~ 5:45 a.m. ~
I wake up long before my alarm bell rings. Again!
It's not even daylight. Like so often lately, since Jake moved out, I start from my sleep, gasping with a rush of adrenaline, but without the slightest idea why or what I might have dreamed. Nothing extraordinary about this, except that this time there's an arm around me, pulling me closer to a warm body behind me, and a voice whispering,
"Shhh... Bella. 'S okay."
I'm not alone.
I relax immediately. This feels so right, all of it... his smell, the warmth, the texture of his skin, the way my breathing is slowing down until it synchronizes with the soothing rise and fall of his chest against my back.
He waits until I'm perfectly calm again before he asks softly, "A dream?"
"No. Or maybe... I don't know. Sorry I woke you up."
He was up all night?
"Haven't you slept yet? What have you been doing?"
"Nothing. Holding you."
We're still in the same position we were in when I fell asleep, as far as I can tell. I'm not really surprised though. No one can keep as still as Edward... or as long. When he was a kid, he could easily hold the same posture for hours when his mind was occupied with something. It was almost scary.
"You don't have to do that. If you can't sleep, you can get up and... do something."
"I know," he says and kisses my shoulder.
"I mean, I need to sleep a bit more because I have to work in a few hours. But you can just make yourself at home. Just... do what you want, Edward, ok?"
He hugs me even tighter. "I'm already doing what I want to do."
~ 7:32 a.m. ~
"You need to wake up."
Kisses. Lots of them. Little, tender pecks on my neck and down my spine. So sweet... I'm not ready yet, not yet...
"Just five more minutes, please..."
~ 7:37 a.m. ~
"You need to wake up now. You'll be late for work."
"Uh uhm... nooo, not before the clock rings."
And not with that warm, velvety presence I'm snuggling in.
"I turned it off."
Oh, really? Well... hmmm...
~ 7:50 a.m. ~
First thing I notice, as I slowly drift out of my slumber, is the delicious smell of coffee. Not the weak whiff that use to waft in through the window sometimes from the coffee shop downstairs, but the strong aroma of freshly brewed, hot coffee in a steaming mug right under my nose. It's pleasant.
The second thing I notice is the absence of Edward's warm body, which is rather unpleasant. I open my eyes to find said body kneeling in front of my bed, and indeed, holding the steaming mug of coffee I had just imagined right under my nose.
"Good morning," he says and flashes me the most brilliant smile.
He is fully dressed and clean-shaven. Apparently, he's been in a hurry doing his morning wash – the razor blade left a small scratch under his chin, and a little white flake of shaving foam got caught in his left ear. It's endearing, somehow. I reach out and brush it away with my thumb.
"Morning, yourself," I mumble sleepily and sit up.
Edward wordlessly hands me the coffee and takes a seat on the edge of the mattress. His hand comes to rest on my knee over the blanket. Smiling and wide-eyed, he watches me take the first cautious sip. He looks at me as if I were brand-new, as if I were a much longed for, shiny new toy he's now laying eyes upon for the first time ever. It's kind of surreal.
I look back at him in silence. Maybe I'm wearing a similar expression, I don't know; It feels like I am. I'm taking more sips of the coffee (he made coffeefor me!), holding his gaze over the rim of the mug. My gulping is awkwardly loud.
"This... mmh, this is good," I compliment him. "Thank you."
His smile grows impossibly wider. "You're welcome."
"How late is it?"
"The alarm went off like twenty minutes ago. That's ok, right? You're not too late yet?"
"No, it's perfect. I need to get dressed in a bit though."
I slowly incline my head to the left and to the right and flinch at the sound of a vertebrae snapping. My neck and shoulders feel pretty stiff. Yesterday's events, the good and the bad, are taking their toll, I guess. I'm a little sore all over.
And it doesn't go unnoticed. Edward's smile falters.
"Are you..." he starts but stops mid-question, his lips left parted. The indication of a frown appears for a split-second and his hand squeezes my knee reflexively, as he seems to process something at lightning speed. It's intriguing to watch.
"Are you all right..." he starts again, and then pointedly adds, "...baby?"
It makes my stomach flutter. I cover his hand on my knee with mine and merely breathe my answer.
"Yes, I am. Just need to warm up a little. Not much of a morning person, you know?"
He looks down on our hands and interlaces fingers with me. "It's okay when I call you that, right? When I call you 'baby'?"
"I like it. Very much."
He looks up, and there is his smile again.
"Because you're my girlfriend now?"
"Yeah... I guess I am."
I put the mug down on the nightstand; it suddenly weighs a ton. My hand is shaking and I need to take a deep breath to steady myself, but of course... holy shit, I'm his girlfriend!
