Business Class Girl @lamomo
Chapter 14

A/N: Happy Hallowe'en everyone...mine has taken a bit of a tumble, cause RL kicked in pretty hard. But I'm still standing, and here I am.

As usual, thank you to Eifeltwr, Black Hale and Peeptoe for beta'ing and beautifying. How ironic is it that one of my beta's is actually an attorney? I couldn't get any one more anal retentive than that, and I mean this as a HUGE compliment.

A big thank you to my sisters in crime Lory and Debbie for still holding my hand. We survived a 4 day stint in London and the best thing is that my mom still talks to me (she was with us).

Shout outs for this week: KitsuShel for rocking the Glosp Awards and for bringing the black towel into my world. Mina, Eifeltwr and RPatz EasyV who I couldn't really do without. EasyV has actually found a new nickname for CluelessWard - VacantWard. I think I like this one even better than the first.

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 14

Edward

The next three weeks flash by at the speed of sound. I should be nervous, edgy, irritable, and exhausted because of the sheer amount of work I'm doing every single day, and of all the other shit that's going on in my life in general, but I can't even bring myself to feel one single ounce of disagreeable feelings in my bones.

Just when I could be entitled to be a standoffish jerk, I'm not, and everyone around me is walking on eggshells because they are waiting for the other shoe to drop. They are waiting for the clueless asshole to rear his ugly head again and turn up late at a read-through, to bail out on an interview at the last second, to bitch about a photo shoot or whine because I don't feel like reading through tons of fan mail or scripts.

This isn't going to happen, though, this time around. I've got a secret weapon, with an unflappable sense of organisation, an infectious laugh, a killer eye for detail, and ruthless business instincts to boot. Bella is my secret weapon and my kryptonite all at the same time.

Work-wise, she has carved out a perfect niche for herself, carefully balanced with Angela's responsibilities so that they are constantly on the same page, and no-one ends up doing something twice (or not at all, which was my own preferred M.O. in the pre-Bella era). She also physically hauls my sorry ass wherever and whenever I need to be, and my newly-found timeliness has mellowed out Angela's mood dramatically. Much to my own displeasure, though, she doesn't drive me around in the Viper. Ben and Eric are our perpetual designated drivers, and the limo is our vehicle of choice.

Just when you thought you could have some quality time under that hood, Cullen…

Life-wise, Bella constantly keeps me on my toes. She's always helpful and caring, anticipates my needs even, but she never overtakes my own volition. She is true to her word, in that her opinion is always honest, sometimes bordering on merciless, when it comes to safeguarding my personal image and my career. She's also more relaxed and open around me, and this can't but please me immensely, not that this new openness has paved the way for more soul-baring conversations – yet.

This precarious, but fascinating balance in our boss-friend-alter ego-assistant relationship is sort of flung to the back burner throughout December, because my schedule is literally exploding and the two of us barely have the time to sit down with Angela to say "yay or nay" to projects and commitments which are about to cram my calendar in the next quarter. Bella only manages to keep in touch with Ang via blackberry.

I'm working my ass off even more than usual, because I'm cooped up in the studio all day for all sorts of pre-production shenanigans, clocking in 14 to 16 hours per day. I'm constantly exhausted and the only reason I'm not cracking under the pressure is that Bella keeps me on my feet with a constant supply of caffeine. More often than not, though, and ever the copycat of everything that gets me closer to her, I ditch my black nectar of the gods for a scalding hot mug of Earl Grey. She notices, but is wise enough not to voice her comments, which are limited to a raised eyebrow every now and then.

One day in the studio I'm having my head scanned, because it's needed for the CGI effects they'll be doing in post-production. I'm sitting on an awfully uncomfortable chair in a darkroom, with what looks disgustingly like a pantyhose stuck on my head as a cap, because they need to scan my head's actual shape, not the hopeless disarray that comprises my hair. While I'm being tortured, and my nose is scrunched up like I'm still five years old and my mum is force-feeding me broccoli, Bella is hiding in a corner, standing close to one of the assistant directors, talking closely and giggling every time my disgust becomes apparent. I'm not enjoying this at all, but what's bugging me more is the fact that she's there, in all of her designer-clad perfection, and everyone on the production staff is just hanging on every word she says. This assistant director, by the way, is also standing a bit too close for comfort.

Yours, or hers, Cullen? Be honest.

The next day, it's wardrobe, hairstyling and make-up. When Bella reads through the schedule, she happens to drop a salacious remark along the lines of 'Edward's in for his field day', that has her eyes light up like she knows she's up to no good, and me squirming in my seat like I'm being dragged to the executioner's block. But, because Bella is laughing her ass off at my blatant weaknesses, and because I want to get even with her, I come up with some whiny excuse that I need her around me for the day, and I force her to sit with me and 'hold my hand' all through the wardrobe torture.

