Armistice"Okay, Bella, let's see it," Rosalie's voice rang out. She was exasperated.
I looked in the mirror and ran my hands over the dress, smoothing out wrinkles that weren't there. I was desperate to do anything with my hands except clench them. They were already red with all the nervous wringing.
"Bella, what do you think?" the shop assistant asked softly in my ear.
I jumped; I had forgotten she was even there. We had been here for two hours, and I was no closer to leaving with a dress than I was when I entered the shop. I was way past the old adage there is the perfect dress for every woman.
I shook my head quietly. "This isn't it either."
"This is Rosalie's choice?"
"Yep. She thinks I should go with a statement piece." I rolled my eyes. Rosalie never missed an opportunity to tell me how understated everything I wore was.
"I hate to say it, Bella, but this just doesn't suit you at all. The ball gown style doesn't flatter your figure."
"I know, I'm too short." This dress needed tall and willowy. I was five foot seven and slim, but in this I looked short and dumpy. "Well, let's get this show on the road."
This was dress number twenty, and I was just tired.
I grasped the excess material in my hands so I wouldn't trip and made my way out to where Rosalie was sitting. I couldn't even look in the mirrors anymore as I stood up on the little round platform and let the material fall around my feet.
"Oh, Bella, it's beautiful."
I kept my gaze to the floor until I saw Rosalie's ruby red ballet flats come into view. After last week, she vowed that she would never dress shop in heels with me again.
Finally, I looked up to the mirrors. I looked like a cake topper, which was ironic because in three days' time I would be looking at cakes and toppers. The dress was a beautiful ivory with a Cypriote lace overlay. A boned bodice with a sweetheart neckline gave me cleavage I didn't possess, but that was the only flattering thing about it. The layers of fabric in the skirt made me look fifty pounds heavier. Plus, with all the hooping and tulle underneath, I was bound to fall flat on my face as I walked down the aisle.
I stared at the girl in the mirror. She wasn't me. This girl was thinner, and you could see the slight indentations at her collarbones. This girl was pale, beyond the usual, the dark circles under her eyes more pronounced. But this was me. This was the Bella Swan I had become.
I snapped back and plastered a bright, fake smile on my face.
"You've got to be kidding, Rose. I look like a giant marshmallow."
"Don't be so negative. A pair of heels will balance it out. It's an incredible dress."
I'd had enough. "You wear it, then."
"Dear God, Bella, just pick a dress! We have been at this for two weeks, and there are only six months to the wedding. You leave it for much longer and you will have to," her voice dropped to a whisper, "buy something off the rack." She shuddered. "Plus, I can't marry my own brother."
I couldn't resist; I snorted.
"We might be old money, but even in Seattle, they don't allow incest."
Finally, I cracked a smile. Trust Rosalie to put a crack in my emo feelings. There was a reason we'd been friends for over twelve years.
In six months and three days, on the 28th of May, I, Bella Swan, would be marrying Jasper Hale, Rosalie's brother.
"Oh, Alice called. She wanted to remind you that you and Jasper have the interview with the Seattle Times. She's going to send a car here in thirty minutes to pick you up."
Ah, Alice. Alice Brandon was the Hales' personal publicist and all-round family assistant. She primarily worked for Joseph and Sarah Hale, Rose and Jasper's mom and dad, but ever since Jasper and I announced our engagement, Alice had become my unofficial wedding planner. The only reason she is unofficial is because I am still adamant I don't need a wedding planner. Who needs a wedding planner for a small wedding? Knowing the reach of the Hales, my small wedding was but a pipe dream.
"I don't need a car, Rose, I'll take a cab. It's only a couple of minutes away."
Rose chuckled and shook her head at me. "One day, Bella, one day."
"One day you will realize the life you are coming into by marrying a Hale."
My lifted mood sank again. When I said yes to Jasper, I didn't even think about what would come with him. To me, the Hales were always just a normal family in a small logging town. I knew they had money, but you wouldn't know it unless you saw their bigger-than-usual house in the woods and the fact that they took at least one vacation every year.
I looked up into the mirror again and caught a glance of myself. Panic ripped through me. The dress was too tight on me, and it constricted my breathing. I clawed behind me at the clamps holding the dress together and tried to pull them away from me.
"Get it off me!" I yelled. "Please, Rose, just get it off! I can't breathe…" I was beginning to see dark spots in my vision. "For fuck's sake, Rose, get this thing off me!"
That started Rose into action. She pulled the clamps off the dress, and it pooled at my feet.
Oxygen flooded into my lungs, and I could feel the rhythm of my heat begin to slow.
I stepped out of the dress, and Rose pulled it up into her arms. She stared at me in horror.
"I guess that's not the dress." I chuckled weakly and forced a smile on my face that probably looked demented rather than reassuring. A shiver snaked down my spine. I was standing on a display block in my strapless white and silver stripped strapless bra and matching panties. "I'm going to put my clothes back on. Can you give the dress back to the assistant?"
Rose nodded mutely and turned to walk away, and I stepped down from the platform.
"Bella, are you okay?"
Rose had turned back around, and she was watching me carefully as if I might fold into insanity at any given moment.
"I mean, are you truly okay?" I know that our family can be a lot to handle, and I know you hate all of this attention, but I'm so glad you're going to be my sister."
"I… I…" No words would come out. Instead I reached over and pulled Rose into tight hug before I made my way back to my dressing room. I needed to pull myself together. The pressure was nearly breaking me. I must have stood looking at my reflection for too long because Rose knocked on the dressing room door.
"Bella, you ready yet? The car is here."
I rubbed my hands over my arms in an attempt to ward off the cold. I was always cold these days.
"Yeah, Rose, just coming."
I hurriedly dressed and met Rose in the front of the shop, surrounded by wedding dresses. I needed to get out of here, now. I hugged Rose and made my way out to the curb. The town car was waiting with another faceless driver holding open the door. A jacket was resting on the seat inside the car, and the first genuine smile of the day graced my face.
"Jasper, I thought I was meeting you at the paper!"
I missed Jasper's little surprises, like when he would meet me in the town car when I was supposed to be meeting him at some fancy event—all just so we could grab a few minutes to ourselves before we were put on display.
"I'm not Jasper, hon. And I'm sorry, but he's running behind, so he won't be able to make it to this interview.
"What do you mean he can't make it? It's an interview about us, about our relationship. That kinda means that we both need to be there."
"He phoned to say he was going into the office and would try to make it as soon as he can."
Hold up! "He called you? Why didn't—?" I stopped myself just in time.
"He didn't want to disturb you. You were wedding dress shopping, which is about the only wedding thing the male brain understands as important."
I was trying my best not to show the fury that was creeping into my bones. It was Jasper who had agreed to the interview when his mom had suggested it. Alice had been more than happy to arrange it all, and before I knew it, Alice was fielding possible questions.
"Maybe we should just reschedule?"
I really needed Jasper by my side for this one. His mom had talked me into it as a way of keeping the media off our backs about Seattle's apparent wedding of the year. Jasper had been his usual laid-back self about it, agreeing without hesitation, but I, on the other hand, hated the thought of sitting there and allowing someone to cross-examine me. I didn't want to be the centre of attention, but I loved Sarah, and I saw how happy this would make her.
