We held hands all the way to the diner. Things seemed right again. I felt at peace. He appeared to be as well. He was smiling.
We were the last ones to arrive, but we weren't exactly late. It was only three minutes after five. Everyone was probably excited to get the fun underway.
Edward offered me his hand after opening my door, then he helped me out and onto my feet. As we walked towards and into the restaurant, he pulled me to his side and kissed my temple. The attention that gained us was unwanted, but it didn't really bother me, either. I was just too happy to care.
"Hey! There you guys are! We held off on ordering!"
I smiled at Angela as Edward held my chair out for me and I took a seat. "Sorry. Took me longer than usual to get ready."
"Typical girl," Tyler complained. "Hurry up and choose! Some of us are starving!"
"I know what I want," I said, rolling my eyes. I always got the same thing. Mushroom ravioli with a side salad.
Then, curiously, my heart lurching a little, I looked to Edward.
"I had a late lunch," he said, smiling. "I'll just have a soda."
Tyler immediately turned towards the counter and flagged the waitress.
I caught Jessica staring at me from the other side of the table, but I quickly averted my eyes. I was not in any mood to deal with her. I was happy, and I wasn't about to have her ruin that for me.
When the waitress came over to take our order, Edward surprised not only me, but the entire group.
"Separate checks again, guys?" she asked.
Angela took in a breath, about to answer, but then Edward spoke up, cutting her off.
"One check, please, ma'am. Given to me. Thank you."
Jessica and Mike gasped. He was sitting next to her.
"That's so… generous," Angela said.
Edward smiled at her, giving her a subtle nod.
"Piano dude rules!" Eric exclaimed, then he informed the table, "This guy's got mad skills, I'm tellin'ya!"
After the waitress took all our orders and left to go fill them, Jessica asked, "You play the piano, Edward?"
Her tone was a little flirtatious. Mike scowled.
Edward smiled at her, but it was slight. Strained. Guarded. "Yeah."
I hid a smirk. He sounded so casual!
"I would love to hear you play some time," she said.
Edward didn't respond. He just looked away and to me. His smile changed to adoring.
The conversations that followed were mostly about TV shows and video games. Angela and Eric tried to include Edward a few times, and while he responded well – I got the feeling he had plucked answers and details out of their heads before he did – nothing really flowed from it.
He kept his staring at me to a minimum. He even pretended to drink his soda. I knew he wasn't really drinking it, though. I could see the liquid ascend in the straw, but the level in the glass never changed. Once I was done with my soda, he pushed his towards me.
When the check came, Edward extracted seven twenty dollar bills from his wallet and handed them to the waitress.
"No change," he said.
She almost choked to death! It was easily a fifty dollar tip! Everyone was staring at him with mouths agape.
When she walked away – stumbled away, really – I leaned in and whispered, "You're supposed to double the tax of the bill, not double the tax of beachfront property."
He just grinned in response.
The drive to Port Angeles, to the movie theater, was a little bit frightening. I knew he liked to drive fast, but once he was outside Forks city limits, he pushed the speedometer to over a hundred, easily.
"Edward! Please! Slow down! Frail little human sitting here!"
He laughed, then dropped his speed to around eighty. It was still too fast, but I bit my tongue and sucked it up.
Maybe a conversation would distract me from my potential death by collision with a tree.
"I want to ask you something, but I don't want to upset you."
"You can ask me anything."
Yeah, no I couldn't. That was proven time and time again. I didn't argue the point, though.
"What about the neck thing is so… appealing?" He tensed, which just confirmed my earlier thought. "You said I could ask you anything," I reminded him.
He tightened his hold on my hand after lacing his fingers through mine. "It has to do with our instincts."
"Could you be more specific?"
"It might frighten you."
"Yeah, well, I think I've shown that it takes a lot to frighten me." I was somewhat teasing, though the statement was certainly true.
He chuckled a little. "Yes. You have." Gaining seriousness, he sighed before continuing. "It has to do with our hunting instincts. There is something very gratifying about that moment. The smell. The taste. Every vampire in existence has felt it. When we are with our mate… to simulate that moment…"
He trailed off, but I understood what he meant. I also knew better than to press him further. I dropped it and stared out at the road rushing towards us. Several minutes passed before the silence was interrupted.
"You're not frightened." He wasn't asking. He was surprised, though.
"No. I know you think I should be, and maybe you're right, but I'm not. I know you won't hurt me. You've said it yourself, multiple times. You only want for my happiness. You panic if I fall out of my chair on purpose. There's no way you could ever inflict injury upon me."
"Never intentionally." He seemed to be agreeing with me, but his tone was contradicting.
I rolled my eyes. "You have better control than you like to think."
"You place too much faith in that."
"Maybe. But you don't place enough."