Dress fittings actually include a lot of un-clothed time, and this is where I'm having some wicked fun at her expense. She doesn't know this, and her amazement shows plainly on her beet-red face when she realises that I'm standing in the middle of the room, basically stripped down to my boxer-briefs. I may not be built like her linebacker brother, nor am I sculpted like an athlete, but I've always been slim and toned. I just want to see her squirm for a second or two, and for once, I end up having the upper hand. Once she's past the initial shock, she imperceptibly gives me a fleeting, appreciative look. She tries to be stealthy about it, but fails, because I happen to lock my eyes with hers at that precise moment.

Cue the sexy smirk, Cullen. She's looking at you…

Of course, as soon as she looks at me, my brilliant plan threatens to backfire on my nearly bare ass. Even from across the room, I can see that her pupils are dilated, and her chocolate orbs are almost black. As she quickly averts her eyes, I feel that my mouth is parched with lust and my breath is shallower. Boxers be damned.

She's merely given you the once-over, Cullen, and you're pitching a tent? Rookie…

The tension between us suddenly grows so thick that you could cut through it with a knife, until the costume designer herself clears her throat to get my attention back to the task at hand. A door clicks shut behind me, and it takes me a minute to figure out that Bella has left the room. While she may have left for a number of perfectly practical reasons, I can't stop thinking that my little stunt has affected her as much as myself.

She wants you, Cullen. You can work with that.

During these three weeks, Bella is with me the whole time and, other than loitering around the studio, waiting on me hand and foot, just because I'm a brat like that, she actually leaves my side only to run errands that are, ultimately, meant for my sole benefit.

There's a couple of times, though, when she leaves in a hurry, muttering excuses that only boil down to 'Gotta go see Ang'. I try to ask if something's up, before she goes, and if there's something I need to know, once she's back, but all I get is a series of evasive 'Don't you worry'. Now this is strange, indeed.

She'd never go behind your back, Cullen. But you'd probably go behind hers.

Around mid-December, Bella is finalising whatever legal crap necessary to secure the lease on my new house. Next, once Kate and Garrett have vacated the house, my super-organised Business Class Girl is staging my big move as if it's nothing short of the invasion of Normandy, moving my scanty possessions into it. I've been naughtily anxious that she'd have to go through my unmentionables to get the move done but, once again, she outwits me and has the housekeeper do it instead, a housekeeper I don't even know I'm paying for…

During all this, I'm left to my own devices at the studio for a couple of days, going through storyboards and other stuff with the director and the rest of the crew. Though I try whining, insisting that she stay with me because I might need her, Bella does not relent and effectively cuts off the negotiation (like I ever had a chance negotiating against her) by saying that I'm going to be cooped up in the studio all day anyway, and she might just take the chance to get the rest of this 'shit' over and done with, so that I can actually emerge from the studio with a new address to my name. Reluctantly, I let her go, with a brooding look on my face.

Storyboards are an exciting process. You sit in a room, with the director, the screenwriter, the production designer, the producers, and the story unfolds itself before your eyes. You put images to the words you absorbed in the script. You see exactly what is going to happen, scene by scene, shot by shot, and take a sneak peek at what everything is going to look like.

This time around, I get a big reveal with these storyboards. A big reveal that hits me like a punch in the face. It looks like there will be a scene or two where I'll actually be shirtless. I joke for a second about a stunt double with a six-pack, but then Demetri (the director) silences me.

"No way, Cullen. It's gotta be your own hot bod in that film. It's part of the character and I'll be swamped in shitty reviews if anyone picks up that we've had to airbrush your pecs in CGI. Not to mention what the gossip rags will say about you…"

I gulp, because I'm not a real fan of pull-ups and stuff. My idea of working out is strumming on my guitar.

Demetri senses my discomfort and adds, "You need to find a personal trainer, Edward, and soon. If you plan it well, you can bulk up in time for filming. Guess it won't kill you, either."

And…that's a wrap! I have an emergency. On autopilot, I say goodbye quickly and dial Bella's 'crackberry'.

"Houston, we have a problem."

"Boss, I'm still in LA. You sure you wanted to talk to me?" she quips, diverted.

"Who else, B? I've got an emergency. Where are you?"

"I'm at the house, Boss. You're officially a resident of Venice Beach, as of now."

I relax minutely. I should be thrilled to finally have some sort of permanent residence in LA, and terrified that this draws me farther and farther away from London, but I'm actually quite peaceful. Bella's my neighbour. Wow.

"Boss? Still alive out there? What's the emergency?" Bella is in work mode now.

"Wow, B. We're neighbours. Can I come over and borrow some sugar?"

I really can't help tossing these jokes around, even if I know she'll be pissed at me.

Maybe, Cullen. Eventually.

"You can try, if Emmett can find it. Boss, hello? Emergency?" She replies, almost icily.

Most definitely, Cullen. Back-pedal, while you can.

"Yeah, right, emergency. I'll need to be shirtless in a couple of scenes," I begin.

