a flourish. My relationship with my boss-friend must be based on trust, and if I'm not open and honest with him, how can he ever trust me not to pull another disappearing act on him again?
LA Bella and BeeBee both need to fess up, even if this means that I might get hurt in the process.
I grab my iPhone and, for the very first time, I dial Edward's private cell phone number. This is an emergency of sorts, and extreme times call for extreme measures. A sly, conniving part of me hopes he won't recognise my own personal number and, being unable to dodge the call, he'll have to pick it up whether he wants to talk to me or not. Let's hope things have not gotten to this point, yet.
Angela has forbidden me to leave the house, with strict instructions to wait for Bella to call me. She doesn't, though. I relentlessly try to reach her, but she never picks up her blackberry when I call, and she never answers my texts. My afternoon wanes in long, silent and dejected stretches of time. Nothing can hold my attention for more than five seconds, because I'm always back to square one, where my 'crackberry' stands still, mute and undisturbed, while I'm pacing the room in circles like a madman.
Quit pacing, Cullen. You'll burn a hole through the floor.
I stand still for a second, throwing one more sullen look around me. After three long hours, the only brilliant idea I come up with is to lock up the offending device in the fridge so that I can stop looking at it every five nanoseconds. It works, but only partially, because my obsessive-compulsive mind can't refrain from breaking down and analysing every tiny detail of what went down today with Bella.
Quit pulling your hair, Cullen. You'll go prematurely bald and be forced to become the next Bruce Willis in a bunch of action movies.
At long last, I fling all of my complicated theories about it out the window, and end up wallowing in self-deprecation. I don't care how much of a drama queen or a pathetic stalker I seem right now, I just want her back. I need to know that we can get through this silly mishap, together, as a team.
You want to know that she hasn't given up on you, Cullen. Already.
When I've finally given up on myself, 'Kryptonite' starts blaring through my room.
If I go crazy then will you still
Call me Superman
If I'm alive and well, will you be
There holding my hand
I'll keep you by my side with
My superhuman might
My cell phone is ringing. My very own cell phone, the one phone that should never be called and I suddenly feel a little lighter. Why? Because, being the crazy stalker that I am, I saved Bella's personal number on my cell and…well, she's my own personal brand of kryptonite…
Kryptonite is calling and, right on cue, Superman can't but be affected. I pick up on the second ring and, even if I'm prepared for this, her voice knocks me off my feet.
"Edward?" she whispers softly, in a tentative and bashful voice that tugs at my heartstrings. I wonder whether she's aware of what she can do to me with one whisper. I am a grown man and I almost feel like crying with relief. I don't want Bella to get that, though, and quickly man up, with intermittent waves of elation and relief coursing through me.
"Bella…finally…" I croak. There goes manning up.
"Edward, please, forgive me…I'm…" she adds, breathlessly.
"Bella? Stop apologising, I'm the one who…"
"No", she interrupts me. "I overreacted, and it's not your fault. None of it is your fault, you don't even know why I acted like that. It wasn't professional of me, it will never happen again." Her voice is still broken by emotion, but serious at the same time.
This opening sounds strangely ominous to me and, as my newly-found relief starts to crumble to dust, I find that I have to ask the next question, even if knowing the answer to this could be my undoing.
"Bella, please, put me out of my misery. Are you quitting?"
Silence. More and more ominous.
You are panicking, Cullen. Not very manly.
"No, I told you I'd never bail on you," she continues, still serious.
"You did." Unexpectedly, my voice sounds hollow and expressionless, as if it didn't belong to me at all.
She did tell you, Cullen. She also bailed on you, Cullen, in case you forgot.
"But I also failed you. I don't want this to hang over us in the future, I want to make it up to you," she replies, her voice less broken, but full of emotion all the same.
Don't let your imagination run wild, Cullen.
"I want you to trust me, and my behaviour today allows for anything but. I will tell you why I overreacted, and I won't dodge your questions anymore. But I am warning you, it's a long story," she continues, her tone now laced with determination.
As I am about to say that I would gladly talk to her on the phone for hours, there's an hideous echo in the distance. An echo that sounds horribly like 'Werewolves of London'. Asshole. He must be calling on her blackberry. How the fuck did he get that number? As far as I know, the only people who have it are Angela, Jessica, and other work-related contacts. None of her friends and family have her work number, not even Emmett.
Rage instantly boils up in my veins and my teeth are gritting, fighting back a few choice expletives. I spit out my next words without even thinking.
"I'm coming over, B."
