Posted 2022-06-07; Beta'd by Eeyorefan12
The startling light of morning in a room that faced east did not allow for Bella to entertain many fantasies, sexual or otherwise. Always an early riser, she'd woken well before the sun began to creep over the horizon. While Edward's venetian blinds screened much of it, there were thin strips of sunlight illuminating every other inch of the man beside her.
Tethered by a confounding blend of shock, fascination, and fear, Bella remained in Edward's bed, trying to subdue the powerful feelings with clinical detachment. Observing him helped with this process. Again, she catalogued his body: unscarred, lean, and muscular. His chest was nearly smooth, the fine hair there making her want to reach out and play with it.
She'd silenced the loudest what-the-hell-have-you-done's, but similar phrases ricocheted in her mind, these matched by the roiling of her stomach.
She didn't want to risk leaving the room and waking Edward in the process. Trying to figure out what the hell was going on in her heart and head would require time—especially before the two of them spoke.
If she could figure it all out.
The attraction was real. He was, at face value, a good person. Kind-hearted. Giving. Thoughtful. Exceptionally handsome.
Good in bed.
But she checked that attribute off in his favor, too, holding in her mind all the good and not-so-good things Edward Cullen brought with him.
Into her life.
My God. Into her life. That thought was not a welcome one. But he was there, and it seemed, as of last night, things were pointed squarely at them becoming even more entangled if she wanted it.
If everything she thought about him was true, then yes.
But she'd thought that way about Richard, hadn't she?
Her cheeks warmed with embarrassment and shame. Old insecurities slithered in her midsection.
This isn't Richard.
No, it was Edward, and he knew what she was. Despite their strong and opposing views on one thing, he had been nothing but respectful of her.
But it wasn't just one thing, was it? No, it was something that she was incredibly passionate about. That wasn't going to change. And where would that leave them? What, would they commute together to the clinic so that he could hold the sign and she could go on in to work?
She snorted aloud, then froze. In the bed beside her, Edward didn't stir.
Not a light sleeper, then. Her shoulders eased a little, but her mind wound itself up tighter. Deciding that it was probably safe to get up without waking him, Bella pushed herself off the bed, tiptoeing to the bathroom.
After using the toilet and washing her hands and face, she did her best to smooth away the tangles in her hair, then swished with the mouthwash on the counter. Feeling moderately more presentable, she walked back into the bedroom, putting on her clothes.
Edward remained somnolently immobile, and Bella didn't linger to watch, thinking that coffee and fresh air would be good things at this point in the day. Her regular habit was to sit on her own small deck in the morning, coffee in hand, taking a few minutes to simply exist and think before the world made its demands of her.
Edward's coffee maker was simple and utilitarian, and before long she was on his deck with a mug she'd found in the cupboard, Arco beside her, a hopeful wet nose pressed to her knee.
"You really don't want any of this," she assured him, scratching his ears. He gave a long 'humph' and then slumped against her. Despite having fed him and let him out to do his business, Bella was surprised when Arco stayed with her rather than heading inside to find Edward.
She added 'great dog' to the list of positives for Edward, but the gurgling knot in her stomach grew.
She thought of that last, disastrous date with Richard, instinctively wrapping her arms around herself. Even now, years later, she could still feel that wave of humiliation.
Was this situation any different?
Not really, no, she determined. There really was no telling with someone's character. Richard had seemed fine right up until he wasn't. And given Edward's beliefs . . . where did that leave them?
God, she'd been so impetuous and stupid acting on her feelings! It was just like before. What the hell had she been thinking last night?
"You weren't thinking, Swan. You hopped into bed with an incredibly good looking man," she mumbled, putting her hands to her face.
"And I really hope you don't regret that," Edward said.
Bella startled and jumped in her seat, managing to step on Arco's tail too. He let out an indignant yelp and scuttled away.
"Hey, boy," Edward said, rubbing his hand along Arco's back and then to his tail. "You're okay."
Arco eyed Bella with a profound look of betrayal.
"Sorry," Bella said to the dog. To Edward.
"No, I'm sorry," Edward said, straightening up. "I didn't mean to startle you. This door normally squeaks. I just managed to get around to fixing it yesterday."
"It's okay," Bella said, still mortified that he'd overheard her—and that she'd hurt his dog. "Is he, um, actually okay?"
As she made eye contact with Edward, Arco's tail began wagging again, moving with all the subtlety of a propeller.
"Yeah, he's good. Pretty indestructible." Edward smiled at her.
Bella tried to return the expression, but she knew she wasn't convincing.
"Can I make you some breakfast?" Edward asked. He leaned against the doorframe. If he'd picked up on her discomfort, he wasn't showing any sign of it.