"And what about my uhm... boyfriend?" I ask back, giving a shot at teasing. "Did you not sleep at all?"
He shakes his head no. I shake mine in mock disapproval. We both smile at each other like idiots. Did I mention how surreal all of this is?
"Little Green and Easybella, huh?" I whisper.
"Yes," he sighs and slowly bends forward, putting his arms around my waist. He rests his head in my lap and closes his eyes. "Yes..."
~ 8:47 a.m. ~
Tanya is leaning in the doorframe of the drugstore's backroom, arms crossed in front of her remarkable rack. Her mouth is twisted into what I believe is supposed to be a pout, and she keeps tapping one foot as she watches me change into my work gear. I pretend not to notice that right now my unsually silent co-worker is the epitome of suppressed impatience.
Of course, there comes the point when she can't take it any more. "Jesus... speak, woman!"
"About what?" I'm all innocence.
"Oh, come on!" she groans. "Why don't you tell me whose car you just exited, for starters?"
"Nope, I don't think so. Let's just get to work, ok? I've got some shelves to replenish."
Cue a Tanya epic eye-roll.
~ 9:25 a.m. ~
Tanya is leaning against the rack with the feminine hygiene articles, arms crossed in front of what she claims to be Mother Nature's gifts (even though my boob-job radar goes bonkers if I so much as glance at those 'gifts'). She's chewing gum, quite noisily. Alhough I'm working with my back to her, I know she is scowling at me.
I try to ignore her and keep on tagging goods as if there's no tomorrow, but I swear if she doesn't stop popping those gum bubbles really soon, bad things are going to happen. I wish for a customer to come in, or better yet a bunch of customers to keep her occupied. But of course, there's no such luck.
"Ok, what was it with you and Mr. Cullen yesterday, huh?"
"It's Doctor Cullen."
"Yeah, whatever... I want to know why you gave him shit – which was pretty awesome by the way – and what was it about? And who the fuck dropped you off here this morning?"
"You won't let this go, huh?"
Tanya, "Nope." Bubble gum, 'Pop!'
"Well, then I hope you enjoy disappointment."
"Spill it, Swan, you know you will tell me everything eventually anyway," she retorts quite cheerfully.
And the trouble is, she's right: I will tell her. Not because Tanya and I are close friends, but because if I don't spill the beans, she'll never stop bugging me. Or worse, she'll just get the wrong ideas.
There's no way out. I figure if gossip cannot be avoided, I'd better perform some damage control right now by at least steering it into the right direction. Without lifting my eyes off my task, I speak as casually as possible.
"It was Edward, if you need to know. And yesterday with Carl... Dr. Cullen, that was just a misunderstanding. I had dinner with the Cullens yesterday, and that's it. For good old times' sake and all." Well, sort of...
"Wait... Edward? That mousy Cullen kid you babysat when we went to high school together?"
"Yep, that one."
"Wow, I didn't even know they kept him."
"Oh, come on!" I glare at her. "Seriously, Tanya?"
She shrugs. "Sorry, but all I know is what everyone knows: that he was gone one day. Rumor had it the Cullens were unable to cope with a disabled kid any more, so..."
"This is ridiculous. And besides, Edward is not disabled."
I resume tagging shampoo bottles, wielding the label machine angrily like a weapon. That's what people were thinking? That Esme and Carlisle had dropped Edward like a white elephant?
"Edward went to a boarding school. It was a special school for autistic children where they had programs for highly gifted students like him."Highly gifted, Denali, take that!
"And highly gifted!" Jesus, do I speak Swahili? "You would have known if you just had asked me instead of listening to the gossip."
"Maybe, but we weren't exactly friends in high school, remember? I mean, dude, you didn't really talk to anyone anyway, except for those kids from the reservation you hang out with. And well, the impeccable Cullens, of course."
Right. And no one would ask the Cullens what's going on neither. They were like the town celebrities; people didn't talk to them, people just talked aboutthem.
"I talked to Angela," I object weakly. "And Ben."
"Oh yeah, the nerd club," she snorts. "I hate to say it, sweetie, but that didn't help increasing your general popularity much, either."
I roll my eyes at her snippy comment, even though she's got a point here. But my display of disapproval doesn't impress her much anyway.
"So little Eddy is back, huh? How old is he anyway?"
"He is eighteen."
"And a half!"
For a minute or two, the only sound in the room is the clacking of my labeler and the annoying popping of her gum bubbles. The silence means Tanya Denali is thinking. Which is probably bad.
Clack. Clack. Clack.
"And he was the one who drove you to work this morning?"
