Once I'd cleared up the papers, I was pissed off. Inevitably. Edward Cullen always seemed to bring out the worst in me.
I needed to get out of the office – away from him – away from the work, and thankfully, I knew the best way to go about that.
"Hey Mike," I said sweetly down the phone, no longer having to fake my smile. Meeting up with him gave me a free pass away from Edward. "I was wondering if we could still meet up for lunch."
"Seriously?" he asked, his voice bubbling with excitement. I could imagine his bright blue eyes widening with enthusiasm. It was a pity I didn't like him that way... maybe we could be friends? "Do you want me to come up to your level now?"
"No, it's fine Mike. Besides, I need to get out of the office." I said truthfully, the words sounding even more real than before out loud. "What level are you on again?"
"Ok, I'll see you in a few,"
"You too," he said warmly as the phone clicked on the other end of the line. I grabbed my coat from the back of the door, and locked the office, not wanting Edward to go in there to get some more paper.
"Don't get run over," Edward muttered under his breath as I turned towards the elevator. He thought I didn't hear him. But my expression didn't change. I was going to leave this office calm, and have a quiet lunch with Newton with no sarcastic remarks or degrading comments.
"I'll try not to," I called back lightly, pressing the button on the elevator. Finally, I was getting away from him.
Or so I thought.
"Miss Swan, wait." He called after me suddenly as I willed the elevator doors to shut faster. I couldn't talk to him now – not after what he'd done and what he'd said. I couldn't deal with any more of his petty anxieties and insecurities that he chose to take out on me. Edward slipped into the elevator as the doors shut behind him.
"I just wanted to apologize."
I laughed bitterly, my thoughts darkening. He wanted to apologize to me – after what he purposely caused – and would likely cause in the future. He wasn't sorry for what he'd done. If he was, he'd stop. "Again?"
He chose to ignore my comment, instead using the time we had trapped in the elevator together to his advantage. "So, you and Mike huh?"
Was he honestly trying to start up a conversation with me? "No," I replied seriously, ignoring how his shoulders relaxed a little at the word. "It's possible for a male and female to know each other, and not be head over heels in love with each other."
Edward's expression turned sour. "It's also possible for one person to be in love with another and the other to be completely oblivious." His eyes met mine, and I was shocked by the sincerity within them. All traces of humour were gone.
Had I arrived earlier this morning, would I have heard more? "You think Mike's in love with me?" I asked in horror, my mouth open wide. He didn't know a thing about my relationship with Mike, let alone what Mike felt. After one assumption that he wanted to spend time with me, Edward had jumped to conclusions. Conclusions he had no right to make.
You have now arrived on level seven.
As the doors opened on Mike's floor, I met his eyes once more, my eyes cold. "What the hell would you know about love?"
Edward was infuriating. It was almost as if he made up situations just like these, so that later on in the day he could apologize to me. Maybe he had some weird fetish about apologizing to women. God knows, it would have to be a pretty convincing reason.
I didn't bother to spare a half-hearted goodbye to Edward was I stepped out of the elevator. It was because of him that I was angry. It was because of him that I was trying to get away from the office. And it was because of him that I was staring at Newton's name on an office door. This plan was falling apart by the second.
"Hello, I'm here to see Mike Newton," I said to the receptionist, my eyes glancing around the office briefly. It wasn't as refurbished as the one I'd been assigned to, and there weren't as many cabinets as the others I'd seen. It was almost too bare.
The receptionist glanced at me, her eyes raking up and down my attire. For some strange reason, it felt like she was sizing me up.
I wasn't used to feeling intimidated.
"I'll just call him in," she said with her frown, her lips pushing forward into a pout. With a flick of blonde hair, and a scratch of nails against the telephone, she spoke quietly into the speaker. Just looking at her, I couldn't help but wonder if she was one of the many secretaries on Edward's list. Had she slept with him? Had she been cruelly thrown away afterwards and never received even a text to explain why?
I'd given up trying to paint a pretty picture of Edward's character a long time ago.
"Isabella, how have you been?" his voice called across his squeaky clean office floor. I still wasn't going to correct him about my name. It seemed to get on Edward's nerves, and the more Mike managed to do that, the better.