"Um, no. I should really get home."
She watched his smile begin to slide from his face, but then he recovered himself. "Of course. You really only get one day off a week. You must have a lot to do."
Already flustered, Bella nodded. He was gracious to offer her the excuse—even if it was mostly true.
He stepped aside to let her pass by, then followed. In the kitchen, he rested against the island, obviously trying to look casual and failing. The ice cream scoop still sat on the counter. Bella avoided looking at it—and at him.
Bella found her purse and shoes right where she'd left them at the door. She fished for her keys, pulling them out, turning to see Edward drawing her coat from the closet.
"Thanks," she said softly. She was anxious to leave, and yet oddly anxious about leaving. Was she overreacting?
As she began to turn away, she felt Edward press a vase into her hands. "Don't forget these." His voice was low and soft.
The tulips bobbed gently in her nervous grip.
"Your vase, though," Bella protested weakly.
He shrugged. "I'll get it back from you when they're finished." Then he leaned in and kissed her on the cheek. "I'll call you later, okay?" For all his casual words and stance, she could hear a note of disquiet in his voice.
If he cared, if he really cared, she told herself, he would be concerned. And even if he didn't, he could just be pretending . . .
"Gotta go," she said awkwardly, stepping away with the tulips in hand, managing not to trip as she all but ran from the house.
When she finally dared to look up from the driver's seat, Edward was still at the door, one hand holding onto the frame, the rest of him leaning outwards like he was keeping himself from stepping towards her.
She gunned the gas, misjudging the pressure required and sending gravel flying, feeling herself blush in embarrassment. As she drove away, the increasing distance between them made her feel both at ease—and like she'd severed a limb.
- 0 -
True to his word, Edward called that night. Peeking out from the shower curtain, Bella watched her phone buzz on the counter, telling herself she didn't want to get it wet. She let the call go to voicemail.
"You are a chicken of the worst kind," she told herself.
Swathed in her robe and with a towel over her wet hair, she didn't return Edward's call but phoned her dad instead, giving him the PG-rated version of her evening.
He listened and then paused before asking, "What aren't you telling me?"
She might have blinked a few times before answering the question, suppressing a small grin as she did so. "Well, Dad, there are a few things grown women don't want to tell their fathers about their dating lives—and I'm assuming fathers don't want to hear."
"Real cute. Ha ha. No, I mean what you're not telling me about whatever the heck is bothering you. Something is bothering you."
She wasn't sure whether to be annoyed or grateful for his intuition.
"You like him," Charlie said.
She felt her eyes widen. "How can you—?"
Charlie's chuckle made her phone vibrate. "That's gotta be the oldest trick, kiddo."
Bella rolled her eyes.
"But seriously, what's up? You like this guy, right?"
"Yes, but . . ."
"Once burned, twice shy," he mused.
"Something like that."
Charlie gave a gruff grunt in reply.
Bella pulled off the towel, rubbing the back of her head with it. She hadn't told him much about Edward beyond his name, but it wouldn't take much for Charlie to look, given his occupation. Would he look?
"You've got good instincts about people, honey. I know you had a bad experience with—"
"Richard, yeah. I know." She could say his name, but it made her cringe to hear others speak it. She'd worked so hard to move past that, but being with Edward was making her uncomfortably aware of how much further she had to go.
"It's not like you're in the same boat with this guy."
Bella said nothing.
"Bella? It's not, is it?"
Charlie rarely swore, but he did now, and Bella closed her eyes. Well, the cat was out of the bag, she supposed, but she tried to ease Charlie's mind a little. "It's . . . not. He knows what I do."
"That doesn't sound like the whole story." The subtle shift in tone told her that her father had stepped away, replaced by one Chief Charlie Swan. "You know, people around here look aside when we trip up and accidentally look up names in the system—"
"No," Bella said. "Don't." Then she paused. "Wait, have you—?"
"No," Charlie replied, chuckling. "I'd happily do it if you wanted me to. And just to be clear, I'd be really happy to do it."
Her father meant well. There was no doubt there. "Thanks, Dad. I'm . . . I'm good."
Seeming to sense that they'd reached the end of Bella's tolerance for the topic, Charlie asked how her book club was going. When they said goodnight and ended the call, she stared at the voicemail notification on her phone, tapping on it to play. Edward's normally smooth voice sounded uncertain. "Hey, it's Edward. I'm really sorry I've missed you, because I think it might be totally creepy if I kept calling back until you picked up. But I know you're probably busy running around getting ready for the week." Arco barked in the background, and Edward muttered something to him. "But I'm up until eleven, so feel free to call me if you get a minute. Otherwise I'll try you again tomorrow."