I don't even bother to call Ben or Eric. I just stumble to my feet and rush out of my flat, forcibly landing on the first cab I see.
Strangely enough, there are no paps around but, other than being relieved for five seconds, I choose not to dwell on the subject. I am too wrapped up in my Bella-induced haze and my hurry to get to her to notice anything else.
She says she's not quitting. She says she's going to explain everything.
Don't get carried away, Cullen. She said she'd explain this one thing.
She still wants to talk to me. She still wants to work for me.
Forty-five excruciating minutes later, I'm standing outside Bella's door. When I knock, Emmett opens and silently ushers me in. His face displays a half-surprised, half-relieved expression. It's as if he expected me to show up.
My only greeting is a tense but grateful nod, because my attention's immediately riveted by what's happening in the living room.
Bella's angrily pacing the room, her bare feet padding rhythmically on the floorboards, back and forth, and tossing a golf ball from her right hand to the left. She's no longer dressed to the nines like this morning. She's not even wearing those tatty, grey sweatpants I saw at dinner a week ago. She's wearing a pair of navy blue shorts that hang low on her hips and a white t-shirt. Both the t-shirt and the shorts look several sizes too big for her. As she turns to begin a new circuit around the room, I notice a strangely familiar crest on one sleeve of the t-shirt.
The crest shows two castle towers by either side of the goddess Athena, brandishing her spear amongst white and blue sea waves. My clueless brain recognises this crest, because I've seen it before. I've seen it in Uncle Russell's house, for fuck's sake. There's a painting of it, proudly displayed on the walls of his study, back home in England.
This crest is the Dartmouth crest, as in Dartmouth, Devonshire, not Dartmouth, New Hampshire. It's the crest of the Britannia Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, and I know it so well because Uncle Russ was a cadet officer in his own time, and hammered into me the niceties of navy life when I was a child.
How is it that Bella is wearing Dartmouth training gear, that actually looks like it belongs to someone else, in a size considerably larger than she would actually wear? There are no name tags on these training t-shirts, so my inner stalker awakens to store the information away for further investigation.
Holy fucking hell, Cullen. There's a BRNC-trained navy officer in her life?
Shaking my head clear from this momentous news, I notice that Bella's wearing an earpiece, like one of those Bluetooth thingies. She's on the phone, and she looks pissed as hell.
"Jessica, for the last fucking time, who the hell did he say he was, and for what godforsaken reason you thought it was a good idea to give him my new number?"
Jessica? Why is she talking, nay, shouting at Jessica on the phone? Emmett puts a finger to his lips, indicating that we should remain silent and inconspicuous. I agree wholeheartedly, because I'm dying to know what's happening.
"He posed as a lawyer from White Devlin & Hale? Well, that's rich. I'll have him in shackles, or committed. Preferably both. No, wait! Hung, drawn and quartered should do the trick." She's no longer shouting, but her spite and anger are flowing free with her words.
There's a brief silence as she's listening to Jessica's reply.
"There's no way you could have known, Jess. I'm not mad at you, not now, at least. But that was a very safe number, and very precious. Very few but important people have it and I don't want to have to change it, that would be an unnecessary hassle. Could you please check with Cingular tomorrow whether they can block incoming calls from Jake altogether?"
Another brief silence ensues. Bella nods, but she's still pacing.
"No, Jess, exactly. Just run it past me in the future."
Another nod, another brief silence and then, the next words make me grin like an idiot. A very selfish, smug, but happy idiot.
"Jess, the only guy who's always entitled to know where I am and what I'm up to is Edward," she says, firmly, as she turns in my direction.
She must have noticed someone standing awkwardly in the corner of her eye and her gaze lifts up to face me. Her mouth is agape, she blinks and then flashes me the most glorious smile I've ever seen on her face.
She wordlessly disconnects the earpiece and tosses it on the couch, as she walks closer to me.
Everything I see now tells me that we're gonna be ok, that we'll put this behind us, even if there'll be other bumps in the road to get there. I nervously cast a restless glance around, but Em is nowhere to be seen.
"Are you alright?"
This is all I can blurt out, all other thoughts and questions hastily erased from my mind, the minute my eyes roam over her figure, drinking in every little detail, from the look in her eyes, to the way her ponytail sways while she's walking and the tiny, almost imperceptible frown on her forehead.
She nods, still smiling.
"Thank God you're here," she finally says, her eyes also roaming over my features, trying to read me, just as I did with her right now.
My feet move of their own accord to close the distance between us, and I realise that I want to embrace her, hold her safe in my arms and make all of this stupid shit go away. But that wouldn't be a smart move, and even clueless old me knows this.