I'm sort of embarrassed to discuss this with Bella, and I'm trying to defuse my tension by talking about it in a roundabout way.

"And? I could bet you have little qualms with public displays of near nudity, judging from your little stunt the other day."

Bollocks. I'm also a filthy hypocrite, and she's throwing this back in my face, all the while admitting that she noticed what I did.

"Yeah, well…the fact is…they want me to bulk up and actually have a six-pack and all, B. Can they do it?"

She tsks disapprovingly through the phone. "Oh, yes, Boss. Of course, they can. There's a specific clause to this effect in your contract, and…"

"I would know myself if I took the trouble to read it?"

I hope my attempt at self-flagellation appeases her.

"That, Boss and…Ang will give you grief for at least a decade if you throw a temper tantrum over this. But don't worry, I've got a solution."

I am relieved, but not surprised. I knew she'd sort this out for me.

You'd rather she sorted you out, Cullen.

"Thanks, B. Don't know what I'd do without you," I breathe out, relieved.

"No probs, Boss. Meet me at the house in half an hour. Can you make it?"

I can't fail to notice that she has purposely ignored my sappy comment.

"Sure, but…mine or yours?"

She chuckles. "Are you going to toss around this kind of jokes for much longer, Boss?"

I try as hard as possible to sound contrite. "I'm sorry, B. I couldn't resist, I'm just…you know, happy that I'm not living like a luxury hobo anymore. Do you think the neighbours will be friendly?"

I'm fighting dirty, and I know it. Bella knows I miss London like crazy. This – me finding a 'home' in LA – is the sort of thing that tugs at her protective instincts towards me.

"I'm glad, Boss. Just…don't push your luck, you know you're hitting a nerve with that."

"I know, B. I was just horsing around, am I forgiven? Hey, see you at my house? Wow…feels almost weird to say that…"

"Actually Boss, come over to my place, and I'll introduce you to my solution."

An hour later, because not even Ben and Eric can evade LA traffic at rush hour, I find myself knocking on Bella's door.

Knocking on heaven's door, Cullen?

"Hello again, Boss. How was your day?" she says, smiling genially at me.

"Long and boring, B. It's good to see you."

"Come on, don't be whiny, we had lunch together."

True. Morton's again. We return to the scene of the crime every now and then, and now we don't give a fuck about the throng of paps waiting outside. Bella's existence is already old news in this ephemeral city, and all the more in this volatile business, but apparently candid shots of yours truly sipping Italian wine are always in high demand.

"How come everyone at the studio asked me where in the heck you were today, and they didn't give a rat's ass about me?" I retort, without even trying to tone down my irritation.

True, again. Every single person on the crew asked about Bella, and while I smugly took all their compliments for her stellar performance, I couldn't help being jealous that they, too, are aware of her talents and claim her attention.

She shrugs and blushes. Ever the modest, humble one, she doesn't take praise in stride.

"I may have helped out one or two of Demetri's guys. No biggie."

What does she mean, she 'helped them out'?

"Do I need to remind you that you're my assistant, B?"

She raises an eyebrow. "Oh, aren't we grouchy today? I may have suggested to the sound guys to check out a couple of bands for the soundtrack, at least until they can get a hold of Matt."

I don't follow her, and I'm slightly miffed that she knows more than I do about the film I'm doing. "Matt who?"

"Matt Bellamy, Boss, from Muse? The band that's been contributing songs to each and every one of the films in the franchise?"

"Oh. That one." My tone is unabashedly sour. She's on first name terms with this 'Matt' guy, who's a rock star of epic proportions. Heck, I think this chap signs more autographs than I do.

Fuck, Cullen, this sounds bad.

"B, care to enlighten me? How well do you know this guy?"

"The sound guy? I met him at the studio," she answers as she's rummaging through a cupboard, trying to find her favourite mug. She's making me sweat for this.

You'd rather she made you sweat for things that don't contemplate talking, Cullen.

"No, B. Matt Bellamy. Is there a good reason you're on first name terms with a rock star?"

"Am I contractually bound to disclose any and all A-listers I am personally acquainted with?"

Crap, legal jargon. She jumps the corporate guns to put my back against the wall but she has no idea (how can she?) what it actually does to me. Bella is in work clothes, still dressed to the nines, from her tell-tale, red-soled stiletto heels, glasses still in place, to her long hair loosely tied with a pencil (go figure), and she's firing away legal crap on my sorry ass, with a sentence that contains the word 'bound'.

I'm a goner. She has no idea how fucking hot that shit sounds to me, and I'm suddenly thankful that we're sitting at the kitchen island, which mercifully hides my gigantic boner from her close scrutiny.

Though you'd love her to perform some closer scrutiny on that, Cullen. Don't lie to yourself.

Then she blushes and becomes suddenly very interested in a loose thread in her sweater.

"B? The rock star?"

"Well…it's just…I've known Matt for years, Edward. Even before the hype about them began," she finally says, dismissively.