Oh God, it was so maddening. There was no doubt about the intensity of her feelings about this man, but her ability to judge character . . . she ran a hand through her wet hair. That was definitely in question.
Time, she decided. Time was what she needed. She'd call him tomorrow. She was tired. It was perfectly reasonable to take a night to have a good sleep and then think about this. Tomorrow would be better.
But tomorrow wasn't, and the fine layer of dust-like anxiety that had sprinkled itself into everything on Sunday became a thick haze on Monday. Already tired and then exhausted by a long day at work, she came home, showered, and went straight to bed.
On Tuesday morning, she groaned out of guilt, seeing that she had another voicemail from Edward. It was cruel not to return his call, but she had to get to work. By Tuesday afternoon, she had no excuse and nervously hit the call button on her phone.
It went to voicemail.
Relieved, she left a message, apologizing and explaining that she'd just been overrun with work. She sent a text message, too, for good measure. Still, the nerves in her gut persisted. There was so much risk here. There were no guarantees, and try as she might, she could make no peace with a choice either way. The truth was that she was terrified to find out she might be wrong about Edward Cullen.
Edward's reply came by text early Wednesday morning. He'd had an emergency to deal with and would be covering for a colleague at his practice after hours for the next two days.
The relief she felt at this news made her cringe with guilt. She loathed herself for her indecision and cowardice.
She sent him a text saying she understood and that they could talk on the weekend.
But she was only delaying, and she knew it. So when she drove to the clinic on Saturday, she did so with an anxious stomach, wondering if she would find him there. How awkward would that be? Beyond simply seeing each other, to see each other there.
"Oh God, how stupid can you be, Swan? Beginning a relationship with a pro-life protestor at the clinic you volunteer at!" Parked by the clinic, she thumped her forehead into her steering wheel. She hadn't even bothered to try to hide her vehicle. Edward knew where she worked. She might as well leave her name, number, occupation, and address chalked onto her car.
Still, she approached the clinic head down, hoping to avoid seeing him or any of the other protestors she knew would be there.
Scanning the faces around her, she didn't see Edward. Relieved, she walked towards the building where, when she turned to face it, she found him leaning against the wall, obviously waiting for her.
He turned his head, locking his gaze onto hers.
It was a jolt—one that recalled both the intimacy they'd shared as well as all the fears she had yet to deal with.
"Hi." Her voice felt breathless.
"Hey," he said, visibly relaxing as he approached and took her hand. "I've missed you this week."
It was so apparent in his eyes, she almost flinched. She'd really hurt him with her indecision.
"It's been a crazy week."
Edward took in her response and expression, his hand still gently holding hers. He opened his mouth to speak, only to be interrupted by the chant breaking out from the crowd: "Baby-killer! Baby-killer!" It went on, and Edward turned his gaze towards them with a small frown.
"I should get inside," Bella said. It wasn't an evasion. She knew how to read a crowd: chanters could become movers in the blink of an eye. Standing here talking with one of them was provocative enough, but with her hand in Edward's, it was clearly more than a casual conversation. She briefly wondered if anyone thought this made him appear complicit in some way . . .
Edward's gaze tracked with hers and he slowly let go of her hand. "Let's talk later, okay?"
"I'm not sure when I'll be done here." The clinic manager had warned her of a backlog of appointments from a colleague's missed shift.
"Call me when you're finished. I'll answer or I'll come over." There was earnestness and seriousness in his face. Worry, too.
Already uneasy, Bella gave him a brief nod in reply. Even without his sign, most in the crowd knew which side of the debate Edward was on and might see his close proximity to her as permission to breach the buffer zone. She needed to get inside.
A long nine hours later, Bella emerged from the clinic to the low glow of a cloud-muted sunset. It had been another tiring day, and she wanted nothing more than to go home and sink into a bath and then her bed.
What she didn't want was to confront her anxieties and fears about or with Edward. She stepped away from the building, took in a deep breath, and then allowed herself the luxury of closing her eyes.
Opening them, she barely stifled her scream.
Edward stood directly in front of her.
"Sorry," he said. "I didn't—"
She held up her hand, silencing his apology, trying to slow the beating of her heart while chastising herself for not being more aware of her surroundings. She was damn lucky it had been Edward and not someone else. Nearly healed, her bruises were visible reminders of the danger she needed to be more cognizant of.
"I—it's . . . yeah. I should've been more aware."
Edward frowned but nodded, running his hand through his hair. "I think we need to talk."
DISCLAIMER: S. Meyer owns Twilight. No copyright infringement intended.