She wants her distance, and she wants to talk this over. I'll give her that, I'll do everything on her own terms, I'll even walk to the moon and back, but there's one thing I want to know, first.
"B, please tell me you didn't…?"
I can't even finish my question. I know I'm being nosy, I know it's none of my fucking business. I know I have no fucking right to even ask, but the last thing she needs today is another call from Jacob on top of all this mess.
"You figured out that it was Jake calling, right?" she asks, her voice level. She looks perfectly at ease. She doesn't look mad, nor shaken. Hell, she doesn't even sound pissed. This is strange.
I must either assume she is high on something, but I can't imagine anything more unlike her, or that there's something I don't know. I try to stick to the easiest explanation and go for the second option.
I nod and add, my voice still concerned and hesitant, "Please tell me you didn't…deal with that?"
She shakes her head with a sly smile. "No, Em did. Got to the phone before me and gave Jake a piece of his mind, in no uncertain terms."
My eyes go as wide as saucers. I can't deny that I'm relieved, though. I let out a deep breath I don't know I was holding. I realise I've been walking on eggshells all day, since Bella left me stranded outside Morton's.
"What the hell happened, B? Can you tell me, now?"
Her face turns serious and she, too, heaves an uneasy sigh. I guess the easy part of this conversation is sadly over.
"I want to tell you, Edward. I need to…but…"
I take another step closer and my hand lands protectively on her shoulder. Screw the distance, she needs me.
Keep telling yourself that, Cullen.
"I need concentration, Boss. It's a long story, as I said, and…hell, I have my own rituals."
I can't help raising an eyebrow.
"Don't look at me that way, Boss. I'm not going to dance naked in the moonlight…"
Though that'd be something to behold, Cullen…
The storm is definitely behind us, if she's throwing jibes here and there so casually.
"I…suppose…not…" I manage to stutter.
She walks away from me, in the general direction of the kitchen, and calls over her shoulder.
"I just need my own brand of liquid courage. Come along, Boss."
And then it dawns on me. Idiot…
"Earl Grey, B?"
"Not quite," she answers, as she motions for me to take a seat at the kitchen island.
This kitchen is huge, even bigger than Em's game room, and its high-tech appliances are all shiny and new. Em told me that Bella's never lived steadily in this house before now, but she did have a few bones to pick with Em's interior designer when he moved here and remodelled. The kitchen had to be to her liking, and up to par with her cooking requirements. Em defines it as 'a chef's wet dream', with his customary visual language.
Bella's fishing something out of a cabinet and then turns to show me her treasure trove. It's a black tin box, with a very familiar logo and white writing all over.
"Prince of Wales, Boss, Prince of Wales. This is my own version of a tumbler of Laphroaig."
I nod, chuckling. Only Bella could choose her blend of tea according to her mood.
"Coffee, Boss?" she asks, knowing my own addiction for caffeine. I want something else, for a change. I've been wanting loads of something else's since Bella came along.
"Actually, I'll have your own brew of Laphroaig too, please."
"Two Prince of Wales, extra black, coming right up."
Seven minutes later, she sets two gigantic red Starbucks mugs on the island and takes a seat in front of me.
Nursing her mug in her tiny hands, she finally asks, "What do you know about Jasper?"
A lot more than you should, Cullen.
"He used to be your boss. He's a name partner at White, Devlin & Hale. He's Uncle Russell's golden boy."
Bella sets her mug down on the counter and looks me straight in the eye.
"He's all that, and something else besides," she says, with a tone that does not even attempt to mask her admiration for this guy.
Oh no, Cullen, not him too. Are you up for some more healthy competition?
"Jasper is my best friend, Edward. I've known him for years, for nearly ten years, to be precise."
The proverbial light bulb flashes in my brain. This explains it all: the banter, the continuous calls, the questions, the nickname, the Christmas visit, the video calls, everything. They were, hell, they are, very close.
Wait, Cullen, are they only just friends?
"How did you meet him?" I ask, genuinely curious to hear this story from the beginning.
She fixates her eyes on a non-descript point beyond my shoulder and smiles. These must be happy, fond memories for her.
"Oxford. I met his sister first, though. We were roommates."
"Rosalie?" The pieces of Bella's life are slowly falling into place.
"The very one. Jazz is two years older than us, and of course he came to check on his little sister and on her helpless, reclusive, only half-English roomie. The three of us were always together, for the next four years. They became my extended family, my home away from home."
I smile, too. "I wish I'd known you then."