Crap. She's friends with a rock star.

You're screwed, Cullen. So screwed.

"I met him through Jasper. They dabbled in music together for a while… Well, Jasper dabbled, but then he chose the law, and Matt chose his Kaoss Pad."

She talks about music and corporate law with the same consummate ease. How hot is that? If I was a goner five minutes ago, that's the final nail in my coffin.

And she's a bad-ass rider, Cullen. Don't forget that.

Bella seems uneasy at this new turn in the conversation, and the hairs on the nape of my neck are suddenly prickling, as if on red alert. My innate danger meter is going through the roof. Something's off. I get the distinct impression that she's purposely withholding information from me.

Is there something she doesn't want me to know? Did they date? Do I need to throttle a rock star? I don't need visuals of Bella and a multiple MTV Award winning rock star, because at this point I'm pretty certain that my caveman instincts would go on overdrive.

"B, I thought we had a solution to my six-pack problem," I say, abruptly changing the subject.

Bella doesn't notice, or blatantly ignores, my petty avoidance technique and proceeds to place her customary Starbucks mug on the counter and plops down on her stool.

"Right, Boss. Our solution is about to appear, but if this weirds you out in any way, you need to tell me, and we'll find an alternative."

As I'm about to ask why I should be weirded out by any solution of hers, I hear the front door slam shut and the loud thud of something falling to the floor. This is followed by Emmett's noisy and cheerful entrance.

He bellows his greetings to both Bella and me and then, after grabbing a carton of orange juice from the fridge, he sits down next to Bella and plants a sloppy, childlike peck on the top of her head. I wonder whether he's so openly affectionate to her all the time, or whether he just does this to irk me. Knowing Em, probably the latter.

"Hi, Eddie." Yes, whatever it is, he's doing this to irk me.

"Em, please. Behave." Bella scolds him, playfully smacking his forearm.

"Right, BeeBee. You said it was important. I left Matt Damon running laps at Griffiths Park alone to hurry back here. Fire away."

"Boss here needs to bulk up a bit for his next flick, bro. Interested?"

Emmett raises a bushy eyebrow at me and looks at me from head to toe or, at least, at as much of me as he can see, from my perch on the kitchen stool. Then, he returns his gaze to Bella.

"BeeBee, how long till filming begins?"

"Three to four months, Em. We're looking at a March/April shoot in Vancouver."

"Feasible. How does he feel about some serious butt kicking?"

Obviously, Linebacker Em would be Bella's first port of call, and I'm a moron for not figuring this out earlier. I'm slightly irritated, though, by the fact that they're discussing my future muscular mass as if I'm not here.

"HE is right here and can still speak for himself, fuck you very much," I retort, trying to get their attention.

They both chuckle. Bella flashes me a devious smile and a raised eyebrow, whilst Emmett turns to face me again.

"I'm not gonna go easy on you, Eddie. Are you up for this?"

"I kinda have no choice, Em."

"Wow, kid, curb the enthusiasm a bit, will ya?" he quips, picking on my evident discomfort.

"Em, the truth is that I'm not an incredibly sporty person, but I'm a hard worker, and I can keep up with a schedule. At least, now that I actually know how to do that. Just tell me what I need to do."

Bella eyes me seriously and steps in before Em can answer.

"Boss, my condition still stands. Are you ok with this?"

Automatically, my hand reaches across the table to squeeze hers. It's a recent learned habit of mine. Touching her, no matter how briefly, soothes away my doubts and hers, whenever I'm uneasy or tense, or whenever I feel that she's doubting herself for any reason.

Oh, that's your latest excuse to be grabby, Cullen?

Emmett's eyes land on our linked hands like a hawk's but, wisely, he doesn't comment. I bet he's going to annoy Bella later over this.

"Yes, B. I'm in. It's a pretty brilliant solution."

True, again. Emmett's a friend, and it won't make me uncomfortable to admit my physical ineptitude to him.

He's also her brother, Cullen. Disinterested choice, much?

"All right, but, for the record, don't ever say I didn't warn you," she concedes, actually waving a disapproving finger at me in mock reproach.

"If you two are done smooching, I'd like to get down to business. I've got a lame actor to train."

"Hey!" My eyes are about to bulge out of their sockets. Did Emmett really just say that? Does he want me dead? Does he want Bella to kill me and bury my corpse in the backyard?

Bella abruptly removes her hand from mine and descends from her stool. She discards her empty mug in the sink and paces away from the kitchen without a word. Weird.

She comes back a few minutes later, and the only things that are unchanged about her appearance are the pencil sticking out of the messy bun on her head, and her glasses. She's shed her armour, and is now padding towards Emmett barefoot, in a grey tank top and yoga pants.

The absence of heels and designer clothes does absolutely nothing to abate the snug situation in my nether regions. One day, she will unwittingly be the cause of my untimely and painful demise.