Mike had combed his hair back with what looked like water, and had he been cast in a vampire movie, it would have worked. All he needed was a tux and blood dripping from his mouth. Coming back down to reality, a hairstyle which on anyone who knew the slightest thing about style might look classy and sophisticated, on him it made him look like he'd barely hit puberty.
"I've been great, thanks," I said quietly, offering a timid smile as he gestured towards the elevator with me. I noticed he didn't even spare a glance towards the expectant receptionist. His eyes were glued to mine.
"So, where did you want to go?"
"There's a café just around the corner from here, if you'd like that." I looked his way, offering another smile. The café that just happened to be below our office... the one which you could see if you were looking out the window.
He nodded enthusiastically as he mirrored my smile. "So, how's work going?" he tried to start up a conversation, but that was the one topic I wanted desperately to avoid.
"It's not," I said with a grimace. "But please don't ask me about that. I've looked at more articles this morning than I ever will this year." That was a lie. I touched the one for page thirty four – and that was it. But he seemed content to lap the words up.
"How about this one then... what's Edward like as a colleague?"
"He's a headache," I laughed dryly.
"Yeah?" Mike questioned with a smile in his voice. Suddenly, for some strange reason, Newton was very happy with himself – or rather, my answer. Did he think that I liked Edward?
The thought made me want to vomit.
"He thinks far too much of himself," I pointed out, answering Mike's silent question. "And his arrogance gets in the way of work, which is seriously infuriating."
Mike didn't ask press for any more answers on the way to the café. His conversation remained mutual – thankfully. As we reached the small cottage-like building, he held the door open for me. Inaudibly, I groaned. If before I had any doubts about this plan, now, I realised the situation I'd gotten myself into.
"What can I get you?"
"Just a coffee would be good," I said politely as I took my seat on one of the small tables by the window. I'd been so stupid. Going on a date with a man I didn't want to be with, or finishing Edward's report so I didn't have to spend hours doing it at home... The choice was an obvious one, and I'd been a fool not to pick it.
As Mike returned, he slid the coffee across the table towards me. He made sure that our fingers brushed against each other in the gesture, and I swear his smile increased as his hand touched mine.
"I don't think I can say thank you enough for the report you sent me," Mike began as he took his seat opposite me. "Our level was slightly short staffed that week." I smiled in reply as I cupped my hand around the coffee. The warmth of the drink seeped into my fingers. As I raised my mouth slowly to the rim, I couldn't help but notice how Mike's eyes were fixed on my lips.
As I set the cup down on the table, I smiled once more. "Anything to help out a friend."
"I really enjoyed that," he said warmly as the elevator finally reached my level. "It was nice to get to know you a little better."
I only nodded in reply. In all honesty, I had enjoyed myself more than I'd expected too. He was a really nice guy – a good person – and I hated that I was leading him on. It was uplifting just to talk to someone without having to worry about work, or reality. I could talk to him without worrying that he wouldn't change into a different person suddenly.
"Do you think... we could do it again sometime?"
"Of course," I returned his smile. "With the hours I do here, I'm always in need of a coffee."
You have now arrived on level seven.
"I'll call you sometime."
"Looking forward to it," I said eagerly as he stepped onto his office floor. As the elevator doors shut, his eyes stayed glued to mine, his stare too adorning for that of two friends.
Then, it was just me and my thoughts.
The elevator door continued to climb up to level twelve, and I finally allowed myself to reflect on everything. Mike was a nice guy. Not one I'd want to date – but he made me laugh. So did I continue to meet up with him, just to talk? There was only so long before he made his move and what then? Would turning him down mean I'd lose him as a friend? But what I found most confusing wasn't my situation with Mike. It was with Edward. It was almost comical how protective he became of me meeting up with Mike when he wouldn't even smile, or acknowledge that I'd entered the room. He had no right to question Mike's reasons, or convince me not to see him.
And yet he still tried.
You have now arrived on level twelve.
I stepped out of the elevator, my thoughts filled with dread at the mammoth report I had to write for Edward and hadn't even started. But as I rounded the corner, my thoughts changed entirely.
Every muscle in my body froze as I stared at the couple in front of me.
