Chapter 9, revamped!
Your eyes are not deceiving you. I am reposting Business Class Girl from scratch, sprucing it up with the help of Alice's White Rabbit and Sunflower Fran.
The updated version will post weekly on Mondays and, after the first 22 chapters have been posted, they will be followed by new chapters until completion, since the story is now entirely pre-written.
Thank you to Sally and Fran for editing and beta'ing, to RobsmyyummyCabanaboy and Deh for being my plot coaches and shoulders to cry on.
Thank you for all the new alerts and favorites, and thank you for propelling BCG past 700 reviews! I appreciate and treasure every single one of them.
Disclaimer: *checks notes* It still all belongs to Stephenie. I just like to play in the sandbox.
BUSINESS CLASS GIRL - CHAPTER 9
I spend most of Saturday and Sunday vegetating in my flat. I don't call Alice; I don't leave the house. Not that I'd have somewhere to go or someone to see. Hell, the only person I want to see is in Venice Beach with her brother, most likely enjoying her last quiet weekend for some time. Even if I dared drag my ass out there, I'd be followed by a pageant of paparazzi by the time I got out of the house. They'd sniff my tracks as far as Venice Beach, discover Bella's existence, and she'd end up all over the internet before I could even blink.
I won't have that, not now. Not when I've finally met her and I'm slowly bringing down the wall between us, brick by boring brick. It's inevitable that she will be dragged into the press and media extravaganza at some point, but I intend to protect her from the gossip rags as long as possible. Angela will see to it.
When I've finally gotten past the "Miss Swan" stage, courtesy of some cosmic event I can't yet identify, the last thing I want is to see grainy pics of her all over PopSugar and Perez Hilton, labelled as my latest mystery fling.
You wish, Cullen, you wish.
This is why, come Sunday afternoon, I find myself still indoors, wandering around my flat in a post non-coital bliss I haven't been able to shake off since Friday night.
I'm on a daydreaming loop, with Bella's voice replaying in my head as she finally bans the "Call Me Miss Swan" rule and the sound of her heartfelt, musical laugh resonating in my ears. It isn't a girlish, polite giggle. It's a full-on, contagious laugh where all her features light up and she actually has to dab a few tears from her eyes. With a brother like Linebacker Em, I guess there's little room for restrained emotions in their household.
Her brother, her own older brother, her humongous fucking brother. Thank God. While he surely got a kick out of it, I can now afford to breathe freely. I fell into his trap, and I still feel pretty stupid for it and also for the quasi-panic attack plus jealousy-induced hissy fit I nearly got into. Quite like a clueless teenager.
Scratch the teenager, Cullen. You are clueless, period.
I'm relieved now, though, more relieved than ever. Bella doesn't live in this frenetic, almost impersonal city all alone; she lives with someone who evidently cares about her a lot, regardless of family ties.
I'm relieved also because she's still single, to the best of my knowledge.
She's still your assistant, Cullen.
Just because I have nothing better to do (or rather, because nothing else sounds so appealing to me right now), I think back on all the little things Emmett told me about Bella, all the little things I know myself.
Their beachfront house in Venice Beach has an outrageously huge gym because Linebacker Em, being a personal trainer, works mostly from home.
There's also an outrageously big kitchen because Bella loves to cook.
That is when Emmett doesn't insist and drags Bella to the beach for a run. Not that she manages to keep up with him.
Bella in her workout clothes, all sweaty. How about you give her a workout, Cullen?
Bella's parents are divorced and live at the ends of the earth, which is why Emmett and Bella are so close.
Bella has invaded Emmett's house with all her knick-knacks, including her endless collection of mugs. I can't help smiling, thinking that now she can have some proper tea-time with a mug for each day of the week.
Bella's former boss, "Jazz", is also her closest friend and they've known each other for years.
I am a genius—I knew Uncle Russell had been talking about her. I remember his most glowing praises and my chest swells with pride. She must be amazing, and now she works for me.
Ew, Cullen. That sounded like Charlie's Angels.