"Nonsense! It was hard enough as it was to line these time slots up when you would both be available. It's fine, I'll be there with you."
Great, how reassuring.
After the dress shop, my nerves were frazzled enough as it was. I couldn't do this alone. I shouldn't have to.
"Alice, cancel the appointment and reschedule it for when Jay can be there."
I heard Alice huff. "Bella—"
"Alice, reschedule!" I said through gritted teeth. "Pull over here, please," I asked the driver.
I muttered a goodbye to Alice and climbed out onto the curb. The financial district of Seattle was still bustling even though it was the weekend and void of workers. There were too many people, and they all had places to be and people to see.
In that moment, as people moved around me so as not to bump into me, I had never felt so alone.
What would I do now? I didn't want to go back to our empty apartment, just to wallow. And God only knew when Jay would actually make it home. Instead, I reached for my phone in my jacket pocket and dialed.
"Bellaboobooboo, I dooooo love yoooooou," an off-key voice sang through the phone.
People stared at me as I laughed aloud.
"Emmie Bear!" Now people were definitely staring at me.
"To what do I owe this stupendous honor?"
"I was wondering what you were up to. How would you feel about catching the Seahawks game?"
"Don't you have that interview thingy today? Or is that next week?"
"Jay is stuck in the office, so we're going to reschedule." I could hear a lot of noise in the background. "You're busy, Em, I'm sorry. I'll speak to you later.
Suddenly the noise dropped away, and I heard a door slam shut.
"No, no, Bells, I was just moving to a more quiet spot. So, no Jay, huh? Well, that's just my most awesome luck. We're at Murphy's getting ready for the game. Come on down."
That was the best offer I'd had all day. Some football, a pint of Guinness, and random, sweaty hugs when we scored. It was just what I needed.
"Sounds like a plan, Emmie. I'll be there in about thirty minutes. Save me a seat?"
"Sure, sure. See you soon, Bellaboo."
As I hung up, I smiled to myself. If I could rely on anyone to distract me, it was Emmett McCarty; he was part-friend, part-big kid. Emmett was a friend of mine from work, but when he was introduced to Jasper, the two formed a bromance of epic proportions. The Hangover had nothing on these guys. At the end of the day, I knew Emmett's loyalty was with me. As much as he loved Jasper, he would always have my back first. He was the brother I never had.
The cab up pulled to the curb outside Murphy's, and I paid the driver. From the outside, Murphy's looked like a dive bar with a sun-bleached Irish flag, but inside it was like a cave of wonders, with dark wood paneling and cream painted walls, and pictures of Ireland dotted the walls. It was like stepping back in time to a working class, local pub in deepest, darkest Cork. I loved how it was all so warm and welcoming. Rosalie and I introduced Jasper to it when he came back to Seattle, and it became our go-to place ever since..
It was hard to miss Emmett's towering six foot four frame. Séamus, Murphy's owner, like to say that Emmett was built like a brick shithouse. Around his neck he wore a Seahawks scarf, and he was well into the pre-game warm-up.
"BELLA!" he shouted across the room.
I smiled and shook my head at Emmett's over-exuberance. Nothing about Emmett was low-key. I fought my way through the crowd only to be engulfed in Emmett's big bear hug. He put me back on my feet and chuckled at me.
"You're a bit over-dressed for a football game, Bella."
"Well, I was supposed to be at the interview today. I doubt a Seahawks jersey would go over well with the paper…or Alice for that matter."
"Who cares what Alice or the journalist think?" He never gave me a chance to answer because he shouted at the bar, "Hey, Edwardo, get my Bellaboo a drink, too!"
"Edwardo? Edward's here too?"
"Of course. Just because Jasper is stuck in the office it doesn't mean that the rest of us can't have any fun."
A familiar, tall, bronze-haired figure cut through the crowd, balancing three pint glasses in his hands.
Before me stood Edward Cullen, the third clog in the bromance of the century. Edward was Jasper's best friend and would stand up, much to my chagrin, as best man at the wedding. To say that Edward and I don't see eye to eye would be an understatement, and also not the whole truth.
When I saw Edward for the first time, I was distracted by Jasper. Jasper had been back in Seattle for two weeks after staying in the UK after finishing his Masters at Oxford. He'd returned home because he missed his family. I hadn't had a chance to catch up with him or Rose, so when I saw him in my local coffee shop, I was beyond surprised. He was sitting at a table and casually reading the paper. I had to do a double-take just to be sure it was him.
Jasper and I were already sitting at the table, laughing over old stories, when Edward came walking towards us with two mugs of coffee in his hands.
"Please tell me you wanted a latte, because there is no way I am going back into that line."
I looked up and felt like all the breath had whooshed out of my body. Standing in front of me was a guy that looked like he'd stepped out of a J Crew ad; the dark wash jeans, grey sweater, and button-down underneath literally took my breath away. His sex-tousled hair and lackadaisical smile sealed the deal.
"Edward, meet my oldest friend Bella." Jasper threw an arm over my shoulder and drew me to his side. "Bella, this is Edward. He and I work together."
From the start there was this…spark between us, a sizzle that hummed in the air. I could only hear the sound of my own breathing as nearly everything drifted away except for the gorgeous man before me. I was aware that Jasper was still speaking, and every now and again he would squeeze me closer.
The mugs in Edward's hands shook as the minutes passed, his knuckles turning white. I watched as Edward's jovial, open smile fell as he watched Jasper and me closely.
Ever since that day, Edward has been standoffish with me. He's polite to me, but after Jasper and I started dating, he became almost hostile with me, treating me just above civilized when Jasper was around.
I've come to believe that Edward is jealous. I've monopolized Jasper, and by accepting Jasper's proposal, Edward must think he's lost his best friend for good.
A roar of approval as the cheerleaders ran out on the field brought me back to the present. Edward was still standing in front of me, holding out a pint of Guinness to me.
"Of course, Bella. You drink the same thing whenever we're here."
I could feel my mouth dropping open. He knew what I drank. I always thought that I was only good enough for his peripheral viewing, if that. Mind you, we tended to buy in rounds when we were out, so that's probably why he remembered.
"Hold up, I thought you and Jasper had the first media interview today?"
I rolled my eyes. Did everyone know our day-to-day lives?
"Don't tell me you stood Jasper up to watch a Seahawks game."
Typical. Of course I was the bad guy in Edward Cullen's high and mighty eyes.
"Actually, he stood me up. He's stuck in the office working, so we have had to reschedule."
"But we worked hard on Friday, so…" Edward stopped abruptly. "Who told you that?"
"He phoned Alice." I tried to keep the bitter tone out of my voice.
Edward scowled and muttered under his breath. I was about to ask him to speak up, but Emmett threw his massive arms around us both, causing my Guinness to slosh dangerously in my glass.
"Hush up, people! The Seahawks are coming out. Pay homage."