For a moment, time stood still. Then reality crashed down on me.
Edward's shirtless body was draped across the desk, his papers and files scattered across the floor. On top of him was a woman, lying between his legs. His hands were wrapped around her so tightly I could see his fingers digging into the sides of her waist. As his lips attacks hers once more, his hand moved from her waist to her thigh.
I bet he didn't even know her name.
It wasn't my business, I reminded myself as I bit back my anger. I sidestepped around the table, trying not to jog the two – who clearly hadn't noticed me. I fumbled around in my pocket for the key, but when I tried to slot it into the door, it slipped out of my hand. The painful clink of the metal hitting the tiles sent the room into a deathly silence.
Edward's eyes flashed up from the girl's face. Across the room, his face twisted as his gaze met mine, and for a moment, I saw remorse flash through his eyes.
Then it was gone. The woman beneath him wrapped her hand around his cheek and pulled his lips back to hers.
I slammed the door to my office a lot harder than I probably should have done. But in all fairness, there were two people practically having sex on an office desk together outside my door, and I had to listen. This was the time when I hated how thin the walls were.
I had two files sitting opposite me; the one on the latest fad, and the other was Edward's 5,000 word report. A hoarse, rasping moan on the other side of the door told me which one I'd picked. I wasn't going to be the bad guy, I smirked to myself as I picked up Edward's report. As he'd said... it was an easy write. An hour later however, and my mind was telling me otherwise. I'd written just over half of what was required, and already I wanted to put a final full stop at the end and write it off for print. Somehow, I had to find a way to double what I'd already written.
Maybe if I started changing the 'it's' to it is...
There was a knock on my door, and I looked up from my report gratefully – for once, thankful for the distraction. As Edward stepped through the door, I slid my work glasses off my nose.
"Tanya and I are going out together – we won't be long," he said briskly, almost like he was doing his upmost best to keep his message as short as possible. "Is that alright? Or do you want me to send up some staff from level two?"
I'm impressed Cullen. You know her name. "No, that's fine." I said politely back as I pushed the report I was working on into his line of sight. "I was just finishing the report you asked me to write for you." The words froze on his tongue. I waited for his snarky remark, perhaps an insulting, unfriendly comment about how it should have been finished sooner.
But nothing happened.
"I'll be back in an hour." His words were stiff, and he turned his back quickly as he made to close the door on himself.
"Mr Cullen?" He paused in the doorway, not even bothering to turn around. By the way his hand gripped the door too tightly, I could sense his impatience. Luckily for him, I wasn't planning on keeping him in my office for much longer.
"I just wanted you to know that you're a hypocrite." I couldn't help the smile that spread across my face. "You can leave now."
He barely let my words sink in before he slammed the door shut behind me.
I'd almost finished Edward's report, only two hundred words left, when I heard a pair of footsteps on the office floor. They sounded lethargic and most definitely male, which translated as 'Edward was back'. This was usually where he would open my door to argue with me. Either to have a go at me for something I said earlier, or accuse me of being something I'm not. My door opened – without a knock – and I smiled to myself, waiting patiently for his insult. What would it be this time?
Thank you for dropping the key on my 'session' with Tanya. Thank you for disturbing my 'work'. Thank you for ruining my 'conversation' with Tanya. Couldn't you be more careful next time? – It's not hard to hold onto a key.
"I'm not a hypocrite."
He'd chosen the one thing I felt completely confident arguing. This was going to be easy. "Mike's insipid is he? Then what's Tanya?" I glanced up towards him, and I saw his blank, vacant expression staring back. His eyes were void of emotion. "You thought that I could do better than Mike. Well, at least I didn't use him. At least I didn't kiss him for the sake of it. Better even, at least I know him."
Edward shook his head, his jaw tight, like he was biting back the words he longed to say. He opted for a more subdued version. "Her favourite colour's pink. She likes roses and the smell of candles. Her birthday is November 4th." As he listed off each insignificant detail, I only saw his poker face staring back at me. He was lying.
"Your favourite colour's green," I rose my eyebrows towards him, daring him to disagree with me. "You like white orchids and the smell of strawberries. Your birthday is June 20th, and you'll be twenty three next year."