The only thing Emmett was quite secretive about is the actual reason why Bella left her best friend and flashy job in London to move to sunny California with her obnoxious brother. I'm more than determined to figure this out for myself now that my lonely days as a stalker are over.
Sunday afternoon is slowly waning into Sunday evening, and while I'm debating whether I should leave my crypt for dinner or just stick to ordering in, the buzzer and my phone ring at the same time.
The opening bars of Celebrity Skin alert me it's Angela calling. I glue the phone to my ear as I'm trying to open the door.
"Ang, what's up?"
"Nothing, wonder boy. Just open the damn door. I've been instructed to tell you that you have a special delivery coming," she says, in her usual deadpan, business-like tone.
In true Angela fashion, the line goes dead without any further niceties, and sure enough, a delivery guy is staring at me from the open door.
"Delivery for Mr Edward Cullen?"
I nod, sign the delivery slip, and fish out a note from my back pocket. The guy dutifully thanks me and disappears. I close the door, still silent, and plop down on my coach, clutching the parcel in my hands.
I'm at a loss. It's neither a time bomb nor a prank; otherwise Angela wouldn't green-light its delivery at my very private, and very secret, home address. It's not fan mail because I usually go through selected stacks of it whenever I swing by Angela's office.
I move heaps of junk from the coffee table—my cleaning spree was sorely short-lived—and retrieve a pair of scissors. The open box reveals a shiny new BlackBerry with a note on the side.
I cautiously extract the hi-tech, hi-end device from the box and turn it over in my hands. Not something I'd choose for myself. I'm not a complete technophobe, but if I can, I stick to the "less is more" principle with these things.
The BlackBerry is fully charged and switched on. A small icon is flashing on the screen, indicating a new message. Already?
My eyes dart to the yellow note. It's a single sheet of lined paper, clearly torn from a legal notepad. Without even looking at the signature, I immediately know it's from her. The note is short and to the point.
This should give us a head start for tomorrow morning. Most of what you'll need is in your new BlackBerry. The rest, we'll go over together.
Go read your new messages.
Still calling me Edward and still signing herself as Bella. It's a good start.
I fiddle with the touch screen for a bit, but then get myself situated pretty quickly. There's one new text and one new email. Both are from Bella. The text says her new BlackBerry number is on speed dial #4.
Why only #4? She should be #1.
Either she underestimates herself or she's seriously messing with the cosmic order of things. As I scroll down the text, things begin to make sense.
#1 can't be customised, because it's the preset voicemail speed dial.
#2 is Alice. I wonder how she managed to guess I'd need my sister's number on speed dial. Then I tell myself she probably talked to Angela or Jessica.
#3 is Angela. Bella's placed herself beneath Angela and Alice. I guess alphabetical order might have something to do with it. That's what I would contrive to do if I had some sense of organisation.
But because I don't, and because I can't bear to have her on the lowly #4 spot, I fiddle some more with the phone's menu and manage to change my speed dial presets. The natural order of things is restored as follows.
#1 Useless, annoying, Bella's-natural-place-hogging voicemail.
#2 Bella, aka Business Class Girl.
#3 Alice. She will understand and forgive—maybe.
#4 Angela. If Bella takes care of things, I don't see why Angela should be the first port of call. Let Bella deal with Angela's ranting.
Call her, Cullen. You know you want to.
Should I test drive my speed dials? I resist the temptation of calling Bella. I still have an email to read.
Bella's email is from a new account at Angela's firm. I knew there'd be a catch somewhere, and there was no way in hell she'd give me her personal email address. She did mention "Fort Knox is being raided" as the appropriate disaster level that justifies any use of personal contacts. Before I even read the rest of the email, I pause to consider that both our new BlackBerries have very similar numbers and that these, as well, must be new contracts, opened by Angela's firm, so neither my name nor Bella's show up on the paperwork. Smart move.