"Bella, you're not comprehending how close I was today, to…"
His words choked off, but I knew what he was going to say.
"I understand that, Edward. I do. A decision was obviously made, or Alice wouldn't have come running. But you changed it. You stopped yourself."
"I'm not dead, so I say we chalk it up as a win."
He scowled at me for my joke. "There is nothing humorous about this situation, Bella."
I rolled my eyes again. "Since it was my life on the line, I say I get to decide if I'm allowed to make a joke about it or not."
He sighed heavily, but I could see the slightest hint of a smile tug at his mouth.
"You should be angry with me."
"Okay, fine," I huffed. "You want me to be angry? I'm very cross with you for almost killing me today, Edward," I scolded him, waggling my finger. When he looked over at me, I grinned. Then I kissed the back of his hand.
He actually rolled his eyes at me! That made me laugh, which brought a genuine smile to his face. Finally.
"Get over it. If I can, you can. We'll just… be more careful next time."
"Next time?" he asked, his voice raising a little. "There won't be a next time, Bella."
"Why not? If you like it, and I like it…"
"It's too dangerous. I won't risk your safety again."
I scoffed. "You're too protective of me."
"There is no such thing, where you are concerned. I will protect you. It's my job to protect you."
I wanted to be annoyed, but really, I just couldn't bring myself to be. His concern for me was sweet. It made me feel loved.
"Your job sucks, then," I quipped. "I'm a handful."
He laughed at that. Hard. "Yes. I know. You are my full time occupation."
"I would demand a raise, if I were you."
He shook his head, his smile playful. "It's a labor of love."
"Then you must really love me." I was still being playful, too, but there was truth and curiosity mixed in. I knew he did, but I wanted to hear him confirm it. He didn't disappoint.
That felt good. Like every aspect of my existence had just clicked into place. I kissed the back of his hand again, then nuzzled it.
"I love you, too."
I could hear the laughter in his tone. No, not laughter. Joy. It made me smile wider.
We got to the theater before anyone else – none of my friends were quite the speed demon that Edward was – but we used the time to our advantage. After Edward bought enough tickets for everyone in our group, we stood off to the side and waited. Me in his arms. His hold on me loving and protective. Him inhaling my scent. My heart beating a little bit irregularly.
His left hand was on the small of my back, pressing me into him. Not in a forceful way, but with a gentle firmness. His right hand was crossed over to my right shoulder, under my hair, clutching at me both carefully and desperately.
How could something so simple bring on such complex emotions? It was innocent yet risqué, safe yet dangerous, trivial yet of the utmost importance.
My head was spinning from it. I was lost to it. I just soaked it up like a sponge, wrung out and thirsty for more.
"Mike and Jessica are here," he whispered. "Angela, Eric, and Tyler are close."
Crap. I had almost forgotten we were waiting for the others.
He kissed the top of my head, then inched away from me a little and took my hand, right as Mike and Jessica approached.
"And I thought Jessica drove like a maniac!" Mike said, laughing. "How'd you guys get here so fast?"
I shook off the effects of Drug Edward and forced a smile onto my face. "We've only been here a few minutes."
Jessica eyed me for a moment, then she slithered a little closer to Mike. This was obviously for show. Mike didn't seem to mind. Either that or he was oblivious.
"Angela drives like a little old lady!"
We all turned at the sound of Tyler's voice.
"Making it to your destination in one piece is better than making it there fast."
Eric laughed. "Yeah!" he exclaimed, backing Angela up. Then he gave Tyler a shove, almost knocking him off the sidewalk.
When Tyler pushed back, Angela dropped Eric's hand and made a beeline straight for me and Edward, trying to dodge the retaliation.
I rolled my eyes at Angela, and she grinned back at me. Teenage boys always seemed to act like twelve year olds whenever they got around each other.
"I took the liberty," Edward said. He extended all but two of the tickets he had purchased towards Angela.
She smiled at him, both gratefully and with surprise. But she didn't even have the chance to thank him.
"Piano dude, you are my new best friend!" And then, once again, like he had earlier in the day, Eric put up his hand, palm out, looking for a high-five.
I intervened. I gave him the high-five, then pushed him away. "Way to suck up, Eric. You're buying your own snacks!"
"Dude saved me a fortune tonight," he said, laughing. "I can actually afford the large combo!"
I opted out of Edward buying me anything at the concession stand. I was still too full from dinner.
We were there in plenty of time to find good seats. Mike and Jessica entered the row first, sitting together to the far right. Tyler, Eric, and Angela were next, in that order. Edward and I sat on the end, me next to Angela, Edward in the seat at the aisle.
I lifted the armrest between us so that we could snuggle up to one another. He put his arm around me and pulled me tighter to him, but he seemed tense. I wasn't sure why. When I looked up into his eyes, hoping to get some idea of what the problem could be, he forced a smile onto his face and shook his head.