From across the room, he didn't say a word. I could almost smell the victory.
"Does that mean I like you?" Does that mean I know you? That I would be willing to talk to you?" I laughed dryly, before turning back to the report I was working on. I waited for him to leave, my eyes staring at the words in front of me, and yet never taking anything in.
"How..." he trailed off, his eyes wide with confusion. "How did you know I liked the smell of strawberries?"
I didn't look up as I answered. "When I found my shampoo in your desk drawer."
His eyes turned cold. "You looked through my drawer?" he was angry, so suddenly once again, that he hadn't even let my words sink in properly.
"You stole my shampoo?" And his face froze at my question. He immediately grew silent. "That's what I thought." I laughed again. For someone who thought so much of themselves, it must be demoralizing to lose an argument. Especially to a woman.
"My favourite colour isn't green." He said finally. "It's brown."
Thanks for letting me know, I tried to suppress a smirk. He really wanted me to get to know him. Maybe he was trying to paint a better image of himself just to prove me wrong and finally get me to say yes. Although there was no chance in hell I was ever consenting to being with him. He still hadn't left yet.
"Because it's the colour of your eyes."
When he finally did leave, I was speechless. I looked up to the empty space where he'd just been, my thoughts whirring in confusion. The colour of my eyes? He really did want my forgiveness. He'd thrown away all the cheap, substandard compliments and had opted for the romantic, heart-melting, you're-making-me-want-to-throw-up compliments.
I turned back to the report, hoping to finally get the last words done, but I couldn't concentrate. Did Edward think that I'd kissed Mike? ... was Tanya there because he actually wanted her? Bella, focus. Maybe she was there because he wanted to make me jealous too...
Bella, be serious. Why in the world would he want to do that?
I didn't give myself an answer as I finally started typing out the last words to the report.
When the door opened again, I knew it would be Edward. He didn't leave compliments like that without following up with an insult. His silence had to be followed by something cold and hostile. As if it took some emphasis away from anything nice he may have said. I heard a soft thud as he put something down on my desk, and then he left without saying another word. Not even a casual insult, or a wanton compliment. As I glanced up to see what he'd put on my desk, I saw my shampoo staring back at me, and a bright blue post-it note attached to it.
Since you weren't going to let me smell your hair, I thought I'd buy what you use – Edward.
"You need to stop complimenting me so much," I called out towards his desk through the thin walls; knowing he could hear me. "Because I know you're just going to take it all back eventually."
"What makes you so sure?" The door opened so suddenly that he could have been standing outside. He was standing opposite me, leaning nonchalantly against the frame.
"What if I told you I'd arranged to see Mike again?" I questioned – my eyes bold. "Would you tell me I'm being stupid? Perhaps comment on my taste in men and say how ridiculous it was. And whilst you're at it, why don't you just give me another report to do?" I didn't look up to see his expression as I pressed the print button.
"Well... are you going to see him?"
"Perhaps," I turned back to the computer as I slipped off my work glasses. "Although, I don't see why it should be any of your concern. I mean... about who I choose to date." I smiled indulgently to myself as the realisation crossed his face at the meaning behind my words.
"Date?" he choked, his eyes widening with confusion.
"Are you going to take your compliments back yet?"
"Perhaps." He used my words from earlier. But they weren't said in the same teasing way I'd spoken them in. They were harsh and cold.
The machine next to me groaned as the last of the document I'd been writing finished printing. Then, I stapled the top – all eight pages of it, and handed it to Edward.
"Finished," I said with a sugary smile as I took my coat of the back of the chair. "Now if you don't mind, I'm going home early."
He raised his hand, not letting me past. "You really typed all of this up?" he questioned as he waved about the report.
Give me a challenge, and I'm hardly going to back down. I rolled my eyes. "No, those eight pages are filled with hate letters I wrote to you." And believe me, it wouldn't be hard to fill five thousand words of it. His expression was still confused and slightly bewildered, but as his eyes met mine, they were no longer angry, but... inquisitive? I was definitely reading too much into his eyes. I mean, it was just two black dots with a swirl of hazel and emerald and olive green mixed into one... Bella. Stop it.
"Thank you," he murmured softly, his voice suddenly quiet and composed.