Bella's email is a detailed, fool-proof debrief for all the things I'm scheduled to do tomorrow. Even I can waddle my way through it without incident, but with a satisfied smirk, I realise I won't have to because of Bella.
I have a manic Monday ahead of me, with a long and boring photo shoot and more press junkets. Still, Bella will be by my side every step of the way, especially because Angela has given her strict instructions to follow my sorry arse all day to get into the thick of things from day one. Without a care in the world, because I'll be babysat by Business Class Girl, I pass out on the couch, still clutching my shiny new phone.
I wake up bright and early on Monday to the beeping sound of the "crackberry". Bella must have even set an alarm so I'm not late. Why do I get the impression that perhaps, just perhaps, Angela has relayed to Bella more than I'd care to admit about my little quirks, habits, and general cluelessness?
You like the fact someone knows you, Cullen, don't you?
I go through my morning routine of coffee, shower, towel-dry hair, and clean clothes with plenty of time to spare before Tyler and Eric show up to drive me to Angela's office. Throughout the drive there, I nurse my nervousness and anticipation until the elevator door dings open, signalling arrival at our destination.
I'm met with a formidable vision. The two women who rule my professional life are lined up in the foyer, waiting for me—one with a disbelieving look on her face, the other with a knowing smirk.
Angela looks flabbergasted for the first time since I've known her, and possibly for the first time in her life, whilst Bella's smug smile rivals the proverbial cat's that ate the canary.
Angela shakes her head and manages to greet me. "Well, good morning, Edward. This is a nice new habit. Keep it up, wonder boy."
"Thanks, Angela. To what do I owe the honour?" My quite puzzled reply follows Angela's likewise surprised greeting.
"You showed up on time and then some." Bella's musical voice welcomes me as she flashes her brilliant eyes at me with a discreet wink. I respond with a wide smile. Not too bad for a first day. Bella and I are going to make a great team.
Wouldn't you like that, Cullen? Both on and off stage?
"B, you're sure you're not mad at me for leaving you totally stranded today? I really can't get out of that godforsaken meeting. It's too important." Angela's tone sounds like she's pleading. Angela pleading? To Bella? That's news indeed.
Bella turns to her, a clipboard and her own BlackBerry in her right hand, and answers without a hitch. "No problem at all, Ang. We'll be stuck at the photo shoot for most of the day anyway. If I find myself in a rough patch with the press junket, I'll text you. How does that sound?"
"Wonderful. I have a feeling you've got this one covered. We'll meet here tonight for a quick debrief?"
"Sure thing. Mr Cullen, are you ready? We need to go now if we don't want to be late."
I can merely nod and follow in Bella's footsteps. Once again, I'm being herded, I'm totally unnecessary to the conversation, and I don't mind it one bit.
The drive to the photo shoot is awkward, to say the least. Bella sits across from me in the limo as far away as possible without actually leaving the car. She might even be in another car. She's huddled in a corner, scribbling away in a thick planner, the clipboard and "crackberry" faithfully by her side.
"I trust Emmett's punishment wasn't too harsh." She doesn't bat an eyelid; she is so focussed on her work she doesn't even look my way. I clear my throat, and this finally gets her attention.
"I'm sorry. I didn't catch that, Edward." My name on her lips and her bashful smile, and my brain turns to mush.
"I said I hope you weren't too harsh with Emmett," I repeat teasingly.
"I merely removed all the TV cables. No operating flat screen, PlayStation, Xbox, or Wii whatsoever all over the house 'til I decide he's done his time. He's devastated, of course, and apologises for misleading you." Her matter-of-fact tone reveals it's probably not even the first time she's had to do something like this to Emmett.
"Seriously? I hope I never get on the wrong side of you then."
She wordlessly returns her gaze to the wad of papers on the clipboard. I try to steal her attention again.
"So, Bella, Angela tells me you've worked in London for years …" I try to strike up some conversation, my voice still tentative, as my words trail off.
"That I did."
Ouch. Almost monosyllabic. Did I piss her off somehow?
