A/N - Thanks to everyone who read, reviewed or otherwise supported the first part of this little story, it's much appreciated :)
Now I know I said it would be two parts, but what can you do when the story doesn't go where you were expecting? So here's the first part of part 2, with at least one more update to follow!
"I need a favor. Do you have plans for Friday evening?"
I can guess what's coming.
"Ah, I'm sorry, Jess, I'm kind of busy."
"With?" I can hear the suspicion in her voice.
"Mostly watching TV and eating my own body weight in junk food." There's no use in lying to her, she knows I barely go out these days since I broke up with Conner. It turns out being single isn't so bad after all.
Ugh, who am I kidding? It sucks. I'm determined to win the bet I made with Jess though - in two weeks I'll have managed six months on my own. "Why, do you have a better offer for me?"
"Any offer's a better offer, Bella."
"Okay, okay, what is it?"
"It's just dinner at our place, me and Mike and the guy from next door. He's been so great since we moved in, you know, he saw Mike struggling to hang those new doors, and he offered to help without us even asking and-" She's babbling because she knows my first reaction will be to say no.
"You know I wouldn't ask if it didn't matter, but he wouldn't let us pay him and we just want to say thanks, and it'll just be less weird with four, so if you come too..."
"Tell him to bring a date."
"I did, he said he didn't have one to bring."
"Shit, Jess. If he's fifty-"
Jess laughs. "He's not fifty! I think you'll like him."
"He can't be that great if he's single."
"Can I remind you of your own relationship status, Bella?"
"Jess, my relationship status is down purely to the fact that I have a wager to win in two weeks and three days."
"You've not even been near a guy since you split with Conner, you're not telling me that's down to a wager."
"Okay, so I needed a break."
"And you had one. Come on, it's only dinner."
I sigh in defeat.
"Okay, I guess I could be there."
"You're late," Jess hisses as she opens the door and stands aside to let me in.
"You're lucky I'm here at all," I tell her. "My anxiety almost won out."
"Are you okay?" she asks, looking at me closely as she takes my coat from me.
"Yeah, I'll be fine now I'm here." And I will. Most of the time the thought of doing something is worse than actually doing it.
"The guys are in the kitchen, go on through, I'll be right there."
I stroll through towards the kitchen, admiring the work Jess and Mike have done in the short time since they moved in. I can hear Mike talking before I can see him, and when he finally comes into view along with the neighbor, I pull up short.
"Oh." I don't mean to say it out loud, but I'm too surprised to keep it in. They both turn to look at me, and while Mike's face cracks into a broad grin, Edward just stares, his face reflecting the surprise I'm feeling.
"Hey, Bella! Come on in and meet Edward. Edward, this is Bella."
"Isabella…" He doesn't look away from me as a smile forms on his face. "We've… met before," he tells Mike with the briefest glance in his direction. "How are you?"
"I'm good," I tell him, unable to resist smiling back. "You?"
"Yeah, things have been okay. I've got great new neighbors." He turns and grins at Mike and raises his beer.
"He really does. So how do you guys know one another?"
He's looking expectantly between us, as Edward and I share a glance that clearly means neither of us are about to admit the truth.
"We just got talking in the Blakeslee one night," Edward tells him. Mike looks surprised. He knows I haven't gone near that bar in almost four years, since an ex-boyfriend got jumped by some guys and threatened with a bottle.
"No, no. You'd been in the bar, remember? You were walking home and stopped to talk. I was getting into my car outside the Thriftway." I shoot him a meaningful look and he laughs.
"I guess I was more drunk than I remember."
"You can't have been that drunk if you remember her name," Mike adds, nudging him. He's relaxed now, all signs of doubt around our story have vanished."
"Well she's kind of memorable," Edward adds, staring intently at me as he drinks from his beer. I feel myself blushing and look down at the ground to try and hide it.
"Have you checked on dinner?" Jess asks as she bustles in past me.
"Yeah, it's almost ready. Hey, did you know Edward and Bella already know one another?"
Jess stops and wheels around to look at me.
"Nooo." She draws the word out as though sensing there's a story to be told.
"We met once, we don't really know each other," I offer. She looks over at Edward and he shrugs as he smiles at her.
"I gave her my number but she never called," he tells Jess, with a glance back over at me. I flinch.
"I washed it. It was in my pocket." I can tell he doesn't know whether to believe me or not, but it's the truth. I remember pulling out the hardened lump of paper pulp the next time I wore my jeans. There wasn't even a trace of ink left on it. That day was a particular low point. Conner had taken the last of his stuff and moved out and I'd deleted three emotionally-draining voicemails from Riley. The washed-out phone number was the final straw. "I swear," I tell him.
"Why don't you guys go on through to the dining room, we're almost ready," Jess tells us. I'd offer to help but I know she gets precious about her kitchen.