Death by UST? Is that the inscription you want on your tombstone, Cullen?

"You ok here, Boss, with your new Nazi-trainer?"

I can only manage to nod. Words are failing me. Emmett raises yet another eyebrow. Training with him is going to be brutal, not just because he'll make me work out until I wish I were dead, but also because he knows pretty well that yours truly wants to round some bases with his baby sister.

You wouldn't mind a home run, either, Cullen…

"BeeBee, we've not discussed what sort of training Eddie needs. Do you have a minute for me?"

"I do, but I'm sure you can go over this with Edward. I didn't even talk to the director yet, so he definitely knows more than I do."

Emmett does not relent. "I'm pretty sure you know what's in his contract, BeeBee, so I need to know what he can or cannot do, and what will make those nasty producers happy. Help a brother out here, Hot Stuff?"

Hot Stuff? Is that even an appropriate nickname for a sibling?

"Alright, Emmie. Ten minutes. Fire away," she finally concedes, with a hint of annoyance in her voice.

I'm still pretty useless to this conversation, but I'm highly entertained by their exchange as they talk about allowed and prohibited sports activities in actors' contracts. Emmett reminisces about training Orlando Bloom, who used to argue that bungee jumping should be considered 'allowed' and not 'excessively dangerous' because it trains actors to handle adrenaline rushes for when they're actually doing their own stunts. Interesting theory, that I'm not particularly interested in testing.

I'm sort of awed at the immense web of connections that Emmett can boast in showbiz. Then his Nazi-trainer persona takes over and he commands, out of the blue, "Edward, take off your shirt."

What the fuck? In the middle of Bella's kitchen?

Bella's staring wide-eyed at Emmett, and she's glaring. I gather that this is not part of Emmett's standard operating procedure.

"Eddie, take off your shirt, I need to know what I'm working with. You need an eight-pack in four months, for fuck's sake. Let me do my job."

Emmett is pretty commandeering. I guess it's a family trait. Bella's eyes are wandering everywhere but in my immediate direction.

"Right, that's my cue to leave, guys," she says, turning to the living room.

Emmett tries to stop her. "BeeBee, leaving so soon?"

"I actually have work to do, Emmie. Now leave me alone."

She is pissed. 'Emmie' is definitely overstepping some invisible mark but, in typical Emmett-fashion, he shamelessly sidetracks Bella.

"Sis, do you mean 'work' or 'work-work'?" He asks, stressing the 'work-work' thingy as if it was a sort of secret code.

Interesting.

Bella relents minutely but does not return to the kitchen and, instead, calls over her shoulder, "Work-work, Emmie. I'll be walled up in my office for a few hours."

"Which means you'll be skipping dinner, BeeBee. You'll overcook yourself up there. I'm taking you out to dinner, and that's non-negotiable. Four hours, tops. That's the most I can give you."

"Aye, aye, Captain. I'll see you later."

Crap. I thought I'd take her out to dinner tonight, to celebrate the move, but Emmett has blown my chance. I can't even throttle him because I need my PT and he's twice my size, to boot.

Three hours later, I'm still working out in Emmett's gym, for a number of embarrassing reasons. First, I'm a complete pushover, whenever given the chance to hover in Bella's immediate vicinity. Second, I sadly have nothing better to do. Emmett and Bella are as good as my only friends in LA, and I'd probably be hanging out with Emmett anyway. Third, I'm itching for Bella to appear out of the blue, because I want her to see me like this.

As in, sweaty and scantily clad, Cullen? Smooth.

Right on cue, a while later she does saunter towards Emmett. The faithful pencil still strives to hold up her messy locks, though a handful of strands are cascading down her forehead. She's nervously twisting one of said strands with her fingers, while balancing her faithful fountain pen, a black notebook and a few sheets of paper in her other hand. How she manages to do that, while pulling her hair, is completely beyond me.

I feign indifference and continue to sweat my ass off on Emmett's infernal workout machines but, in my peripheral vision, I see her approaching.

Thanks to a lucky twist of fate, I've completed my reps just now and I should move to the treadmill for a 'refreshing' run, as Em put it. The treadmill happens to be located right next to my Nazi-trainer and Bella, which enables me to eavesdrop on their conversation without appearing too much of a nosy stalker.

Back to your stalker ways, Cullen?

I start my 3-mile jog (and Em said he was going easy on me this time around), just as Bella is tapping on Em's shoulder, not without some difficulty. Bella's rather petite, and if I tower over her by a foot, Em is completely off limits to her.

"Emmie, I need a second opinion on something."

Em smiles at her, noticing the papers in her hands.

"Sure, BeeBee, anytime. What's shaking?"

Bella's fingers deftly shuffle through the pages of her notebook, till she finds what she wants and points it out to Emmett with her fountain pen.

"Read that, Emmie, and tell me what you think," she says, suddenly serious.

Ever the invisible man, I continue to jog, but keep an eye and ear on them all the time. Emmett's eyebrows scrunch up in concentration as he's reading whatever Bella's shown him.