I didn't even have time to question it.
"So, Edward, maybe we could work out a day where I could come hear you play the piano."
My gaze had barely shifted to Jessica, standing in front of us, when I felt Edward leave his seat. Instantly, my attention darted over to him, but I could see Jessica stumble back a little out of my peripheral vision. She had almost fallen over the seat in the row up from us.
"Your advances are not welcome! Return to your seat!" Edward then pointed to where she had been sitting next to Mike. It was as if he was scolding a child.
Jessica tripped over everyone's feet, including mine, trying to scramble back.
Edward stood there for a long moment. The theater full of people was hear-a-pin-drop silent. He turned his head just a little.
"I apologize for my disruption," he said. He didn't say it very loudly, but it was enough to be heard. Then he retook his seat next to me.
He put his arm around me again, but he was still tense.
Leaning in towards me, Angela whispered, "That was so rude." At first, I thought she was referring to Edward, but then she added, "She has actually lost her mind. It's so obvious you two are together. To do that… and right in front of you!"
Wait. Was that what all her odd behavior had been about? She wanted Edward?
I looked up at him questioningly, but again he just shook his head. Answers would have to wait, apparently.
Like I imagined it would be, we didn't watch the movie at all. We stared at the screen like we were, but someone could have put a gun to my head, and I still wouldn't have been able to tell the brandisher anything about it.
I was snuggled up against his side the entire time. As I drew intricate and nondescript patterns across his thigh, he nuzzled my hair and inhaled my scent. I could hear him doing so, and it literally made my heart race. I was appealing to him.
I heard him murmur 'I love you, Bella' several times through the course of the one hour and fifty-eight minute movie. I couldn't even say it back. My voice was gone. My head was somewhere far away.
I was only vaguely aware that the credits had started rolling. But then Edward and Angela nudged me at the exact same moment.
"Better than the reviews claimed it was," Angela said as all three of us stood. The others followed us a second later. "At least now I have a topic for the editorial."
I had no idea what she was referring to, so I simply nodded.
We made our way out to the lobby, set to part ways, when Jessica walked up to us. Edward put his arm around me protectively.
"So, um, Bella… I'll see you Monday? At school?"
Edward didn't seem at all tense, like he usually was when we were in her presence. I took note of that before responding.
"Yeah, Jess. Sure. See you Monday."
She smiled a little, then her and Mike headed out the door.
"There may be hope for her yet," Angela said to me. "She seems remorseful."
She did, actually. I would ask Edward once we were in the car.
Angela and I said our goodbyes as Eric and Tyler flung popcorn at each other.
"Thanks, Edward, for your… generosity." Angela looked a bit uncomfortable when saying that. Then she glanced behind her at the guys before adding, "They thank you, too."
Edward smiled. "Thanks for allowing me to tag along."
Tag along? That made me grin.
We all left then, splitting up our separate ways once we were in the parking lot.
"See'ya, piano dude!" Eric called out.
I grinned at that, too.
"Was she remorseful?" I asked Edward.
He didn't answer at first. He just reached past me and opened my door. Then he pulled me into his arms.
"Somewhat. She's more humiliated than remorseful."
Well, it was a start. I nodded. "Was that what this has all been about? She wants you?"
"It was the conquest she was wanting. Not me. It was the idea of me. Apparently, she sees me as the most eligible bachelor in town."
I could almost feel him roll his eyes. But I had to agree with her there. "Not anymore you're not," I teased.
He pulled away then, a smile on his face, amusement in his eyes. He raked his hand into my hair as he stared back at me. "I never was. I told you, I was waiting for you, even before you were born."
When his lips touched mine, I melted against him.
He then brushed his kisses towards my ear. "Did you have fun tonight, Bella?" he whispered.
God, his voice was sexy. I hummed in response. My legs grew weak when he copied it, in that sweet melodic way I loved so very much. His hold on me was the only thing that prevented me from hitting the ground.
I knew he was helping me into the car, but then again, I didn't. It only really dawned on me minutes later, as we were driving down the road. He seemed to sense that I had returned to reality. He offered me his hand.
"Is she going to be letting up now?" I asked, returning to the subject of Jessica.
He nodded. "I believe so. I will know better after speaking with Alice."
Alice seemed eager for that conversation. She was waiting for us, at the door, when we arrived at and stepped foot inside the house.
"Well played!" she chirped, her smile beaming. "I didn't see her final decision until you were all at the restaurant."
"I saw it," he said. He smiled, too, but it didn't show the same level of enthusiasm.
"I figured you did, that's why I didn't call. I don't see her being much of a bother in the near future."
He nodded. "Thank you, Alice."
"It's my turn with her, for a few minutes, right?" Alice's eyes shifted to me briefly.