"Why the sudden move? Were you fed up with the rain and fog?" This catches her attention. The clipboard falls to the floor in a flourish of discarded papers. As quickly as she lost it, though, she collects herself and turns to face me with a blank but stern look.
"That's a personal issue I'd rather not address, Edward," she retorts, quite tense.
"Sorry, I just …"
"I want to make this clear now, Edward, to spare us any future misunderstandings. I do not wish to share the details of my personal life with you. I'd be grateful if you could respect my wish." She is unfailingly polite, but her voice is stone-cold and distant.
It's my turn to look bashful. Worse, I feel like a scumbag for pushing her limits and not knowing my boundaries. "Please accept my apologies, Bella. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."
My humble reply seems to test Bella's resolve to be dry and detached.
"I know you meant well. I just … I just can't do this, Edward. Please."
Another leap back. Great job, Cullen.
To avoid further mishaps, I remain silent for the rest of the drive. Once we arrive on location, though, the ball starts rolling. Bella meets and greets with the photographer and the fashion editor on assignment and tells them, in no uncertain terms, we can't be here all day and they'd better get on with it.
Damn, Cullen, she's bossy.
After briefing the crew about my requirements in terms of lunch and timing, Bella turns to me and announces, "I'll be there in the back, Mr Cullen, if you need me."
I'm about to protest about the Mr Cullen thing, but then I remember we're in public. Before I can say anything, she's gone and I'm left to be manhandled by the fashion editor and the hairstylist. I'd like to talk to Bella and joke with her about how pointless it is to have a hairstylist with a rebel mop like mine, but I can't because, instead, she's in a back corner of the huge photo studio, and from the mirror in front of me, I spy she's busy typing away in a MacBook, her faithful clipboard still by her side.
I spend an inordinate amount of time in front of this mirror while the stylist messes with my hair and my skin is made ready for the shoot. All the while, Bella's gaze doesn't wander away from her screen, unless it's to check the stack of papers on the clipboard where she occasionally takes notes and ticks away unidentified items.
Once I'm through with styling, the fashion editor unceremoniously ushers me to a dressing room and dumps a heap of clothes in my hands, muttering that it's for the first round of pictures.
"Five minutes, Mr Cullen."
I get ready without even looking at the clothes, and once I'm out to be manhandled by the crew yet again, I realise my attire consists of a pair of grey, low-rise sweatpants, a black V-neck shirt, and a grey tweed waistcoat.
Bella's going to see me in something that looks less appealing than my PJs while someone orders me to look "hot, sexy, and smouldering" in various athletic poses on a hardwood floor. Is she going to think I'm man meat and this is all there is to me? Is she going to think she's wasting her time on someone who could belong in a boy band? Is she going to think I'm hot? Is she even going to look at me?
A couple of hours and two more skimpy outfits later, the photo shoot is drawing to a close. And, yes, I'm aware that skimpy isa radical definition, but I'm not used to being seen in my PJ bottoms and a wet T-shirt by just anybody, and the thought that my fans are going to see me like this is unsettling. The fact that Bella has just seen one of the crew guys throw a bucket of water at me is just plain disturbing.
While the crew are taking my wet T-shirt competition pics, I'm distracted by the sound of Bella's voice as she talks animatedly on her BlackBerry. Her face goes through a dozen different expressions, from quizzical, to stunned, to smiling, to downright diverted, as she nods and talks without pause to whoever interrupted her morning of busy work until she stops talking altogether and her face colours with the cutest blush I've ever seen on her face or anyone else's. My inner caveman rears his unkempt, primitive head.
Who's the asshole at the other end, Cullen?
Before I bolt the photo shoot, though, she recovers her composure and says something that ends the phone call altogether. Luckily, the shoot is also over and done with, and she's beside me in a flash.
"Here, Mr Cullen, I thought you might need this," she says as she hands me a plush towel. I'm still dripping wet and her thoughtfulness almost reduces me to thankful tears.
"Thank you, Miss Swan, you're a lifesaver."