"This is good, BeeBee, what's wrong with it?"

It's Bella's turn to furrow her brows, but in frustration. She has the same look she gives me when something doesn't turn out as it's supposed to. She appears conflicted over something.

"Yep, well…thanks…Em, but….isn't this more like it?" she retorts, shoving a sheet of paper under his nose. Em grabs it, and his eyes peruse it with rapt attention. I've never seen Em so caught up in something, and it's something Bella did.

Wait a second, Cullen, you idiot! It's something Bella wrote!

My realisation is shaken by Em's sudden thunderous laugh. "Well, if this isn't priceless, Hot Stuff!" he bellows.

Bella's beaming up at him, visibly excited. "I take it you like it, Emmie?"

"Like it? I love it! That's exactly what happened. Keep this one and toss the other, Hot Stuff."

Bella's smile is blinding. Every time I think she couldn't be more glorious, I see her light up and soar for something, and I'm at a loss for words to describe the emotion that brightens up her whole face. I also feel incredibly left out, because I have no part in it, nor do I even know what it is that makes her so happy.

Then, she stands up on her toes to plant a noisy peck on Em's cheek. "Thank you, Emmie."

Jealous of another man's cheek, Cullen? Of her brother's cheek, at that? Pathetic…

Meanwhile, Bella turns to me, effectively shaking me out of my musings.

"Boss?"

"Hhmm?" I grunt, because I'm running my final mile and that's all I can muster.

"You need to call Alice back once you're done."

I grunt again in reply as she disappears towards the stairs. Emmett bellows at her retreating form.

"BeeBee, no more work-work now. I mean it. Shower and then Gladstone's. In half an hour."

"Aye, Aye, Captain," she quips, flipping a strand of hair over her shoulder.

"Ummpf…" I groan, as I collapse on the treadmill, floored only partially by my work-out.

Emmett laughs at my predicament and then comments, his eyes glinting with mischief, "Yes, she's a piece of work."

"But she's worth it," I counter, before my non-existent verbal filter can kick in.

BCG's POV

The first three weeks of December definitely take a toll on my energy and my sanity.

Edward is working more than ever, and I follow suit. He refuses to leave me behind and, just like this, I'm stuck at his side as he goes through all the motions of pre-production. All the while, I'm keeping the boat afloat with an infinite series of daily chores that Edward is blissfully ignorant of.

More than anything else, what keeps me up at night has nothing to do with Edward's work. I know very well that Ang has forbidden me to touch up my manuscript until I meet the two important guys, and that's exactly what I am trying to do.

Unexpectedly, this city and my new life have triggered my creativity and I find it hard to hold back. I've started working on another story, and writing has never come so easily before, that I would be a fool not to jump at the opportunity of, literally, putting pen to paper to see where this leads me.

Emmett is thrilled to know that I might have some shot at getting published but, in true Emmett fashion, he is ready to shout it out loud from the rooftops. Me? Not so much.

Most of the time, I manage to keep him quiet, but every now and then, he brings it up again. We're sitting at one of Gladstone's familiar, run-down booths, working our way through two of their gigantic Maine lobsters.

"I don't understand it, BeeBee," he says, reaching for his beer.

"What is it that you don't understand, Em?" I know I'm playing dumb, but I need to buy some time, and I want to eat my lobster in peace.

"Why are you keeping Edward in the dark?"

I raise an eyebrow. Now, if that isn't a multi-faceted question…

"About what, in particular?"

He scoffs. "Damn, BeeBee, what is this? An FBI interrogation? Do you want me to say it out loud? Do I need to spell it?"

My half-eaten lobster claw clatters down on the platter. I never thought I'd get the equivalent of a tongue-lashing from my own brother.

"Emmett, I'm not being deliberately secretive."

Em throws me a knowing, yet disbelieving look.

"OK, maybe I am. Just a little. But consider my perspective…"

"I'm all ears, BeeBee", he says, sarcastically.

I take another swig of my beer and then brace myself to answer him.

"I'm doing this on my own time, Em. I work my ass off for the guy - 14 hours a day - and I'm doing this off the clock. It's my own side project, and I don't really think that Edward is entitled to know…yet. Besides…"

Emmett frowns. My brother has something to say.

"Don't talk about Edward as if he were some random asshole of a lawyer in a pinstriped suit, Bella. You know it's not like that with him."

Em's tone is stern and serious and, before I can steel myself, I feel tears prickling at the back of my eyes. I avert my gaze from him, hoping he doesn't notice my downfall.

Instead, he silently motions for me to continue.

"I don't want to jinx it. What if this all falls through? I don't want him to look down on me as a failure."

"Oh, for fuck's sake…" mutters Em. "That kid worships the ground beneath your feet, Hot Stuff. He'd never think of you as a failure, don't you see it?"