I laughed at my giddy friend and forgot the sullen man to my left as I hollered with the rest of the pub as the mighty, mighty Seahawks graced the field.
x-x-x-xIt was the third quarter, and the Cardinals and Seahawks were level at ten. The atmosphere in the pub was manic and full of good cheer, but the heat from all the bodies was stifling. I had stripped down to my button-down, rolled my sleeves, and removed my Seahawks scarf, and even then I was only really surviving because of the icy breeze that would blow in whenever someone opened the door.
Out of nowhere, Todd Heap scored a touchdown from a thirteen-yard pass. The pub went nuts in angry disappointment. Insults were shouted at the ref, Emmett's the loudest and most vocal of them all. Seven minutes later the whistle sounded, and the Seahawks were seventeen down.
"Okay, commercial break, and it's my round. Same again?"
"Yeah, me too. Can I have some water as well?"
Emmett headed off to the bar along with most of the pub. I was left with Edward, and the atmosphere was awkward, to say the least. I racked my brains trying to find something, anything, to start a conversation. We had spent the past two years barely on speaking terms, and this was one of the rare times when Jasper or Em wasn't there as a buffer.
People jostled me as they made their way back from the bar to catch the fourth quarter. One guy slammed my shoulder, knocking me off balance. My hands scrambled for purchase on anything to stop me falling backwards, but nothing came. I closed my eyes and waited for the crash.
It never came. Instead, strong, warm arms wrapped around me like steel bands. I slowly opened my eyes to find green ones staring back at me, full of concern.
"You caught me?"
He gave me a half-smile before drawing me up to my feet, his hands resting on my waist. I could feel his palms on my skin, full of delicious heat and comfort. The crackle that could always be felt between us was there, spitting and hissing away. In an almost unconscious movement, his thumbs rubbed circles on my hipbones.
My hands reached for his forearms to steady myself. I couldn't form a sentence. My breaths were coming out in shallow pants, and I felt drowsy. Edward's eyes bore into mine; his beautiful emerald irises were almost black.
His gaze turned to my hand on his left arm, and suddenly he was gone, pushing me away from him.
"I'm sorry…" Then I saw it, too.
My engagement ring. The reminder of where my heart was supposed to be.
What was I thinking? I was getting married to his best friend.
"I should have known better than to get drinks during the break. The bar was slammed!" came a boisterous voice.
Emmett didn't seem to notice the tension that had enveloped Edward and me, and he handed out the drinks.
My eyes never left Edward. His hair was a mess because of the way he kept running his fingers through it in agitation. Did he feel it, too?
I moved myself so that Emmett was between Edward and me. Distance was a good thing; touching was bad. My mind screamed at me to stop, to move closer, but I couldn't walk that road.
I clasped my hands together because they wouldn't stop twitching.
"I'm sorry, Em, I have to go. My mom called. She needs help with…um…the car. I said I would help her."
"But, Eddie, there is only fifteen minutes of the game left. You can't bail now."
"Sorry, I have to. Plus, it's looks like it's a foregone conclusion."
Without hesitation, Edward grabbed his jacket and made a move towards the door. I couldn't let him just leave. I should, but I couldn't.
My mind—and heart—won the battle, and I reached out and grabbed for his hand.
"Edward…" He turned and looked right through me, as if he could see through to my racing heart.
"What, Bella?" His voice was tired and resigned.
"Nothing, just…thank you—you know, for catching me."
He tugged his hand free and then he was gone.
As much as I tried to concentrate on what was left of the game, I couldn't get back into it. Emmett was the one to tell me that the Cardinals had won twenty-three to twenty. My mind, however, was on a never-ending loop of Edward Cullen's pained face as he pulled away from me.
What the fuck just happened?
x-x-x-xI let myself into the apartment. It was almost eight o'clock, and all but the living room lamp was off. After leaving the pub, I decided to walk a little to clear my head before catching a cab. I ended up walking nearly three miles before realizing what time it was. My police chief father would have a heart attack if he knew I walked so far late at night.
"Jasper?" I called.
I dumped my keys in a bowl in the foyer and toed my shoes off before heading to the living room. There, in the shadow created by the lamp, sat Jasper. His elbows were resting on his knees, his head in hands. He was so still.
I walked towards him and put a light hand on his shoulder. He was beginning to scare me.
He sat up in surprise.
"Bella, where did you…have you been here the whole time?"
"No, I just got home. I went to watch the Seahawks with Emmett and Edward.
Even though he straightened himself out to sit upright on the sofa, his shoulders were still slumped.
"What's going on, Jay?"
He turned to look at me, and what I saw shocked me. He looked haunted. Worry lines etched his face, and the light in his eyes was gone. In front of me was not the Jay I knew.
"Jay, you're scaring me."
I looked at the glass of amber colored liquid on the coffee table. For Jasper to be drinking alone, something was very wrong.
With a start, Jasper seemed to spring to life again. His brow lifted, he sat upright, and he even attempted a small smile that didn't quite reach his eyes.
"I'm sorry. It's just been one of those days."
I wondered how it could be 'one of those days' when he'd apparently stayed late of his own accord.
"Is work really that bad?"
"No, it's just…" He threw his hands up in exasperation. I knew Jasper wouldn't talk to me until he was sure he had it worked out in his own mind first.
"Okay, well, I'm gonna go take a shower. I'm all sweaty from the pub. Wanna join me?"
"No, I'm going to finish this." He held up the glass of scotch.
He didn't even look up at me. I knew now wasn't the time to be asking about the interview and why he really bailed on me.
"Oh, hey, how did the dress shopping go? Did you find the one?"
I shrugged. "No. Maybe next time."
He nodded in response, and I walked down the hall to our bathroom. The distance between us had been growing over the last month. Jasper was spending more hours in the office, and I was spending more time with Rose to avoid being in the apartment with the echoing loneliness.
What concerned me more was that Jasper and I hadn't made love in nearly three weeks. We had always been unable to keep our hands off each other. The passion that fueled our relationship was petering off into non-existence.
Silent tears slipped down my cheeks. I felt so very alone.
x-x-x-xThe following week passed in a much happier fashion than the last. Jasper seemed to snap out of his funk by Sunday morning, when he took me to brunch, And he spoiled me with little presents all week, like having flowers delivered to my desk at work and making an effort to be home at a normal time. He even made dinner one night.
Today was a big day. I left work early to meet Jasper at the bakery. We were going to pick out our cake, and I was looking forward to the tasting so much.
I was running late. As I neared the, a familiar figure was waiting outside.
He turned to face me. His brow was furrowed in worry, and his hands were fisted nervously by his sides.
"What's going on? Where's Jay?"
"He got caught up at the office and can't make it."
"So he sent you?" I asked in disbelief.
"Yeah, he didn't want to disappoint you."
"And he sent you?" I asked again. I still couldn't believe it. "Edward, we barely even speak. Why did you agree?"
"Jay said that you were really looking forward to this. Plus, free cake."
I let out a sigh.
"I can go. You can reschedule for when Jay is free."
Don't you dare.
"If I do that, there'll be no cake at the bloody wedding!" He turned to walk away, so I reached out to stop him. "No, stay. I don't want to do this alone."
Edward looked down at where my hand was nestled in his, and I pulled it away sharply. The hum was still there.
Instead of turning away from me, Edward reached past me and opened the bakery door.