"Can I use the bathroom?" Edward asks, setting his beer down on the counter.
"Sure, you know where it is."
I wait a moment to make sure he's gone, then I walk over to Jess, holding the top of her arm as I lean in.
"It's him, the hitchhiker guy from Sequim," I whisper urgently, checking to make sure he's not back already. Jess freezes and moves her head back to get a better look at me.
I nod. "Yes!".
"Are you sure?"
I almost laugh, hysteria bubbling dangerously close to the surface.
"Of course I'm sure, jeez, Jess."
"And you never called him? Why didn't you call him?" Her voice has risen to a pitch that's barely audible to the human ear.
"Because I washed his number, didn't you hear me tell him that?"
"Of course I heard you, but it sounded like the worst excuse in the world."
I groan. "You think he thinks that too?"
"Bella, I'm worried about his levels of naivety if he doesn't," she says.
"What are you two whispering about?" Mike asks, moving past us to reach the refrigerator.
I'm facing the doorway, so I see Edward the moment he returns. I smile, feeling it falter as I wonder if the phone number thing really did sound as bad as Jess insisted.
"Now go check out the dining room," she tells me with a nudge. "We finished it since you last came over."
Jess has been so excited about this whole house project, it's great to see it finally coming to life, even if her masterpiece is being overshadowed by a man who draws my attention so thoroughly I barely know what planet I'm on, let alone which room I'm in.
"Jess was telling me you helped Mike out with some stuff," I say to Edward as I run my hand along the back of one of the dining chairs, doing my best to appreciate the effort my friend has put into everything. He doesn't reply and when I turn to see why, he's leaning in the doorway watching me with a half-smile on his face.
"What?" I ask, suddenly self-conscious.
"Don't you think this is all a little weird? I mean, good weird, but still, weird."
"What? This?" I gesture between us.
I consider it for a moment. "I don't know. I mean, Forks isn't that big of a town…"
"To run into one another at the store or the gas station, maybe, but at your friend's house after practically half a year?"
I look carefully at him. He's still smiling at me, and his eyes are bright. I laugh.
"You're going to say it's fate, or something equally cheesy, aren't you?" I look at him, my smile never fading as he laughs too.
"You don't believe in fate, Isabella? And I thought women were supposed to be the hopeless romantics."
"I guess I'm more of a realist than a romantic," I confess, my mood taking a sudden downturn. Edward looks at me questioningly. "I don't have much family history of romance. My mom was an alcoholic," I explain. The stark truth falls from my lips before I think too much about it. It took me months to share that particular fact with Conner, and only then because I was forced to. I can still picture the revulsion on his face as he stood and watched me struggling to haul her into bed from the floor, vomit smeared across her face and binding her hair into foul-smelling clumps.
Edward's brow draws downward, the smile slipping away.
"I'm sorry," he tells me. "My uncle…" He disappears inside himself for a moment and I wonder what he's remembering as he shakes his head. "It's a horrible disease."
I feel my stomach starting to twist, so I push all my thoughts and feelings back down and turn the key.
"Anyway." I force a smile. "Jess will kill me if I sabotage her dinner party with my issues." I turn away from him, looking instead at a gallery of photographs on the wall. I hear him move, but I don't realize how close he is until I hear his voice in my ear, close enough to make my whole body tingle.
"Some other time," he murmurs. "I want to know everything about you, Isabella."
My vulnerability is raw, and a bubble of panic begins to rise up inside me. I turn my head, pulling back the slightest amount to bring his face into focus, he's so close. My eyes meet his and instantly the panic subsides. Neither one of us moves until I hear footsteps approaching and I know the moment is coming to an end.
"Okay," I whisper, because the thought of not sharing everything with him is unthinkable right now.
The evening is exhausting, I'm so hyper-aware of Edward that my heart and my brain race frequently. Jess has triumphed again, dinner is divine and we all pitch in to clear everything away. Conversation and laughter flows, the four of us bouncing easily off one another as we finally settle down in the living room, Mike clicking the TV on and flicking to the sports channel, despite Jess's protests. Edward sits down beside me, and although his eyes flit occasionally to the TV when Mike calls out, his attention sits pretty much on me, his nearness making my skin tingle.
"I should leave." The words fall reluctantly from my lips, distorted at the end by a yawn that proves the sentiment. I force myself out of my place beside Edward on the couch, turning to look at him once I'm on my feet.
"Do you have to go?" he asks. I smile as I nod towards Jess and Mike snoring softly on the other couch, their heads resting on one another. They've been like that for around a half hour now.
"I think it's time."
He stands too, and I realize I'd forgotten while we were sitting just how tall he is.