"No worries, Mr Cullen, just trying to make your life easier," she retorts with a smile.
"I see you had a busy morning while I was being beautified." I try to make conversation, hoping I don't put my foot in my mouth again.
"A very busy one. I nearly got a headache trying to make sense of your taxes and accounts. And I've looked at a few housing options you should definitely check out."
"Whatever you pick will be fine, Miss Swan, and I'm sorry the tax thing is such a mess."
Bella flashes me a sly, knowing smile. "Don't you try the 'deal with it' card with me, Edward. I've been down that road before, and I can tell you these tricks are lost on me."
We're now alone in the limo once again, and that's why she can drop the titles and be so snarky with me at the same time.
You love it when she's bossy, Cullen.
All I can say in my defence is a very eloquent, "Uh?"
"What I mean, Edward, is I will do anything in my power to make your life easier because that's my job, but I won't make choices for you. I'll help you make informed decisions, but I won't make them for you." She sounds no longer bossy but serious enough for me to take notice.
I need a minute to process this loaded statement, and when I've digested it, I realise it's one of the most respectful and mature things that's been said to me in a while. Whilst most of my "handlers" assume to know what I want, and what I should do—sometimes wrongly—Bella is allowing, nay, forcing me to exert my free will, all the while saying she will be there for me. If every decision is going to be like this, with Bella at my side, advising but not manipulating me, I suddenly feel there's nothing I can't do. I smile at her, stupidly happy she's in my life.
"I see your point, Bella. Thank you for helping me. We'll go through everything you think I should see. I'd very much like it if you came along for house visits, though." I hope my reply honestly conveys my gratitude.
"Of course, I'll come along, Edward. And if you don't mind, I'll run your tax issues past someone at White, Devlin & Hale. I don't want you to run the risk of double taxation."
"Bella, that sounds like ancient Greek to me. Can you make a one-line version for the tax dummy?"
She smiles benignly as she sorts a pile of papers. "You're a UK citizen but you make the bulk of your income in the US. We don't want to make undue gifts to both the HM Customs and the IRS, do we?"
"Oh, no, we don't ... Absolutely not!"
For once, someone is explaining to me the financial implications of my being a stardom alien and I'm not feeling like a hopeless idiot.
And she said "we", Cullen. Don't you like that?
"That's what I thought. I'm not a tax expert, but I know someone who will point us in the right direction. I just need to swing by White, Devlin & Hale to get that sorted out."
"In London?" I can't help asking because I'm afraid she'll have to leave me to deal with my taxes. Screw that. I'll keep the double taxation.
She remains still for a moment but then continues. "No, my contact is in London, though. I've dropped him an email and he should get back to me in about ... five minutes, tops."
"And then?" I feel like a child who can't help asking dumb questions like "why" and "how".
"And then I'll have the name of someone at White, Devlin & Hale in LA we can harass with your tax issues on a permanent basis," she patiently replies.
"Aren't they gonna cost me an arm and a leg, your tax guys?" I want to joke around a bit, play the part of the boss. She takes the hint and winks genially at me.
"Actually, no. I'm well acquainted; we'll get the employee discount. There is surely someone I know at their LA office. Oh, Edward, before I forget, your sister called me," she adds, almost offhand.
I'll bet my sorry ass she sensed I was going to grill her about White, Devlin & Hale in London, and she sidetracked me with Alice's call.
Wait! Alice called Bella? How? What? What is Short Stuff up to?
"Alice called you? Whatever for?" I blurt out, slightly shocked. I'm well aware I sound like a character in one of Dickens's novels, but I can't help it. My brain cells have been paralysed by fear. Has my meddlesome sister ratted me out, already?
"She couldn't get a hold of you on your phone, so she called Jessica, who told her about me and gave her my number. Alice figured I would know your whereabouts and called me. It was an interesting phone call."
Bella's smiling, but this doesn't put my mind at rest. "Bella, please. I'm panicking here. What the heck do you mean by 'interesting'?"