"Ah, you must be my bride and groom-to-be!" a rotund man in a chef's jacket called out. "I am Fernando. I am Master Baker here at Cake Power. I understand from Ms. Rose that you're getting married in May?"
"Yes, the 28th."
"I've already checked, and that is no problem, especially for the bride of Mr. Hale."
"Oh, he isn't…"
Obviously Fernando knew the Hale name but had never met Jasper.
"No, he's right, Bella, Mr. Hale's bride should have the best." Edward's gaze was earnest.
Fernando looked over to Edward and winked.
"So, do you have any ideas on what you would like?"
"You don't know what you want for a cake?" His face was a picture of disbelief.
I hung my head in embarrassment. I was never one of those girls who had planned their wedding from childhood. There was never any playing dress-up bride, and Rose was never my groom. I'd never compiled a wedding binder. My mother was flighty at best, and she stressed that she married my dad only because she fell pregnant with me and was way too young. She would tell me time and time again that she would never make the same mistake again, never be tied down and constricted by life. Was I making a mistake with marriage? Was I my mother, just a couple of years older?
"Bella is calm and uncomplicated. She cares for others before herself and is selfless to a point, but underneath her calm exterior is a woman with a temper and stubbornness that drives you nuts."
His hands were clenched on the table-top like he was wringing my neck. I swallowed deeply at the thought if his hands on me.
"She could argue that black was white if she believed it enough." He chuckled. "Trust me, we've had many a verbal sparring match."
"Hey, that's not fair!"
"She looks most beautiful in plaid and jeans, shouting at the screen when football is on."
Realization dawned on me. He saw me—me—the me no one else could see. The real me.
"When she walks into a room, her presence brightens every corner. She is the only thing I see. Even in a crowd of people, I can pick her out. And when I do, I could watch her for hours without her realizing it because she never thinks that anyone notices her."
I watched him, stunned.
What. The. Fuck.
Who was this man? This was not the Edward Cullen I knew. Where was the cocky, self-assured asshole that drove me insane and bated me into arguments?
"So, a cake to match the bride, no? I see, I see," prattled the baker. "Do you have a picture of the dress?"
I looked anywhere but at the baker. I really was shit at this whole wedding thing.
"No dress?" God, even the baker sounded despondent. "Color scheme?"
This one I could answer, even if I hadn't told anyone else yet.
"French lavender, white, and grey."
I was so pleased with myself when the baker's eyes lit up and he muttered, "Pretty."
"Why don't you and your fellow look at these books, wander around the bakery, and see what inspires you."
My head nodded like a bobble-head toy. I would agree to anything just to get away from the disappointed baker.
Edward shadowed me as we walked. I didn't even need to know where he was physically; I could just feel him. He would move one way and I would move the opposite direction. Our distance was kept, but we orbited around each other as we explored the bakery.
My nerves were frazzled; I was on edge and anxious. The hairs on the back of my neck rose when he came near and calmed as he walked on by along the row of display cases. The rational, sensible part of me urged me to sit at the table across the room and look at the damn books, to stay as far away from Edward Cullen as I could. My more emotional side, however, told my rational side to take a hike, and that it was running the show now.
I was so distracted. I kept staring at the same cake for over ten minutes.
"I don't think you want a My Little Pony cake for your big day. It will never feed five hundred people."
My breath hitched at his soft velvet tones and the warmth of his breath as it skirted across my neck. His body was so close that I could smell him, all earth and rainy days under a blanket, comfort and home. I closed my eyes against the sensation of having him so near. His pinky brushed mine, and my rational side finally got its act together.
I spun away.
"Edward," I breathed out.
He moved away from me to look at the toppers. Edward was right, though, My Little Pony certainly wasn't going to cut it.
"Hey, Bella, look at this one."
And, just like that, the moment was broken and we were back to being frenemies.
I wandered over, trying to keep a distance, and Edward took a step backwards. I smiled to myself; he was feeling this just as much as I was. The topper was about four inches high and a little more traditional than the pink pony…but not much more so.
The topper was of a bride in a conventional white dress dragging the groom behind her by his tux collar. There was even a ball and chain around his ankle.
"Have you forgotten who I am marrying, the family I am marrying into? I may have known the Hales my whole life, Edward, but I haven't forgotten for a minute who they are. If anything, this topper is the wrong way around, and Alice Brandon is my ball and chain."
I watched Edward's reflection in the glass. He winced when I mentioned Alice.
"Bella, I can never forget who you are marrying. He's my best friend."
His voice was so sad. I felt his pain in my heart.
"Ah, there is the lucky couple! Do you see anything you like?"
"I…" My voice failed me as I tried to quash the pain deep down inside of me. "I…um…I like the topsy-turvy cake. It's different."
"Unusual, yes, but doable. You like the topper?"
"NO!" we both shouted.
"No topper." He held his hands up in defense. "Why don't you go join Michel; he will be conducting your tasting. This is always the favorite part, no?"
Every bite of cake I put in my mouth tasted like sawdust. Edward pushed pieces around his plate with a dainty fork. Normally this was something I would be enthusiastic about, given my love of baking, but I could only keep my eyes on the white tablecloth. Even Michel had stopped trying to engage my opinions.
"So, those were all our flavors. Any favorites?" Michel asked in a heavy French accent.
My brain was mulch, with more thoughts than I could handle. I couldn't even remember what I tasted.
"Your favorite is the Chocolate Whisper, right?"
I nodded my head.
"And Jas—I mean, I prefer a fruity cake, so how about a bottom or spare layer for me in Raspberry Truffle?" Edward asked.
"How about I do alternative layers?"
"Perfect. Is that okay, Bella?"
I was stunned into silence. Edward and I had barely been able to converse without sniping at each other or trading sarcastic barbs. I had always seen him as Jasper's best friend who borderline hated me for barging into their lives. I thought he begrudged me the time I spent with Jasper because our bond was deeper than theirs.
Regardless of what I thought, I realized now that he saweverything; the little details that no one else saw. I bet I could ask Jasper what my favorite cake was and he wouldn't know. I was so fucking confused right now. My world was tilting on its axis, and nothing was the same anymore.
"So, I'll draw up the cake and send you the design. We can change anything you want, and then—boom!—we'll make the most amazing cake for the most beautiful couple, no?"
Michel showed us out, and the awkwardness settled around us once again.
Edward shifted from one foot to the other, wringing his hands. Every time he moved towards me, I shifted back, maintaining the distance between us.
"So…um…" I began.
"I want a truce, Bella. You're," he tugged his hands through his hair, "you're a huge part of Jay's life, and it would be easier all around if we tried to get along."
This day was turning into a complete head fuck.
"A truce? Oh, okay. A truce is good. You know, I never wanted to come between you and Jay. I'm not insecure enough to want him all to myself."
"It was never that, Bella. You never come between us. Well, except when Jay tells me to stop being such a douche to you."
That brought me up me short. Then why the fuck had he acted like an ass for the last two years? He seemed in no mood to explain himself right now, though.
"Oh, well, good, because God knows what would happen to you three if some girl forced a break-up of your bromance."
"You're not just some girl, Bella." His voice was almost wistful. "So, friends?"
