When Celine Dion’s wail gave Bella confirmation that the receptionist had indeed placed her on hold, she activated her phone’s speaker and stretched out on her bed, knowing from experience it would be a while before her boyfriend answered his office line. Halfway through the song, the music was replaced by a ring. Bella was not at all surprised when she was greeted once again by the receptionist. It was, after all, her fourth unsuccessful attempt at contacting her boyfriend that evening.
“He isn’t answering his line,” the receptionist replied in her nasal voice. “Would you like his voice mail?”
“No, thank you.”
Bella was becoming more frustrated with each passing second. She’d left Emmett two messages already, one on his office line and one on his cell phone. Before she could think better of it, the words rolled off her lips.
“Is Rosalie Hale available?”
“Let me try her extension. One moment, please.”
The woman whom Bella detested more than she could possibly articulate answered on the second ring.
Bella chose to ignore the fact she could hear Emmett talking in the background.
“Hi, Rose. It’s Bella. I’ve been trying to get in touch with Emmett all day. You wouldn’t happen to know where I could find him, would you?”
“I’m so sorry, Bella, but I haven’t seen him all afternoon.”
The moment Rose uttered Bella’s name, all noise from her office ceased.
“Well, if you see him, could you tell him I’m trying to get in touch with him?”
“I’ll tell him if I see him.”
As always, Bella was amazed by the ease with which Rose lied to her.
“Thank you, Rose.”
“No problem. Bye.”
Bella had no sooner ended the call, when her phone began ringing with a call from Emmett’s cell.
“I’ve been trying to get hold of you for an hour now.”
“Tied up in meetings. You wouldn’t believe how crazy things are over here. What do you need?”
He sounded annoyed by Bella’s interruption and not at all contrite that he’d forgotten their plans.
“It’s our six-month anniversary, remember? We had plans for tonight that technically began forty-five minutes ago.”
“Shit, Bella, I’m sorry. Rose and I have a presentation to do tomorrow and we’re nowhere near ready. It’s going to be another late night.”
Emmett frequently blew off plans with Bella due to unforeseen work emergencies, but she never thought he would do so on such an important night.
“I just wish you’d told me sooner. I’ve been waiting for you for almost an hour. Had I known you wouldn’t make it, I could have called a girlfriend and kept our reservation at Le Bec. I was really looking forward to it.”
“Is that what this is about?” He started to laugh. “You can go out to eat by yourself, you know.”
“That’s not the problem, and you know it. Tonight was supposed to be special. I realize that working late is sometimes unavoidable, but waiting until now to cancel is fucking inconsiderate.”
“I’m sorry, Bella. I honestly didn’t have time to call you until now. Sometimes things just come up…”
Bella was angry that Emmett said this like it was something she didn’t already know. The fact was, things came up more often than not. She opened her mouth to respond, but instead bit her lip and sighed. Unwilling to risk saying something she’d regret, she chose to say nothing at all.
“Look, I don’t have time for this. I’ll call you tomorrow. Try to have fun without me.”
The line went dead before Bella could reply, and within seconds her disappointment morphed into anger. She threw her phone down onto her bed and pulled a barely there black dress out of her closet. She would take Emmett’s advice, but with a slight modification. Bella had no intention of trying to enjoy her night out alone. She was planning to succeed.
It was too late to go to Le Bec Fin, but that was fine with her. Bella had no desire to have a quiet, romantic dinner alone. However, beer and noise appealed to her greatly, and after she walked out of her apartment building, she headed to Monk’s. She had no sooner settled onto a bar stool and ordered herself a Chimay when she heard a familiar voice behind her.
“Shouldn’t you be outside wasting Marlboros? Never mind, Emmett’s working late. There’s no need for your ruse.”
Bella turned to find Edward standing behind her, wearing a gray suit that appeared to be bespoke. His tie was loosened and the top of his shirt was unbuttoned, indicating that his workday was over. She wanted to know if he’d had plans with Rose that she’d canceled last minute, and if he hated Rose’s long hours as much as she hated Emmett’s.
Edward smiled at her, and Bella wondered why she was wasting time thinking about Emmett and Rose when Edward was standing close enough to her that she could touch him, something that in rare moments of complete honesty with herself, she acknowledged she very much wanted to do.
“It’s more about his coworkers than him, you know.” Bella patted the stool next to her.
“Oh, you mean like my fiancée?” he joked as he took a seat.
Bella wondered if he was partially serious, and if he knew the extent of her dislike for Rose.
“Is she on her way? Shit, I think I need a cigarette.”
Edward knew Bella was kidding, but there was an edge to her voice he couldn’t ignore.
“Why do you dislike her?” he asked.
“Is that a serious question? I mean, we’re talking about Rose.”
Edward looked surprised, and Bella realized she had just insulted the woman he was planning to marry.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to speak disparagingly about your girlfriend. I’ve only ever interacted with her at work functions. In all fairness to her, it’s mostly jealousy on my part. She gets to spend far more time with Emmett than I do, and I’m bitter about that. Take tonight, for example. It’s my and Em’s six-month anniversary. Rose is with him. Meanwhile, I’m sitting alone at a bar drowning my sorrows in triple-fermented Belgian beer. So you see, it’s nothing against her personally. I’m sure she’s lovely in social settings.”