She blushes. "I was a nerd, Edward. Jasper tormented me all the time, putting me through tons of blind dates with his mates, and his band mates, as well," she explains, chuckling. Hard to imagine her as a nerd…though her "Professor Swan" getup, now that, has some possibilities…
You are straying, Cullen, and your pants are getting too snug for comfort.
"With his mates? Band mates, and not with him?" I never pegged Jasper for a musical guy, but I guess I missed a lot of things. Meanwhile, Bella is blushing furiously, again.
"Nooo…with Jazz…things just never clicked that way. Not for Rosalie's lack of trying, though."
Then I remember that Rosalie is Emmett's girlfriend. Figures. "She sounds like a bossy little thing," I quip.
"There's nothing little about Rosalie, and yes, she's bossy, to the point that she makes me look like Mother Theresa. Still, when she met Emmett, you know, she hoped that…" she continues, her hand motioning in a quite obvious way.
"…that you and Jasper, like one big happy family?" I surmise, quite unable to resist the punch line.
Bella laughs, but it dies away quickly. "Right. But it never worked, luckily. And then…"
Luckily for you, Cullen. Luckily for you. And no use tormenting yourself to figure out why, either.
She takes a long sip of her tea and I find myself doing the same.
"Then he left Oxford, came back from Princeton two years later, with an LLM under his belt, and goaded me until I went, met Russell for an interview and got hired as his PA at White & Devlin."
"And so you found yourself playing golf with Uncle Russell?"
She nods, her eyes still vacant, lost in the distance. "Working for Jasper for the last four years nearly drained me of blood. We were together almost 24/7 and the pressure was just…overwhelming."
Nothing that sounds too different from Hollywood, so far, but Bella's tone suggests that there's a big catch somewhere along the line. I don't want to interrupt, or ask nosy or inappropriate questions, so I motion for her to go on.
"Jasper's career just skyrocketed. Other than Russell, he is, hands down, the most talented lawyer I've ever worked with. He really is top of the game, doesn't ever miss a beat or an opportunity, and has amazing people skills. Clients just trust him implicitly, partly because he's got this old England charm about him, and partly because he's got these angelic looks…"
Now you really want to throttle him, Cullen. You know you do.
"Anyway, there was no time to pause and reflect. Our life, our job, it was all a whirlwind, a flurry of activities. We were perpetually in the eye of the storm, always on the move. I found myself entangled in firm politics faster than you could say 'Quidditch'. I supported him when he went and put up for a partnership, and it was gruelling work, on top of our everyday deals. Jasper is a genius for corporate law, but can't write a line to save his life. He's a perfectionistic, anal-retentive, methodical, whiny little thing, but has no memory to speak of. So guess what…?"
"Something tells me you were his eyes, his ears, his remote hard drive, his ghost writer…"
She nods and continues, "His PR specialist, market researcher, spy behind enemy lines, private shrink, shoulder to cry on, career coach…And somewhere down the road, I lost my friend. He used to say…"
Her voice quivers. I guess we're getting to the hard part now. Screw the distance, she needs me. I jump to her side of the counter and put my arm around her shoulders. Strangely enough, she leans into my side and puts her head on my own shoulder.
Now we're getting somewhere, Cullen.
My thumb runs soothing circles on her shoulder. I guess the accursed appendage was going through withdrawal; it's been some time since it had the pleasure of engaging in its favourite activity.
"B, you can talk to me. What happened?"
"Just this, Edward. I had been afraid all along that I'd lose him to his career, somehow. I knew this would be detrimental to our friendship, but I couldn't say no to Jasper. He was too convincing for his own good, and he kept repeating that he'd be there for me, that we'd be as close as ever, but…"
"But at the end of the day, he was a partner in one of the top 5 law firms in London, and I was his assistant. There was no way in hell we could still be friends, as we'd been for years. Most of the time, I was walking on thin ice at best, when it wasn't quicksand. I took the pressure away from him, but it was a one-way process. He could never take my pressure away. He could never listen when I needed to vent out my feelings. And of course, the rumour mill was haywire all the time."
My brows are furrowed in frustration, I don't understand where this is going. "B, I don't get this. What sort of rumours? I know I may sound like a moron, but…"
She shakes her head against my shoulder. I feel her laboured breaths on my chest and struggle to keep my composure, for her sake.
"It's ok, Edward, there's no way you could imagine what would happen in such a place."
Then it dawns on me. The second light bulb of the day gets me out of my self-centred funk and all the pieces of the mystery click into place. Against my better judgement, I gather Bella tightly to my chest, enveloping her fully in my arms. She sobs against my chest as my hands caress her back in slow, caring motions.