Friends. With Edward Cullen. Who would have thought? And why didn't it feel like enough?
I stuck my hand out, but he moved towards me with his arms stretched out to hug me.
He drew back to offer his hand, but I was already moving in to hug him.
I grabbed his hand and pumped it once before dropping it like I had been burnt.
Friends with Edward Cullen. I was fucked now.
x-x-x-xIt had been about a month since Edward and I had called a truce the UN would be proud of. To my surprise, we actually made a real go of it. We were still sarcastic, and we pulled no punches, but it was all banter and friendly piss-taking. Despite all my reservations, we were friends. Well, if friends meant that our banter often descended into blatant flirting and innuendoes. The grazing touches didn't stop, but they were innocent enough. Or so I told myself. Even the brush of a finger over the back of my hand was sensual to me.
I justified it by telling myself it was because Jasper was spending more time away from home. He left the house before I rose and was home long after I went to bed. We hadn't had sex in over six months. I told myself that my attraction to Edward was the reason why someone strays from home: I was lonely, I felt forgotten, and I just wanted someone to see me. However, deep down I knew the truth; I was falling for Edward, and falling hard. Which was why I was sitting in a bar with Edward. Emmett was playing pool out back with one of his work colleagues. Jasper was working late, again. No big surprise there. I had come straight from work to the bar after deciding I didn't even want to step foot in our empty apartment just yet.
"Drink?" Edward offered.
"Yeah, only the one though. I haven't eaten, and I have an early start tomorrow."
"Wow, Bella, getting all hard core." I threw him a withering look. "Fine, fine, just one. Better make it a good one."
"Trust me, Cullen, I know how to pick a good one."
"I bet you do."
"I'll have a Maker's Mark on the rocks, please," I answered, ignoring his comment.
Edward seemed impressed, and he ordered one for each of us. We sipped, chatting over the inconsequential crap of our lives and ignoring the elephant on the stool beside us. Whenever we were around each other, the air was thick with tension and unacknowledged lust.
The liquor felt warm stirring in my stomach, but still I couldn't relax. Something was different tonight, and it was putting me on edge.
"It's been so long since I've had Maker's that I forgot how good it tastes." Edward smacked his lips in appreciation. "I must admit, Bella, I'm impressed. A girl ordering good bourbon, and taking it neat as well? You're full of surprises."
Edward threw me a cocky smile that oozed sex. We had flirted in the past, but this was him making a boldfaced move.
"It shouldn't be that surprising. I'm not exactly a white wine spritzer kind of girl."
"And that's what I love about you."
I coughed and spluttered as my drink went down the wrong tube. Fuck, it burned.
"So, why Maker's?"
Oh, we were playing that game, were we? I could play it, too.
"It's like honey and fire in a glass. At first taste," I put my lips to the glass and took a sip, my eyes never leaving his, "the sweet tones warm you from within, dancing on your taste buds. Then, as you swallow," I swallowed deep and sat the glass on the bar top, "it slides down smooth. And just when you think the party is over, you feel it. The burn on your tongue takes your breath away, leaving you gasping for your next hit."
I smiled to myself. Bella one, Edward zero. He was probably as hard as steel and couldn't do anything about it.
"Got to love hard liquor." I mock toasted him with a coy smile. I was in this to win.
His eyes flashed and then darkened. Edward moved in close, skimming his nose over my cheek. "I bet there is a lot of things you like hard, Bella."
Fuck! Fuckity fuck!
He knew exactly what he was doing. I shouldn't be doing this. This wasn't right.
I stumbled from my stool, grabbed my purse, and managed to make my way to the bathroom, pushing through the busy after-work crowd.
I threw the toilet seat lid down and sat on it. Deep, controlled breathing helped calm my racing heart but not the rampant thoughts in my head. I needed to get the fuck out of here before I did something I would regret. My self-control was fading faster than I could say no.
I fought my way out of the bathroom, past the gaggle of lipstick-reapplying girls. I was nearly home free. I could see the exit, but just then someone grabbed me and pulled me into a dark side room, pinning me to the wall.
"What the fuck?" I yelled.
His deep voice, gravelly from the bourbon, filled the air, and the noise of the bar faded away.
"Why did you run, Bella? Haven't we played this game enough? I see you everywhere I turn. I've called out to brown-haired girls on the street, but they're not you. Jesus, Bella, you haunt my dreams. I wake up so fucking hard it hurts. I've tried to fuck it out of me, but it seems you've stolen my mojo. You've ruined me."
He leaned closer. I could feel every inch of him against me. Every inch. Closer he came, until I could feel the beating of his heart. An inch closer and we would taste each other's lips. This wasn't who I was; I wasn't a cheater, though I had already cheated in the worst possible way. I had given my heart away to someone who didn't want it.
I reveled in the feel of his touch. It felt comforting, new, and right. I clung unapologetically to this human contact. At the last moment, I turned my head to the side, and his lips brushed my cheek.
"Edward, please." I begged.
And then I was free. I knew if I looked at Edward, I would be a goner. Eyes to the floor, I ran.
x-x-x-xThe apartment might be empty, but at the moment it was as close to a sanctuary as I was going to find in Seattle.
As soon as I opened the door, I knew something was wrong. I could hear voices, a man's and a woman's. It was Jasper, and I had a sinking feeling I knew who the girl was. The problem was, Jasper had told me he was working, which means he'd lied. I made my way towards the living room. Jasper was sitting on the sofa, and two wine glasses sat on the coffee table. The tinkling laugh of Alice Brandon made my blood boil.
"I didn't know we were having guests over," I muttered sarcastically.
If my emotions weren't all over the place, I would have noticed the high heels by the door and the petite coat hanging on the coat stand.
Jasper sprang up, and his scotch slopped out of the glass as he thumped it down on the table. Alice froze, her eyes wide with surprise.
"I thought you were out tonight."
"Yeah, well, I thought you were in the office, but I guess neither of us are where we are supposed to be." I paused. What right did I have to play the victim after what just happened with Edward and the feelings I have for him? "What's going on?"
"Um…Alice…I was at…"
My gut instinct was right. Something was rotten in the state of Denmark.
"I just stopped by with some papers for Jay."
Her use of his nickname irked me. She was an employee. What was worse was there were no papers lying around.
"Jasper, Alice works for your father, not you. And second, where are the papers?"
You didn't need a dictionary to read their faces.
"I think I should go," Alice muttered, getting up from the couch.
I didn't miss the discrete clasp of her hand on Jasper's arm before she walked passed me. I kept my focus on Jasper as I listened to the apartment door close behind us.
"Bella, it isn't want it looks like," Jasper pleaded with me.
My anger was back, growing with the obvious lie.
"Really? Pray, do tell, why else would Alice be over here at," I checked my watch, "nine in the evening when you said that you were in the office? Working too hard to join your friends for an after work drink, Jay?"
"I told you—"
"Don't lie to me, Jasper. We've never lied to each other, and we shouldn't start now."
He slumped back on the sofa, and I had my answer.
I spun around and grabbed my car keys. I needed to be anywhere but here, so for the second time that night, I ran.
x-x-x-xI didn't know where I was headed, but as soon as I saw the sign for Port Angeles, I knew. I wanted to go home. I wanted my dad and the kind of comfort that only a parent could give.