Em's statement does hit a bit too close to home, though. I wonder why everything related to Edward, even in the most remote and convoluted way, boils down to this, to hitting too close for comfort. Mine, of course.

"All the same, Em...How do you think he'd react if he knew? Let's hear it, o wise one…" I quip, pouring my daily quota of sarcasm into a single sentence.

"He'd be over the moon. He'd be proud. He'd do anything in his power to…"

"And that's exactly why I don't want him to know! It's…" I trail off, unable to give a coherent shape to my jumbled thoughts. "He'd try to step in, he'd do it to help, because it's how he is, but I need to achieve this on my own."

Em reluctantly nods. I may or may not have gotten my point across to him.

"All right, BeeBee. I see your point. Besides, he'd probably freak out and think you'd want to quit. He'd have a coronary."

"At 25? I doubt it, Em. But on one count, you are absolutely right."

"You're saying I'm right about something?" he stage-whispers, evidently and utterly astonished.

"Yep, I know, shocking. But yes, I think you have a point…"

He's fiddling with his phone and I want to know what he's doing.

"I'm marking this day in my calendar. Next year I want to celebrate, BeeBee. The Day Bella Said I Was Right."

I can't help the full belly laugh that ensues.

"Em, you really are something…" I trail off, at last, after my laughing fit has subsided.

"Yeah, Rose sort of said that…" he grins, as I smack his arm.

"Emmett! Don't you want to know why you are right?"

He stares pensively at me, or at least, as pensive as he can look after a lobster feast bathed in beer.

"Let me guess, he's gonna be pissed when he finds out?"

I nod, pinching the bridge of my nose. Edward will really throw a fit when he finds out I've kept something from him.

A week later, I'm speaking with Alice, during one of our now countless phone calls. Alice is leaving Milan to return to London in two days, and Edward will join her on the following day, just after Angela's Christmas bash.

Alice is badgering me, and has been for days, because she wants to know if I already have a dress for the party.

"Alice, is this the only reason you're calling, at what is supposed to be an ungodly hour in Milan?"

I've sort of become a steady intermediary between Edward and Alice, who has almost stopped calling her brother, only to harass me instead. Edward is beyond jealous, because his sister prefers talking to me instead of 'her own blood', as Edward has it, complete with his best whiny pout. Alice, on the contrary, is overjoyed, because someone finally knows what he's up to and is finally 'putting my obnoxious sibling in place'.

Apart from the fact that she makes coffee nervous and quicksilver lame and slow, I genuinely like Alice. Alice is a little firecracker, and I've come to know her over the last few weeks. She is the sort of girl I could hang out with, if she didn't currently live several time zones away from me.

We're becoming good friends, long-distance friends, and she has actually learned things about me that Edward still ignores. She has a way of weaselling information out of mw much better than a drink spiked with Veritaserum would.

"No, BeeBee, I wanted to tell you that mum's and dad's Christmas gifts are taken care of, so Edward doesn't have to worry about it."

"Thanks, Alice. I really appreciate the gesture, you might have just taken an item or two off my to do list."

She gasps in horror. "Please, tell me that the lazy scumbag I share my last name with didn't want you to do his own Christmas shopping in his place. If he did, I'll throttle him and drown him in dark water under Blackfriars' Bridge."

I chuckle. Alice knows her older brother very well.

"He tried, Alice. I resisted. End of story."

"How did you do that?" She sounds suddenly intrigued.

"I merely mentioned that you might have some good ideas already, and that there was no chance in hell I'd go and buy his mum's Christmas present. I sort of played the guilt trip card, but I also kept a couple of ideas on the backburner, just in case…I guess it worked."

Alice laughs through the phone. "Of course it did! You're a genius, BeeBee! Edward is a mama's boy, if I ever saw one. Now, BeeBee, let's get down to business."

This is ominous. Alice Cullen talking about business is bad news for the likes of me.

"Alice, why do I get the feeling that you'll do what you're about to do, no matter what I try to say?"

"Because you know me, Isabella Swan. Now listen to me and don't be a brat," she says, with a mock-bossy tone.

"Yes, m'am," I joke back.

"Right. Now, power up your laptop, download your email, click on my latest one, open the attachment, sit back and relax."

I follow her orders to a 'T' and, when I open the attachment to her email, I see the picture of a gorgeous dress. It's off-white, all flowers and petals in pinkish, cream and violet hues, and it's made of a floaty and airy material. Chiffon? Silk?

Fashion is not my line of work, but my mom is, after all, a fashion photographer. By now, I know haute couture when I see it, and the picture of this dress does ring a bell or two.

I'm also speechless, because the dress is beautiful, original and looks…so me. I like it. I like it a whole damn lot.

"Alice, would it be right to assume that I may have seen this dress somewhere before?"

"Oh, my god, I knew we were friends for a reason, BeeBee. And the answer to your question is 'yes'".

Alice doesn't mince words, as a rule, and the fact that she's so telegraphic is very suspicious.