Edward looked at her through narrowed eyes. “Am I so dull I don’t count?”
“You said you were alone at a bar and technically, you’re not. I did come over and join you.”
It hadn’t occurred to Bella that Edward was planning on lingering any longer than his acknowledgment of her (which she perceived as obligatory) required.
She felt simultaneously relieved that he wasn’t planning to leave any time soon and guilty for how excited this revelation made her. The latter soon began to eclipse the former, and even though it was the last thing she wanted, she felt compelled to offer him an out.
“Though I appreciate the gesture, you’re under no obligation to spend the next few hours sitting at the bar with me.”
“Good to know.”
Edward slid off his stool and walked away, leaving Bella wondering how she could have felt so drawn to someone who couldn’t wait to get away from her. Moments later, he reappeared and gestured for her to follow him.
“I actually hate sitting at bars, so I got us a table. It will be easier to hear each other that way.”
Edward led Bella to a booth, where they sat down and ordered dinner. She knew she shouldn’t feel like she was on a date, but for some reason unknown to her she did. She shook her head in slight confusion, a motion which did not escape Edward.
“What?” he asked, smiling.
“I just realized how little I know about you. Last week at happy hour, we didn’t really talk.”
Edward laughed. “I’m not all that interesting, but feel free to ask me whatever you’d like.”
Bella wanted to know everything, but didn’t want to scare him. She decided to start with the basics.
“What’s your full name?”
“Edward Anthony Masen Cullen.”
“Is that three first names or two last names?”
“Two last names and one very long story,” he explained.
“I have time.”
Bella was mortified by her own enthusiasm.
“My maternal aunt and her husband adopted me when I was eight and out of respect for them, I added their last name.”
“That wasn’t a long story.”
“No, I suppose it wasn’t.” He shrugged.
“What happened to your parents?”
“They died in a car accident.”
“I’m sorry.” Bella had no way of knowing the answer to her seemingly harmless question would be so tragic, but she felt awful regardless.
“It’s okay. You didn’t know.”
Edward offered her a sincere smile, and she was able to relax. After he took a sip of his beer, he pressed her to continue.
“Your turn. Full name, please.”
“Isabella Marie Swan.” She rolled her eyes. “My middle name is boring, but my parents more than made up for that with the unfortunate combination of my first and last names.”
“It isn’t that bad,” Edward insisted. “If it makes you feel better, I know a man named Dick Seaman.”
Bella couldn’t contain her laughter. “Okay, he wins. Seriously, I know it could be worse but I was harassed quite a bit for it when I was a kid.”
“Kids will make fun of anyone for anything.”
“True.” Bella nervously twirled her napkin around her finger in her lap. “But when your name means beautiful swan and you are neither pretty nor graceful, bullies don’t need to look too hard for material.”
Edward studied the woman across from him. She was pale and lovely, with full lips, thick shoulder-length brown hair and huge dark eyes. He had a hard time imagining what she looked like during the awkward years of adolescence, but her actual appearance didn’t matter to him as much as the idea that she’d apparently allowed the cruelty of other children to affect her self-image.
“Would it make you feel better if I told you I was a high school band geek?”
Bella perked up, her curiosity immediately piqued. “Were you?”
“No,” he admitted.
“I hate you.”
“You love me.”
Bella didn’t love Edward, and the fact that she hardly knew him made his statement so preposterous it could only be a joke. Still, she felt drawn to him, and in the few days she’d been aware of his existence, found herself daydreaming about him more often than she cared to admit. For this reason alone, Bella corrected him.
“I love Emmett, and you love Rose.”
There was an awkward silence, during which Edward’s mind wandered back to Rose and how he could feel more at ease with this virtual stranger he’d known only five days than he did with Rose, with whom he’d been in a committed relationship for nearly five years.
Eventually, their easy banter resumed. By the end of the evening, they’d covered most of the basics:
Edward was an engineer-turned-attorney who now worked in patent law, and Bella was a pediatric nurse practitioner. He lived with Rose in Olde City. Bella lived alone on Rittenhouse Square. He was a classically trained pianist, and she could kind of carry a tune, but only when drinking. They both thought Coldplay was overrated, SEPTA was inefficient, and that the Phillies would have a hard time beating the Dodgers in the NLCS unless their bullpen improved. They were both initially disappointed they would not be seeing their significant others that evening, but they agreed the night turned out far better than either of them could have hoped.
Edward insisted on walking Bella back to her apartment building, where they exchanged business cards and cell phone numbers. They parted ways with an awkward handshake, both wanting to express affection but unsure of what was appropriate.
As Bella’s head touched her pillow, she realized that she enjoyed Edward’s company too much to worry if his motives were pure, and acknowledged a small part of her wished they weren’t.
Across town, Edward climbed into his empty bed and quickly fell asleep. He spent the next six hours dreaming about sex with Bella. When he awoke alone (and under a tent) he was overwhelmingly disappointed that his dreams would never become reality.
It wasn’t until he got in the shower that he realized this bothered him more than the fact Rose had stayed at work all night. The moment he woke up, he should have called Rose to make sure she was okay. He should have felt guilty that while she was slaving at the office, he was out with another woman. He should have known better.
He closed his eyes and wrapped his hand around his cock, allowing his mind to focus on something else he should know but probably never would.
How it would feel to come inside Bella.