I had a great time last night. Call me whenever you want.
It was polite and succinct, and she knew she should take it at face value. Still, as she stared at it for the sixth time in as many hours, she wondered if there was more to it than that. Had she received the same message from a man who was not engaged to be married, she would have interpreted it as an expression of romantic interest. The elevator doors opened and she hurried down the hall to her apartment, expecting that she would spend the rest of the evening pondering Edward’s intentions.
What she didn’t expect was to find Emmett leaning against the door to her apartment, his arms full of orange roses. He gave her his trademark smile, a facial expression which in the past could make her forget her own name. In this instance, he was simply hoping she would forget she was angry with him. For the first time ever, Emmett’s smile failed him.
It wasn’t the greeting he had hoped for, but it was a start.
“I’m sorry, Bella.”
Bella could tell his apology was sincere and as she pressed her key into the lock, her demeanor softened. Even so, Bella knew all too well that regret, even when genuine, is meaningless without a determination to change.
“That’s not enough anymore.” She pushed the door open, and he followed her inside her apartment. She took off her coat and shoes, going about her evening routine as if Emmett weren’t there. Undeterred by his chilly reception, he continued to speak.
“I fucked up, and I know it. I’m not going to make excuses for myself, because there is no excuse.”
Emmett followed Bella into her kitchen. She flicked on the light before turning to him, flailing her arms in frustration.
“Why are you even with me?”
“You know why.” His voice was barely audible.
“I meant still.” She turned away from him and leaned on the counter. “Why are you with me still?”
“I love you,” he answered automatically, before realizing that Bella was not simply fishing for reassurance. “Wait, are you saying you have doubts?” He placed the roses on the counter and nudged Bella to face him, but she continued to stare at the floor. “Talk to me, Bella. Is it the hours I spend at work? I’m trying to cut back…to delegate more. Everyone is just so fucking incompetent.”
“Except Rose,” she muttered dryly, still not meeting Emmett’s gaze.
“Rose has been a godsend.”
“I’m sure she has.” Bella hit the side of her head with her hand, groaning in frustration. For the next several moments, they stood in silence. Emmett wondered what Bella was suggesting and wished she would just speak her mind.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Bella straightened her posture and raised her now tear-filled eyes to meet his.
“How long have you been sleeping with her?”
“I’m not sleeping with Rose,” he stated emphatically.
“But you would if you if she were available to you.”
“I’m not going deny I find her attractive, Bella. But there is not presently, nor will there ever be, anything going on between Rose and me.” He searched through his mind to find the words that would most reassure Bella. “She doesn’t appeal to me the way you do. She and I are too alike. If I wanted to have sex with someone exactly like me, I’d just jerk off.”
Bella let out a small laugh, but there was no humor behind it.
“Come here,” he said quietly, pulling her into his arms.
She didn’t resist, instead snaking her arms around his waist and resting her face against his chest. Being in his arms felt so wonderful, she nearly forgot she was angry with him and that she had legitimate reasons to wonder if in attempting to work things out, they were doing nothing more than prolonging the inevitable.
“I don’t want to be an obligation to you.”
“You aren’t.” The immediacy of his words helped assure Bella of their sincerity.
Still, they were just words and even if Emmett did mean them, Bella needed more than that. She stepped out of his embrace.
“I think we should take some time off and reevaluate our priorities.”
Emmett took a step back and looked at her. “No, you think I should reevaluate my priorities.”
“That’s not what I said.”
“But isn’t it what you meant?”
“No. I have some things to think about as well. Em, we’re not married or even living together. We haven’t reproduced, so it’s not like we have children to worry about. If it’s not working between us, there’s nothing stopping us from cutting our losses and getting out. As it is, I may as well be single. I feel like I’m alone more frequently than anyone in a relationship should be, and even when we’re together…”
She shook her head, sighing. “Even when you’re here, you’re not really here. I don’t complain about the long hours and the constant attachment to your BlackBerry because I don’t feel I have a right to. You told me how it would be. Before I even agreed to a first date, you warned me that your job would always come first. Do you know how it feels to be sitting across a table from someone, yet still feel completely alone?”
“Is that a rhetorical question?”
Bella couldn’t believe he even had to ask. “No.”
“No, I don’t,” he admitted.
“That doesn’t surprise me,” she said mostly to herself, shaking her head in defeat. “I thought I could do this. I wanted to do this. But I just can’t. I need more.”
“Are you breaking up with me?”
“Yes. No. I don’t know.” Bella rubbed her temples, then dropped her arms to her sides. “At the very least, I think we should reevaluate our exclusivity.”
“You want permission to sleep with other guys.”
“No, Em,” Bella spat back. “But if the opportunity presents itself, I’d like to be able to enjoy guilt-free male company from time to time.” In an attempt to calm herself down, she took a few deep breaths. “Do you know what I did after you stood me up last night?”
“I hope you went out and had fun.”
“Oh, I did. And promptly felt like shit about it afterward.”
Emmett looked at her perplexedly. He knew Bella detested infidelity, but she was talking as if she were guilty.
“No,” she answered before he could even finish his question. “But considering I see you once a week if I’m lucky, I shouldn’t feel as though I have to decline other invitations. And if I do accept, I should not feel as though I’ve betrayed you by doing so.”
Emmett knew Bella wasn’t being at all unreasonable, which only increased the sting of her request. Determined not to lose her, he devised a plan.
“You’re welcome to see whomever you like, but I don’t anticipate that you’ll have much free time with which to do so. I plan on keeping you very busy, starting right now. I meant it when I said I would do everything I could to make last night up to you. I can’t get us into Le Bec Fin on this short notice, but I’m sure there’s a table open somewhere.”
She looked at him with rage, and he realized his mistake.
“Of course, that’s only if you want to spend time with me. You’re upset, and justifiably so. I’m willing to do whatever you want—go out, stay in, leave…”
She folded her arms across her chest. “I think you should leave.”
“Okay.” It was just as well. He needed to go back to the office and take care of a few things. If Bella was going to be his first priority henceforth, he needed to take advantage of every second he wasn’t with her.
Despite her obvious anger, he kissed her cheek before heading toward the door. He was about to let himself out when he realized his gaffe. There were many things that he knew, things that he understood completely and accepted as true. Still, in moments of insecurity, it helped to be reminded.
He turned around and looked across the living room to where Bella stood in her tiny galley kitchen. As his mind played a montage of the weekend they met, he no longer struggled to find the words with which to convey exactly why he wanted to be with her, why it was with her and only her he envisioned building a future.
“You’re the most inherently good person I’ve ever known. You do what you believe is right, regardless of the consequences you might face for doing so. You’re selfless and beautiful, inside and out.” He opened the door and stepped over the threshold, addressing Bella a final time before he left. “That’s why I’m with you, and that’s why I love you.”
Before Bella could formulate a response, he was gone.
After she heard the click of the lock, Bella relaxed her posture, giving in to her fatigue from an emotionally trying twenty-four hours. As she placed the roses in water, she replayed Emmett’s words in her head. If he meant what he said, if he really was going to try, things would be perfect. She would no longer physically react to a simple text message from Edward, because her needs would be met by Emmett, the man she loved and hoped for a future with. Between her career and her relationship, she would be fulfilled. Bella chanted this mantra in her head until consciousness left her, hoping she could convince herself it was true.
She failed and dreamt of Edward.