"Alice, spit it out. Whatever it is that you're hiding, spill it. Now." I say, in my best authoritative, commandeering voice.

She whistles through the phone. Alice Cullen can whistle. The end of the world is near.

"Do you ever use that tone with my brother, BeeBee?"

"As a matter of fact, yes. Often," I quip, not sure at all where this is going.

"Wow, I bet he jizzes his pants every time."

I'm dumbstruck, shell-shocked, flabbergasted. Did she really just say that?

"Alice, do you want to embarrass the shit out of me, or are you just trying to sidetrack me?" I croak, quite unable to retrieve a more assertive tone.

"Mmmm…" she says, vaguely, "…bit of this, bit of that…"

I heave an uneasy sigh. By now, I know that Alice is up to something, and this something is certainly no good. Then a light bulb flashes in my brain.

"Alice, this dress is from last year's Armani collection. There is no way I'll be able to get that…now."

She clears her throat. I knew it. She's hiding something.

"Gotcha, Alice Cullen. Now spill the beans."

"Yes, well…actually, BeeBee, there's a garment bag with your name on it, and this dress inside it, waiting for you at the Giorgio Armani boutique on Rodeo Drive." She sounds bashful, as if she knew I'd go berserk for something like this.

"Alice…how in heck did you…? And how do you think I can….? Crap, Alice, that dress must come with a price tag that could settle the national debt of a medium-sized African state..."

There must be an explanation to this, and I want it now, because it looks like Alice has been hiding plenty from me…or maybe I'm too much of an idiot to be able to still put two and two together.

"Alice…are you still alive out there? Care to answer any of my questions?"

She clears her throat again. "Yes, well…BeeBee…I have something to tell you."

The six most dreaded words in the English language, a close second to 'we need to talk'.

"Alice, spit it out already. You're giving me the creeps."

"There will be no price tag on this dress, BeeBee," she whispers.

"Alice, even if it's yours, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart, there's no way in hell I can fit into your clothes."

"It's not mine, not in the way you mean."

Okay. Rational explanation number one is busted. Not that I have a rational explanation number two up my sleeve.

"All right, BeeBee. But don't freak out, and don't get pissed at me." She says, at the speed of lightning. She knows I will freak out and I will be pissed. The disclaimer is pointless.

"There is no price tag because it's a house sample, BeeBee, and it's mine because I designed it," Alice finally admits, with a barely contained smug undertone to her voice.

The conniving little thing…but then it means…My brain can still put two and two together, after all.

Alice is a junior designer to the Giorgio Armani in Milan, the one and only.

"Alice, why am I finding out just now that you work for Mr G? Why did you never bother to tell me before?"

When Alice is nervous, she speaks at the speed of lightning. I can't see her through the phone, but I'm pretty sure she is also fidgeting, jumping here and there like a cricket on crack.

"Well, BeeBee, I didn't want to brag, and I didn't want you to…you know, get nervous with the fact that…oh, blimey…you're not angry about the dress, are you?"

I heave a deep sigh, trying to wrap my mind around this turn of events.

"No, Alice, I'm not angry about the dress. God, I love it."

"So you'll wear it? For me? Please?"

I can't see her, but I'm pretty sure she's got that lost puppy look on her face right now, because it's the same whiny look Edward has when he's trying to get his way about something. DNA is a real bitch sometimes, and I have no equipment to resist the Cullen charm, whether in person or through the merciful filter of a transcontinental phone call.

"Of course I'll wear it, Alice."

She squeals through the phone. "Thank you, thank you, thank you, BeeBee! I told her you'd wear it, but she wouldn't believe me!"

Then it all clicks into place but, before I really freak out, there's one more question I need to ask.

"Alice, I remember a photo shoot of that dress for last year's campaign. It was gorgeous."

I am stroking her creative ego again, and I'm baiting her at the same time. I've just remembered that Renee did that particular photo shoot and, knowing how anal-retentive Alice is when it comes to her own designs, I can imagine that she must have pestered Renee to no end during those photo sessions.

"Why, thank you, BeeBee. I loved it, though I had to wrestle with the photographer to get my way. She wasn't easily convinced, but she came around. Eventually."

Alice sounds vaguely hesitant, but takes my shameless flattery in stride. I am the one who has trouble retorting this time, because I was right.

Crap. Holy crap. Double crap with whipped cream. Alice knows my mother. I'm busted.

PIMP MY FIC CORNER

Story that's been owning me of late: The Price of a Broken Heart, by MrsEdwardCullenP. Link: http : / www . fanfiction . net /s/6202537/9/

Summary: 12 years without a word. It took so little for her to leave me. And now... of all the hospital rooms in the whole country, why did she have to walk into mine? "Get the f- out of here," I spat.

This is a rollercoaster that puts me on edge at every update, and Pen knows it because I pester her every time with my reviews. I am a very impatient reader and let me tell you, this will get you hooked from day one.

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