The car spluttered before coming to a stop. I managed to steer it to the side of the road before the momentum gave out.
I slammed my hands down on the wheel. I had been so mad at Jasper that I forgot that I hadn't filled the car after work. My mind was so distracted lately that if it wasn't on a list, I stood no chance of remembering anything. Wedding lists, guest lists, seating plans… Too many lists.
I watched the wipers beat across my windshield for a minute as I tried to quell the tears of frustration that burned in my throat. This was the straw that broke the camel's back. Jasper's distance from me, his lack of care over the wedding, my confusion over Edward… It was all too much.
The tears fell, and I made no effort to brush them away. My life was falling apart, and I had no clue what to do anymore. As much as I was angry with Jasper, it wasn't his fault. We both were to blame.
I pulled myself together enough to call someone. For once my luck was going my way; I still had reception.
Even though we had fought, I called Jasper, but it went straight to voicemail. I had only left him an hour ago, so why was his phone off?
Rosalie was out of town, so she was a no go. It pained me, but I was running out of options. I selected the name from my contacts list.
"Hello, this is Alice Brandon. Sorry I can't take your call at the moment. Please leave your name, number, and a short message, and I will get back to you as soon as I can."
What the hell? Alice never turned her phone off! It was practically surgically attached to her ear.
That left me only one option, as there was no way I was going to ask my dad to drive three hours to come get me.
I dialed and crossed my fingers.
"Hello, Edward." God, my voice sounded rough. "I didn't want to disturb you, but you're my last hope."
"What's going on? Are you okay, Bella?" His voice was panicked.
"I'm fine, I think. I've run out of gas on the 101. Rosalie is out of town, and I've tried Jasper and Alice, but their phones are off."
"Where are you?"
"I'm about an hour along the 101, heading toward Port Angeles. There's no traffic, and I'm scared."
"What the hell are you doing all the way out there?" His voice was still panicky, but I could hear anger seeping in.
"I was heading to Forks, and I hadn't filled up in a while. I forgot to do it today."
"For fuck's sake, Bella, why were you heading to Forks at ten at night? And of all the irresponsible things, not checking for gas! You could have got stuck without reception, or a car could have hit you…"
I drew the phone away from my ear. Edward was apparently on a roll. I knew he was right, and that made me feel like I was a child again.
"Look, Edward, I didn't call for a lecture. I called to see if you could help me out. The rain is pissing down, and you obviously don't want to, so I'll just call my dad to come get me."
"Don't be stupid, Bella, Forks is hours away. Of course I'll come out with gas. Just stay where you are."
"I don't have gas, Edward, so I can't go anywhere, duh!"
Wow, his lecturing me really had brought out my inner child.
"Well, then, stay in the car, lock the doors, and I will be there as soon as I can."
I relaxed a little. Help was on the way, but it was still dark and I was parked next to a forest. The trees were creaking in the wind and rain. I turned the ignition on to activate the air and turned it to hot. My temperature gauge was showing forty-one degrees. I quickly turned the air off. Without the engine on, it was just blowing cold air from outside. Still, I kept the ignition on, and the music from the CD player kept me company.
Here it comes, ready or not
We both found out it's not how we thought
That it would be
How it would be
If the time could turn us around
What was once lost may be found
For you and me
For you and me
I thought over the argument I had with Jasper. It had been building for weeks. I thought we had sorted things out after I found Jasper drinking scotch by himself. We seemed to be back on track. Jasper started showing some enthusiasm about the wedding, but then he didn't show up for the cake tasting, and I let it go with the flimsiest of excuses. I sat through engagement photos, and the interviews for a wedding planner. All Jasper had to do was add a couple of names to the guest list of people he wanted to invite, and he didn't even want to do that. He claimed work was kicking his ass, but I had called him a couple of times when he was meant to be working late, and the phone just rang and rang.
My own feelings weren't helping any. I felt alone and isolated. Jasper was apparently working more, and Rosalie was never available anymore. Emmett wasn't around as much either. I figured that maybe they had rekindled there on-again, off-again romance and just weren't telling anyone. As a result, I had been spending more time with Edward. I liked his friendship. I loved the way he made me feel wanted and not so lonely. I loved the way his phone calls made me smile, and how he would go out of his way to meet me for coffee during lunch breaks. Jasper and Edward worked for the same company, but in all our years together, Jasper had never made the effort to meet me during work hours.
The feelings I had for Edward were wrong, but I just couldn't stop them. It had crossed my mind more than once that I was only developing feelings for Edward because things were so crappy between Jasper and me. The more I thought about it the more I realized it wasn't true. It couldn't be. I had always been attracted to Edward., but his attitude towards me from the start, and then Jasper and I started dating showed he couldn't possibly feel the same. I chalked my feelings up to purely physical attraction and hoped it would pass. My love for Jasper had been stronger than the base attraction I had for Edward and his sometimes shitty attitude.
Headlights flashed from behind me, and I turned in my seat, watching as Edward's Volvo came to a stop. I opened my door and stepped out into the cold rain.
"Goddamn it, Bella, I told you to stay in the car."
"I knew it was you. Who else would drive a Volvo and come bail me out?"
He rolled his eyes and stomped to the back of his car to pop the trunk. My hair, wet and clinging to my face, fell into my eyes. Drop by drop, I felt the rain seep into my clothes. I couldn't feel the cold from the December rain as I watched Edward's harsh, angry movements in pulling a gas tank from his trunk. His eyes blazed as they caught in the headlights.
He wasn't just angry with me; he was furious.
Muscles moved and rippled under his soaked through shirt. It looked as if he had left the house in nothing more than a button-down and jeans. Even his socks were missing.
"Don't, Bella," he ground out.
I shrunk back and listened to the Lifehouse song that could still be heard playing inside the car.
I was only looking for a shortcut home
But it's complicated, so complicated
It was beyond complicated; it was convoluted and muddled. In the span of three months, Edward had turned my life upside down and inside out. Nothing was clear anymore. At night, I would lie in bed, waiting for Jasper to get home, and I would think of the tangled mess my life had become. I was long past the stage of denial; I was in love with Edward Cullen, and I had no idea if he felt the same for me. I loved Jasper, too, but I loved him like my best friend. He was in my heart, but he didn't cause it to skip beats when he was near. I loved him for the sunny days and big brother hugs of our childhood, for my history with his family and the way I knew he would always be there for me. When Jasper asked me to marry him, I had been so in love with him, and I was joining the Hale clan. Rose would be my sister by name not by some infantile blood bond forged over pushing cut fingers together. But I couldn't marry him now; I couldn't cheat us both out of the lives we could find with others.
Edward emptied the gas into my car and screwed the lid back on. His body was tense, his every movement controlled. If he let it go, even for a second, I would lose it. I had caused this, and I didn't understand why.
"Edward, I'm sorr—"
"I swear to God, Bella, if the next word out of your mouth is sorry, I'm gonna lose my shit."
Well, what else could I say? I didn't mean to drag you out here because of my blonde moment? I'm sorry I let you kiss me? I'm sorry I walked away? I was sorry for so much; he had to know that."