"Relax, boss. She didn't reveal any embarrassing family secrets, if that's what you're afraid of."
I can breathe free air again. My sister still has some faint notions of sibling loyalty. What I don't get is how on earth Bella spent half an hour talking to a complete stranger, aka Alice Cullen?
"Though I must say there's no stopping her once she's on a roll, right? She's a handful, but I like her."
Bella likes Alice. Good and bad news at the same time. I turn a whiter shade of pale. "Now I'm afraid of my sister and my assistant ganging up on me."
"I guess you'll have to run the risk. So far, I'm the one who faced the Spanish Inquisition while you were being 'beautified'".
Oh, no. This can't be good. Alice didn't rat me out because she grilled Bella instead.
"I'm going to need a criminal lawyer, Bella. Know any reliable ones?"
"I might. And why would you need one of those, Edward?"
"Because I'm going to kill my sister. I'm pretty sure murder is still a crime in England …"
Bella chuckles as the limo suddenly stops. "No need to kill Alice. She just wanted to check what your Christmas plans were. I told her we'd check your schedule and work out a flight that would match with hers. Fine with you, boss?"
"Y … Yes." I stutter, still thinking about the embarrassing third degree Alice must have unleashed on Bella. My brain filter is clearly off duty because my next question is, "Can I take you out to lunch? To celebrate?"
Bella smiles but shakes her head. "No can do, Edward. I'm actually busy for lunch. I'll meet you in an hour at the Westin for the press junket."
"Where are you going? What did Alice ask you?" I'm on a roll, too. I'm Alice's brother, after all.
"To White, Devlin & Hale for your taxes."
"What did Alice ask you, Bella?" I'm afraid my voice sounds angrier than I intended. Bella's unfazed, though, as she gets out of the car and calls over her shoulder.
"She asked whether you're driving me crazy yet …" I reply with a flourish before leaving a stunned and angry Edward in the car. As I make my way through the squeaky clean lobby of White, Devlin & Hale's LA headquarters, I think LA Bella has done fairly well on her first morning at work, except one lapse into BeeBee mode, courtesy of Alice Cullen.
I really like Alice. I can tell we'll be in touch a lot from now on. She's been adamant that sometimes it's hard to get a hold of her erratic older brother. She's also hell-bent on knowing me better, which sounds strange to me. Who would want to be better acquainted with their brother's assistant? She's either extremely nosy or she's hiding something.
I'll give her the benefit of the doubt, but I can't help sensing a hidden meaning in her questions. Why should Edward be driving me crazy? I'm used to dealing with crazy shit at work, and I can tell Edward doesn't fit the bill.
Clueless, unaware, disorganised, yes. But crazy? That would be a big, fat no. He's curious about me, though, and he keeps asking me about London. I dodge his questions as best I can because I don't really want him to know that side of me. Yet.
The meeting with the tax guys at White, Devlin & Hale is short and fun. There are a bunch of people there I used to work with on a steady basis, and they're all thrilled to see me. It's like being back home with the endless "do you remember?" and "why did you leave?" questions. I dodge those, too, and run back to the Westin because I don't want to keep Edward waiting.
When I'm almost there, the BlackBerry chirps in my bag. It's a text from Edward.
*Miss Swan, where are you? Getting nervous here. Mr Cullen*
I smile. This guy is so polite he could be off the pages of a Jane Austen novel. Now that I think about it, Edward Ferrars was a little clueless. I quickly tap a reply.
*Nearly there, Mr Cullen. Need handholding? Miss Swan*
I've barely had the time to hit send that a new message flashes in my inbox.
*Always. Hurry back to me, Bella. Please.*
I'm instantly worried something has gone horribly wrong while I was away. I don't pause to think this is unlike any text, email, sticky note, voicemail, phone call, or intercom cry for help Jasper has ever sent my way in the long years of our friendship and in the four intense years we've worked together. I just tell Eric to hurry the fuck up because Edward needs me.
They're working together! And he had a mini-freak out.
See you next Monday, people! Talk to me.