"B, let me guess. Everyone knew you were friends before, everyone saw how close you were, everyone knew that you were as good as his alter ego, and you were Russ's golfing partner to boot…and they kinda went…one and one makes five?"
She nods silently onto my chest. My reaction is a low, rumbling growl. She must feel this, but she doesn't flinch.
"And Jazz didn't stop this? He didn't protect you from this?"
Well, Cullen, looks like golden boy fed your Bella to the wolves…
She shyly looks up at me from under my chin. Her expression is vulnerable and lost, and she's never looked more precious to me than she does now.
"He didn't know, Edward. There was no way I could tell him, without making things worse for both him and me. I let things be, and ignored the gossip. I knew better."
"But B, the pressure…was yours alone to bear…it wasn't…fuck, it must have been some kind of hell for you, on top of all the rest!"
She shrugs against my chest. "It doesn't matter, Edward, Jazz and I are friends. I did it for him, I'd do it again."
What the fuck, Cullen?
My inner caveman is having a field day, and growls again, brandishing his club against a prim and proper lawyer dressed in a Burberry suit. I can't help but wonder if she'd go to the same lengths to make my life easier and shield me from harm.
"It doesn't matter? What the hell, B? It fucking matters to me, if it didn't matter to golden boy…"
She flinches, and tilts her head to the side, her eyebrows furrowed. "You're not angry with me, are you?"
I shake my head vigorously, and hug her tighter. "I could never be, Bella. Though I wish you'd told me earlier."
"I…I didn't know…whether…I…there, listen, the thing is…" she stutters.
"B, spit it out. Don't give yourself a brain haemorrhage." She chuckles briefly and then begins again.
"Right, Boss. I didn't know whether I could trust you, ok? And you started saying that you'd be my friend, that you'd be there for me…and the comment that you'd not be the first one to shag his assistant…Oh god, that's just so fucking embarrassing…"
"It just hit a bit too close to home, right?"
She looks at me sheepishly. "Yep, I guess it did, Boss. I snapped, it won't happen again."
My eyes turn serious all of a sudden, as I think that she must have quit her job in London because the pressure was too much. I will never allow this to happen to her again. I don't ever want her to feel that she has no alternative but to run away, I just don't want her to run away from me.
"B, I want you to talk to me, next time something doesn't work. I mean it, B. I'm dead serious about this. I may not be an Oxford graduate, I have no Ivy League LLMs, but I fucking care about you. Hell, I can't function without you, the last thing I want is to scare you away from me. Am I being clear?"
She wipes a few stray tears away with the back of her hand and nods. She heaves a deep sigh and then something magical happens.
She hugs me back. Bella's hugging me back, with her arms wound around my waist, and her cheeks pressed to my chest. I can't help but hum contented like a child, as she whispers against my chest, "Thank you, Edward."
"Thank you, B, for being honest with me."
"Let's get you home, Boss. We have a lot to do tomorrow," she quips, her returned good cheer lighting up her eyes.
You did something right, Cullen.
I can't resist pushing my luck again, as I ask, with a mischievous undertone to my voice, "You're taking me home, B? On the Tiger?"
She clicks her tongue disapprovingly. "On the Tiger, Boss? First, technically, it just sits one, and you know it."
"Technically?" I retort, my eyes narrowing to slits. She's been holding out on me, I can sense this.
"Well, if I remove the cover there's a sorry excuse for a passenger seat…but I can't imagine you perched up there, to save my life. More to the point, have you ever been on a motorbike?"
Quirking an eyebrow, I push my luck some more. "No?"
"Then there's no way in hell you're riding that with me, Boss. Well, you're never riding that, period. I'm a pretty reckless rider, and I don't want to get your hot ass scratched because you couldn't hold on tight enough, Boss."
What makes her think you wouldn't be holding on tight? Wait, Cullen! She said you have a hot ass!
"No buts, Edward Cullen. And that's final. I'm driving you home in the Viper."
Viper…red sports car…hood…this has possibilities, Cullen. And she's driving…
No Fic Rec's this week, sorry. I've been busy writing ;-)
But...key to the cryptic Latin phrases above:
*in omnia saecula saeculorum = for ever and ever
* Tu quoque = you, too? Reference to Will Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, who accuses his adoptive son Brutus as the latter stabs the dictator to death...
Public Service Announcement: I will be in London next Sunday...and won't be able to post the next chapter. So bear with me, hide the pitchforks...and wait for my impending hang-over to dissolve ;-)