Edward closed his eyes and shook his head. Picking up the gas can, he stalked back towards his car. Suddenly, he stopped halfway and put the can down before turning back towards me.
I watched him through the pouring rain, his body wavering; would he stay or would he go?
"Do you even know how stupid you've been?" His voice was haggard and pained. He was livid.
"Look, it's been a stressful week. Sorry if my brain wasn't on gas-top-up monitoring," I muttered sarcastically. "I've got a lot on my mind."
Obviously, that was the wrong thing to say. A couple of long, quick steps and he was in front of me, his brow furrowed, his hands clasped in his hair.
"Jesus, Bella, anything could have happened to you out here. What if someone had stopped and the last thing they wanted to do was help you? What if I hadn't picked up the phone, or had been drinking and couldn't pick you up? Fuck, do you have no sense of self-preservation?"
He wasn't angry anymore; anxiety was written all over his beautiful face.
"You know, for someone who hates me, you seem to give an awfully big damn about me. You didn't even stop to put socks on before coming to my rescue. Desperate to play the white knight, huh?"
I was goading him. Beyond frustrated, and desperate to find some sense of stability in my world, I was pushing him to his breaking point.
Time to fight or flight, Edward.
I found myself being stalked, taking steps backward until I felt my back against the car. The cold metal cooled my wet clothes. It was a relief from my anger-heated body.
"These clothes were the only ones I hadn't packed."
What the fuck was going on?
"Packed? What do you mean packed? You're going on a business trip?"
He laughed sardonically. "No, Bella, I'm leaving permanently."
He took a step away from me, and I leaned toward him.
He was leaving? No, he couldn't be leaving.
What about his job? What about me?
"I can't do it anymore. I can't be here every day, watching."
"You're making no sense, Edward. You can't just leave. What about your life here?" What about me?
"What life? I have no life here anymore, only heartache, and I can't do it anymore."
My breath hitched. "Someone broke your heart?"
"She's everywhere. I can't escape her. She fills every corner of my life, and the torture of it is killing me. She's marrying my best friend, and I'll be damned if I stand back and just watch as she does it."
Best friend? But his best friend is Jasper…
Before I could blink, Edward was beside me, his hands caging me against the car. No escape. But there was no use escaping if youwanted to be there. He was so close that I could see drops of rain sitting on his lashes.
I held my as he leaned in close, fitting against me from pelvis to chest. Our clothes were so thin and wet that I could feel his every breath pushing his chest against mine. Skin against skin, his nose brushed over my cheek, and I felt his hot breath against the shell of my ear.
"I love you, Bella Swan. I've loved you from the moment I watched you walk in that coffee shop. Your cheeks were flushed from the fall chill, and you were wearing that ridiculous, thick scarf, with all the colors of the rainbow in it. The barista tried to flirt with you when you ordered your coffee, but you didn't notice. I left a half-full latte on the table to join the sales line just so I could be near you and maybe chat you up. By the time I got through with the guy at the till, you had vanished. Then I found you again…in Jasper's arms. God, Bella, it was like the bottom of my world dropped out."
His voice was low, his emotions cracking through at the end.
"But you hated me! You looked at me like I was something you picked off your shoe."
Edward's hands dropped from the car to my hips, his thumbs caressing me in small circles. It was distracting, more so than his voice. I noticed it stopped raining.
"I could never hate you, Bella. I was so…disappointed that Jasper got to you first."
"Edward, I wasn't some prize to be claimed."
"I know that, but I couldn't stop thinking about you. The draw to you was incredible. I could feel you whenever you were around even if I couldn't see you. I thought about you when you weren't there, watched you when you were. You drove me half mad."
"I had no idea."
I took his face in my hands, pulling him away from my ear. I needed to see him. Tears were falling down his face. How pained this man must have been all this time! What had I done to him? How had I not seen this?
"Of course you didn't. On the way home, Jasper went on and on about your childhood, his crush on you in middle school, and how hot you had turned out. There was no way I could compete. And it wasn't high school anymore. I couldn't yell, 'I saw her first'."
"Edward, I'm so sorry. I never…I just—"
"I can't do it anymore, Bella. I can't stay here and watch you marry him. I deserve a chance at happiness, too. There may not be anyone else out there for me; you may have ruined me, but I owe it to myself to try."
"That's why you're leaving?"
He tried to pull his gaze from mine.
"I can't, Bella."
Fat, silent tears fell down both our cheeks.
"Stay. For me."
"What about Jasper?"
My heart broke. Someone was going to get hurt, and things would never be the same again.
"There is no me and Jasper. We haven't been us since before his proposal."
"Then why did you say yes? You could have gotten out. We could have—"
"You have to understand, I have known the Hales most of my life. I have always been part of their family. Jasper and I were having problems before, and he proposed to try to fix them, I guess. It was always expected that we would marry, and Rosalie wanted a sister. I wanted the extended family I've never really had. It was natural for me to say yes. I love Jasper, Edward. I'm just not in love with him anymore. I haven't been for a long time."
"What about us?"
And with that question, my mind was clear and focused for the first time in such a long time. I knew what I wanted. It was time to take my head out of the sand and grow a pair, figuratively.
"I want to try an us. But first, I need to talk to Jasper. I can't think about you and me until I sort things out with Jasper. I owe him that, and so much more. Will you follow me back to Seattle?"
"Anywhere you want me to go."
"I'll talk to Jasper and then come over to your apartment?"
He nodded. "I love you, Bella."
"I love you too, Edward."
I pulled his lips to was the kind of kiss I'd been dreaming about my whole life. I could feel everything: his love; his lust; the promise of more; hope for a future. It was all softness and home.
As I pulled out onto the highway, my shoulders felt light. And even soaked to the bone, I felt happy. When my thoughts turned to Jasper, the road didn't seem long enough. I was about to hurt one of my oldest and closest friends.
x-x-x-xEdward's car left me as I pulled into the underground parking lot at the condo. What was usually the slowest elevator in the world zipped up to our floor. My hands clenched and unclenched as I tried to control the nervous shaking of my body.
My keys rattled in my hand as I tried to get them in the lock. Finally, I got it in and turned it to open the door.
It was dark inside; only the lights in the kitchen created shadows across the room. The scene was eerily familiar—even more so when I spotted Jasper on the sofa and the glasses and bottle of scotch still sitting across from him. His suit jacket was rumpled, and his tie hung undone and loose around his neck. He looked like hell.
"Jasper," I whispered into the dark.
He turned sorrowful eyes on me. He looked broken and torn. Jasper took in my appearance, startled.
"What happened to you?"
He got up and walked towards me. I waved off his hands. If he touched me, the guilt would break me.
"It's raining. I got caught in the downpour." It was a lie; the truth would come out later. Right now I needed something simple to stay on point.
"Here, sit by the fire and I'll get you a robe."
I avoided his attempt to direct me, and I sat on the chair closest to the fireplace. The warmth was good, and the shivers subsided, but it couldn't warm me on the inside.
The robe was warm, soft, and comforting as it was slung over my shoulders, which he clasped before moving to sit on the coffee table close-by.