"Well, you're welcome." I moved towards the cupboard, hiding my blush as I turned away from him. Fucking Cullen. I wish he'd make up his mind about how he wanted to treat me. Like this – where he truly understood the work I'd put into it – he was almost bearable.
"I mean it, really. I'm grateful."
"I know, you said." I tried to sound angry, but with him standing beside me, sombre for a change, it was a hard feat. It was a new side to him I hadn't seen, and undoubtedly, a better one.
When I tried to pass him once more, he turned to me and put a hand on my shoulder. There were no traces of anger or teasing left in his eyes, and his expression was humourless. For once, he was being completely serious. "Don't date Mike."
I was expecting words for like – I'm sorry about what happened earlier. Or maybe even – I'll be telling the boss about the work you've done. But not something personal.
He had no right.
"Don't date him... please, just don't." He was begging now.
"Why?" Did he know something about Mike I didn't? I tried to get past him once again, but the hand on my shoulder barely let me move more than a few inches.
"Tell me why." At my demand, he shook his head quickly. As I glanced up to his face, I saw his eyes were closed – leaving his face unreadable.
"Don't date Tanya," I retorted, and his eyes opened once more, the anger no longer hidden.
"Tanya's my friend."
"So is Mike."
He shook his head once more. "It's not the same."
I'd had enough. I pushed his hand off my shoulder roughly. "Oh what, because I haven't kissed Mike? Is that the difference? That I don't know him well enough?" My gaze turned sour. "I'm allowed to have relationships outside of this office Mr Cullen."
"You haven't kissed him?"
"So what if I have? Why do you even care?" I demanded. We weren't friends. He didn't have the right to care. "This topic isn't any of your business, and you have some nerve asking me about it."
His mouth opened, as if to comment, but before he could, the elevator doors rang in the hallway and I used the opportunity to dart past him. Just before I reached the door, I heard his voice again.
"Bella," his voice came out as a strangled whisper. "Please... please don't."
It was the first time he'd called me Bella to my face, and although he may not have realised it – although it may have merely been a slip, I noticed.
"Mr Cullen, I wish you'd stop telling me what to do." I kept my tone stiff and formal. He'd stepped over the line in bringing up Mike. As I strode into the hallway, I saw Mike standing beside the elevator, and my face broke into a warm grin. I'd never been happier to see him than right now.
"Mike! Are you leaving?"
"I was wondering if I could walk you down," he took a step towards me, his expression mirroring mine as he took his hands out of his pocket. I felt Edward brush past me, knocking my shoulder lightly as he moved back to his desk. A desk which was just inches from where Mike and I were standing.
"What's his problem?" Mike asked loudly to me.
"I think he just found out he's a woman, and he's struggling to get over PMS." I said seriously, my voice just as loud as Mike's. I wanted to make sure Edward could hear me. "It's the only plausible reason I can think of."
Mike laughed quietly, his eyes dancing. "So, do you have to leave now? Or could we pick up our conversation from where we left off?" For once, I didn't care that he wasn't my type. My anger overpowered that. Edward had told me not to date Mike. Well... that was exactly what I wasn't going to do.
"Sure," I smiled shyly, and I bit down on my lip as I held out my hand for him to take. All too willingly he took it, and as our palms touched, I moved a little closer, letting our hips touch. At the gesture, Mike's smile doubled, and he was no longer hesitant. He let go of my fingers and wrapped a hand around my waist.
"Miss Swan, do you listen to anything I say?" Edward called after me, and as I glanced over my shoulder, my eyes met his deathly gaze.
I don't know what made me do it. Honestly I don't. But as I saw his possessive glare staring back at me, thinking that he owned me, or some shit like that... well, there was only one thing I was going to do. Even if it meant regretting it later.
I turned slowly to Mike, before raising my face up to his and kissing him.
AN - Regret much? At the moment, Mike is like the Jacob of this story. Except without the werewolf traits, perverted imprinting and brotherly-turned-romantic feelings. I hope you're enjoying the plot so far, and if you have any questions - about the characters or the way their article-report-edit-publish system works or what happens when you die, drop me a review and I'll get back to you. Happy reading :D.
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