"You think we should wake them?" he asks, hovering for a moment over our hosts. I shake my head as I reach for his hand and pull him gently away, the thrill from of his skin against mine increasing when he doesn't let go again.
"Let them sleep, we can see ourselves out."
He's still holding my hand when we reach my truck on the driveway.
"This thing's still running?" he asks, smiling as he looks it over.
"Uh-huh." My thoughts are running wild, too busy wondering how the evening's going to end to hold a conversation about my truck. Edward sighs contentedly and I smirk as I look up at him in question.
"I had a great night, thank you," he tells me, his thumb rubbing small circles on my skin that send delicious shivers up and down my spine. I back up a couple of steps until I'm leaning against the truck, offering my other hand freely as he searches it out.
"Can I see you again?" he asks. He's gazing at me with a look that almost makes me forget to reply.
"I guess so."
He smiles, and I know what he's going to do before he even moves. I watch him silently, not daring to speak again or move in case it makes him change his mind as he slowly leans in, never moving his eyes away from my mouth. When his lips finally meet mine I feel I might explode from the anticipation, all the sparks that have glowed within me all evening, finally combusting simultaneously, igniting my senses and making my head spin.
It's over way too soon, I'm not even sure how I had time to be left gasping for breath, but I am. I try to hide it but I'm pretty sure he notices.
"Goodnight, Isabella," he says, opening the door of the truck for me. My legs are trembling, but I manage to climb inside.
He closes the door and I start the engine, glancing at him once to see him smiling and illuminated in the headlamps as I back out of the driveway. I wave as I turn onto the road and drive away, and he waves back.
The growing distance allows my head to clear, as the effect he has on me dissipates.
My head is filled with doubts, all at odds with the attraction I feel towards him. I know I have no room to talk given the circumstances of our first meeting, but I can't help but hold the fact the guy cheated on his wife, against him.
What the hell was I thinking, letting him get under my skin?
"Oh, so you do answer your phone occasionally then?" Jess's tone is off, but I have no idea why.
"Did you call before?" I ask, frowning. "I don't have any missed calls."
"Bella, Edward says he's been trying to call you but you never pick up. What's going on with you?"
"Don't get mad with me, Jess."
"Well someone has to. Why won't you speak to him?"
"I'm just not sure it's a good idea." I sound a little whiny, I can hear it myself.
"And that's it," I say. Jess is silent.
"That's it?" she asks at last. "That's all you've got to offer as an explanation?"
"I don't owe you any explanations," I tell her, aware I'm being bitchy, but desperate not to give her a reason to scream hypocrite at me, because basically, that's what I am.
"Well explain to Edward, at least."
"If I'd wanted to explain to Edward then I'd have answered his calls," I spit back.
"I don't know what's wrong with you," she says. I can tell she's mad. "This isn't like you at all."
She makes a sound that's pure frustration and then she hangs up.
I stew all the next day over the phone call with Jess. Finally I feel bad and call her to apologize. I try four times over the course of an hour, but it goes straight to voicemail every time. In the end I decide to head over there, grabbing a bunch of flowers from the store on the way.
Mike's car is gone when I get to their house, but Jess's is there. I try to keep my eyes ahead and resist as much as a glance in the direction of Edward's place, terrified he might see me and come out to confront me. My resolve to stay away won't be nearly as strong with him right in front of me. I almost weaken with every step, but finally I reach the front door. I ring the bell and wait what feels like an age for Jess to answer. When she finally does, she has her robe wrapped around her and her hair is mussed up.
"Oh, uh, I'm sorry if I'm interrupting you…" I say. "I did try to call. These are to say sorry for yesterday."
She smiles and reaches out, taking the flowers from me. "Thank you, but you really didn't have to, you know?"
"I think I did, I feel terrible." I shift from one foot to the other.
"I'd invite you in, only-"
"No! Really, it's fine, I just wanted to-"
"Jess!" A voice calls from upstairs. "Are you coming back up here?" It takes me a moment to register, but I recognize the voice without a shadow of a doubt. My mouth falls open and my eyes grow wide as I stare at Jess, Edward's voice still echoing in my ears.
"Oh!" She looks from the direction his voice came from and back to me, a horrified expression on her face. "Bella I promise you, it's not how it looks."
I feel so many emotions simultaneously, but the one that overrides them all is stupidity. I wonder if they've been lying in bed laughing about me. My face burns and I feel my anger building.
"You know what? This." I stab my finger towards the ground to indicate the here and now. "This is the reason I wouldn't answer his calls. It looks like my trust issues were justified."
I turn and stalk away from the house as Jess calls out denials after me.
I don't know who I feel more disappointed in, my best friend for cheating on her husband with a guy I have a huge crush on, or myself for caring enough to feel this devastated.
A/N Thanks to Choc for letting me bully her into casting her eye over this ;) xx