That surprised me. I felt a little like the new toy being passed around again.
Edward's expression grew serious. "I promised you, so, yes. But don't upset her."
Alice scoffed. "Wasn't planning on it! I'm doing you a favor! You don't need to look so irritated!"
He gave a nod. Then his attention was on me. "I will see you upstairs," he said. Whispered, really. He kissed my cheek before pulling his arm away from my waist. And then, whoosh, and he was gone.
"What's going on?" I asked. Suddenly, I felt nervous. Anxious. But almost as soon as I did, a sort of peace washed over me.
"Relax," she said, taking me by the arm. She started dragging me towards the kitchen. "We're just going to have us a little sister time."
As we passed Jasper, Alice winked at him. Okay, so he was why I wasn't worried anymore. Knowing that, I tried to block it, but found I couldn't.
She directed me to my usual seat at the counter, then she pulled out the stool next to it and plopped down.
She stared at me for several long seconds, like she was trying to decide where to begin. Since I had no idea what was going on, I couldn't help her, so I just stared back.
"You've never had a boyfriend before, and Edward is… unique."
Oh, God. Was this going where it seemed like it was going? It felt like my soul had died a little when my mom had the talk with me. I knew I wouldn't survive it again.
She laughed. I could only assume it was because my eyes grew wide and my mouth dropped open.
"Don't worry. I'm not planning on embarrassing you. I'm sure you know all about the… mechanics… of things. I just wanted to give you a little insight about today's happenings."
I composed myself, though it was a chore to do so. "He kind of already did," I said.
She laughed again. "Yeah, but probably in that Edward way of his, where he carefully sidesteps important details."
She had a point. He did tend to choose his words carefully.
"When you bit him—" She stopped abruptly, perking to listen. "Butt out, Edward," she said to the ceiling. She then looked at me and smiled. "When you did that, he… really enjoyed it."
I just blinked back at her stupidly. Her smile widened.
"Try to follow me, Bella. If I say the words, you're liable to burst into flames."
I wanted to catch her meaning, if for no other reason than because I wanted the conversation to be over with, but I just wasn't grasping it.
"Okay," she said. She seemed to be resigning herself to a different approach. "Human men and vampire men have a similar reaction when… excited. You know, the grand finale of intimacy?"
Oh, God. I understood her then, but I really wished I hadn't. I dropped my hands onto the counter and my forehead onto them. Then I groaned.
"Yeah," she said. I could hear the smile in her tone. "He's pretty upset with himself about that. But he shouldn't be. And you shouldn't be embarrassed. It's only natural."
I had never wanted to die more in my entire life. At least when Mom had discussed the facts of life with me, it had been about the basics only. About some unnamed man in my distant future. There was no boyfriend waiting upstairs, listening to every word being said, like there was now.
"Fine, fine. You're probably right," she said. I knew she was talking to Edward. "He thinks we should end this conversation now."
I couldn't have agreed more. But going up to see him would be just as mortifying as continuing it.
"He's uncomfortable, too, okay? He thinks he's wronged you in some way. He hates himself right now. You guys'll be okay. Just go crawl into bed and have a nice chat, right? Things will seem much better after you do."
I wasn't so sure I believed that, but I took her advice anyway. I avoided eye contact as I nodded, then I did with Emmett and Jasper as well, as I passed them on my way to the stairs.
Edward was standing in the middle of his bedroom, near the bed, watching me as I entered. I glanced at him, but avoided his eyes, too.
I pointed at my toiletry bag and pile of nightclothes. "I just need a minute," I said. I could see him nod out of my peripheral vision.
I moved as fast I could. I grabbed my stuff, then nearly ran out the door and into the bathroom.
To be continued…
So, what did we think? I have this waking nightmare, imagining people are all: That's it? Well, that was disappointing.
I'm sorry if it was.
Heathw: Thank you. There will be some angst in this fic, but not the kind that comes from life or death escapes. In fact, in a chapter coming up, there are two lines within a scene that, when I wrote them, made me cry.
AJ04-Jtrs98: Thanks for all the great reviews! I'm glad you're enjoying the story!
ADarnell: TMI, LOL!
I responded to Brookieo in a private message, but in case others are curious, I'll show my response to her here: Edward is a tortured individual. The fact that he 'almost' was enough to upset him. Plus, that's not the only thing he's lamenting right now.
Bella didn't make the decision to bite until a second before. Alice had no time to warn Edward, because they weren't close enough to Alice for him to read her thoughts. She can see visions about people all over the planet. Edward's abilities are limited to a certain mile radius.
Quick question: Do people have a preference of what time of day I post the chapters? Give your time zone when responding, please, so I know what time that is for me.
Thanks for all the great reviews and support! Keep 'em coming, please! (smile)