In the firelight, I studied him. There was no sharp ping of desire, no overwhelming passion there. Instead I saw a man who was my best friend in the way no girl could be. What I told Edward was true; I loved Jasper, but only like a friend should.
All the anger, all the feelings of betrayal faded. The torn look on his face said it all.
"God, Bella, this is so fucked up."
Suddenly, I wasn't his fiancée anymore; I was his oldest friend and confidant.
"What's up, Jay?" I saw his hesitation. "Before we were anything else, we were friends, best friends. I'm still your best friend, and you need one right now."
"I've fallen in love with someone else."
And, just like that, I felt the weight lift off the both of us.
"Alice. Why aren't you screaming and throwing things like women are wont to do?"
"We both know that's not my style. Plus, who I am to judge? We've both been absent from this relationship for a while."
"I didn't sleep with her, Bella. I swear to you, I would never do that to you. Alice and I…we just talked. I've been falling apart, and she let me lean on her. She just gets me…" He must have seen the look on my face. "Not that you didn't. She just gets me like no one else could. I've wanted to tell you all along, but I couldn't."
"It's okay, Jasper, it really is. I get it."
He had admitted his betrayal, and I had accepted it. Could he accept my betrayal, too? It was so much worse; it was his best friend.
He took my hand from my lap and held it.
"You've met someone, too?"
I nodded. "Edward," I whispered.
I watched the emotions flit across his face: anger, hurt, relief, and confusion before settling on understanding.
"Who would have thought it? I guess hate really does breed love."
"You're not angry?"
"Oh, I'm angry, but who am I to judge? We've both made mistakes, and we feel just as guilty as the other does. What's the point in lashing out this late in the game?"
Jasper's natural empathy could be frustrating, but for once I was glad of it. We were both hurt and guilty enough without needing to sling mud and play the blame card.
"What are we going to do, Bella?"
My practical side took over, and I gave my constricted heart a rest.
"Tomorrow we'll start phoning people, calling stuff off, and then we'll work everything out. I'm not looking forward to explaining this to everyone."
Jasper reached out and held my chin so I would face him.
"We don't have to explain this to anyone but ourselves. We can just tell people that we aren't in love, but we're still friends. We still want the best for each other."
"Will you be? Will you still be my friend?" I murmured.
"Bella, I will always be your friend. Do you want me to leave?
"No, Jasper, this is your home, too. I'll…I'll take the guest room for a while, until we figure this out. Why don't you call Alice? I'll give you some space after I change my clothes."
"You going to see, Edward?"
"Yeah, I…I need to see him."
I put my arms through the holes in the robe and stood.
"For what it's worth, I do love you."
"I love you too, Jay."
Rose and I walked down the street. The sun was shining and the birds were singing, and I felt like I was in the middle of the Sound of Music, all singing and twirling on the top of a mountain, happy and free. Only I wasn't in the Swiss Alps; I was in downtown Seattle on a Saturday morning having the strangest sense of déjà vu.
I pushed open the door to the exclusive boutique and sighed as the outside noise faded away. The memories of the last time I was here threatened to surface, but I quashed them down. That was then, and this is now.
"Ah, Miss Swan! Welcome back."
"Yep, we're hoping that it is second time lucky."
I nudged Rose with my elbow. "Rosalie," I muttered between clenched teeth.
"It's always going to be too soon with comments like that."
"Come on, B, lighten up a little. Last time we were here you had a hard time finding something, but at least we know why."
"Maybe we should have gone somewhere else." I shuddered at the memory of my mini-breakdown just eight months earlier.
"No way. This place has the best selection for off the rack…considering you guys haven't given us all much notice."
I had to laugh at the veiled disgust on Rosalie's face at the mention of "off the rack". We wanted to get married quickly—in one month, to be precise.
"If you will to follow me, I have some selections based on what you told us you were looking for. I must say, Miss Swan, you gave us a much better idea this time, so I am sure we will find exactly what you are looking for."
"Samantha, please, call me Bella. I think given the fact we both tried this before, we should be on a first name basis. Rose, why don't you grab yourself one glass of champagne, and I will be right back."
As I followed Samantha back to the dressing rooms, I was filled with trepidation; it wasn't a sense of unease like before, but an understanding of the significance of this moment.
I stripped down and redressed in the underwear I had brought with me. Samantha came back in with about four dresses in her arms; the last time there were at least five times as many.
"Wow, you have your underwear already!" Samantha exclaimed.
My hands ran over the silky corset, fingering the suspender straps. I couldn't wait until he unwrapped me and found out what was underneath.
"I know what my man likes. I saw it and just knew."
Catching the glint in Samantha's eyes, the middle-aged woman knew that I was not just talking about the corset.
"It's like a different bride in front of me this time."
"I think it is."
Tears burned in my eyes, and I could see Samantha's turning glassy.
At least I could blame the hormones.
"Let's get started, shall we?"
As the zipper on the first garment bag was pulled down, I got my first glance. Intricate beading and silk covered buttons. My apprehension ebbed away. Just like everything else over the last two month, this felt right. No second-guesses, no wondering why I wasn't like every other bride and ecstatic about picking out a dress or a cake. This was a second chance to get it right.
I stepped into the dress, which now lay open and pooled at my feet. There was a lot of dress; lace and tulle rippled out from the structured bodice.
The silk lining caressed my skin as Samantha pulled the dress up my body. Even before it was fully fastened, it struck me. The dress was beautiful. The silver and pearl beading of on bodice was so detailed, and it caught the light as Samantha pulled at the back to fasten the clamps.
When I first saw the tulle, I was worried. The meringue of my previous attempt at dress hunting came back to haunt me. It wasn't the same; this time the tulle was fine and soft against my palm, flowing with the dress, not filling it out. You could see the lace beneath it, which complimented the subtle lace behind the beading on the bodice.
The color confused me. It wasn't ivory or champagne, and I specifically asked for no white.
"Is this pink?"
"It's ivory with a hint of light rose pink in the lace underneath."
Who would have thought the color I hate so much would be in my wedding dress and look so stunning?
"It's beautiful. Can I go show Rose?"
Rose must have been beside herself waiting for me, or reaching for the scissors should this go the way of our initial visit.
I held the train of the dress as Samantha walked with me. As I stepped up onto the round platform in front of the 180-degree mirror, I smiled.
This was what my husband-to-be was going to see as I walked down the makeshift aisle towards him. My mind automatically went to the picture of him in his wedding tux. Rose has shown me smuggled phone pictures from when the boys had gone to pick out their suits. It would take everything I had in me to not jump him at first sight.
I had forgotten Rose was in the room with me. Silent tears ran down her cheeks as she gave me a watery smile.
"You look so…" Rose let out a sob of happiness.
I had managed to render Rosalie Hale speechless for once. Nice.
"This is it. This is my dress."
"Edward is going to shit his load when he sees you. I think you guys might have to elope after all. There's no way he's going to keep his hands off you during the ceremony, and that is a show the guests don't need."
"The feeling is mutual. That tux has popped up in more than one of my fantasies."
"So, this is it?'
"This is it."
This was the dress I was going to become Mrs. Cullen in.