Clack. Pop. Clack.
She gasps. "Swan!"
And here we go...
"Are you telling me you are screwing Rainman?"
~ 11:32 a.m. ~
Tanya is leaning on the cash desk, arms crossed tightly in front of... well, you know what. Her boobs almost meet her chin that way, and I could swear she does this on purpose while she waits for the customer to collect his change.
The poor dude is pretty flustered; a middle age family man who just bought a pack of disposable diapers and now can't take his eyes off of Tanya's display. No fair, but funny. I shake my head at her, but can't suppress a grin.
When the guy finally leaves, she slumps down in that wobbly old swivel chair and her female anatomy assumes a halfway natural form again. "Man," she giggles, "did you see this? What was wrong with that dude? And who pays cash these days anyway?"
"You're outrageous, Denali!"
She laughs. "I know! What do you think, will he dream of the hot drugstore babe tonight when doing the missionary with the good wifey?"
"Bitch!" I say.
"Cougar!" she fires back.
"Ouch..." I clutch at my heart dramatically.
We both grin.
In the last two hours I have learned some surprising things about my bosses' cheeky daughter, and I found that I actually really like her.
First off, Tanya isn't stupid. She is neither thoughtless nor mean. One mustn't be fooled by her loose tongue or her packaging. Even though her choice of words may leave a lot to be desired, she is not in the least judgmental but rather one of the most open-minded people I ever met.
All it took to find that out was a decent fight, in the course of which we not only determined that I am not in a sexual relationship with Dustin Hoffman, but also that Edward in no way resembles 'that fidgeting dude from Boston Legal'. It also turned out that she has some knowledge about autism. She impressed me using terms like 'on the spectrum' and 'high-functioning', while at the same time giving me shit for scolding her earlier.
"I have a distant cousin, ok? I don't see him very often, but little Riley is a damn smart Aspie, if you ask me. When he started speaking a year ago, he did so in English and Russian fluently. He was seven years old then! So you can stop peeing your panties, Miss Political Correctness. "
That shut me up.
"But my cousin still fidgets like the Boston Legal dude, no shit!"
That made me roll my eyes again.
"I call him Rainman all the time and he loves it."
Let's just say Tanya and I do not share the same sense of humor.
~ 12:45 p.m. ~
"So I take it, the good doctor's wife is not exactly fond of the idea of you and Edward together. What if she kicks you out of your apartment?"
I gasp at Tanya's question, not sure what to say. That thought didn't even occur to me yet.
"What?" she asks with a shrug, "I'm just thinking practical here. Seems like Mother Teresa has pretty much lost her shit already; who knows what's next."
"Don't call her that," I say. "And she won't do that to me." Or would she?
"Oh, to be the fly on the wall when you have that conversation with her..." Tanya grins. "But you promise me, no retreat, no surrender, ok? And if anything happens, you know, with your apartment... I just want you to know that you can always have my couch, as long as necessary."
"Thanks. You are a sweetheart," I say, meaning it. Because that's another thing I've learned today; she really is a sweetheart. Even though I have known her since high school and have worked with her in the drugstore for several weeks now, I just never gave her a chance to show her true self.
Maybe it was the story of her cousin that made me finally feel a certain bond to her. Maybe it was the way she cheered upon hearing that Edward was my new boyfriend instead of jumping to one of the hundreds of obvious possibilities to judge me. Or maybe I just needed someone to talk to. I don't know.
But I told her the complete story, and it felt good. Well, not the completecomplete story, of course. Even though such a thing as 'too much information' apparently didn't exist for Tanya...
"… and how long did it take you two to get it on anyway?" - "What is it like to have sex with an aspie man?" - "Does he know how to talk dirty? Wait, he does talk, right?" - "Is he good with his hands? I once fucked a bass player who was practically blind, and I..."
Well, you get the idea. I wisely kept certain things to myself and ignored her pouting at my 'none of your business' comment.
Right now I feel the urge to give her a hug for so generously offering me an emergency refuge, when she suddenly and completely incoherently exclaims a loud, "Holy crap!"
"What is it?" Startled, I turn around to find out what she's gaping at, and what I see makes my heart do a happy little jump.
Outside on the sidewalk stands a very tall and very handsome Little Green, staring at the glass door. His lips are moving as if giving himself a pep talk or something. Apparently the windows are reflecting the daylight too much for him to see anything inside the store.
"Oooh... come in, cupcake, don't be shy," Tanya chants excitedly. "Come, kitty kitty... come..."
"What is Edward doing here?" I ask at the same time.
"Oh my god, are you fucking kidding me? This is Edward?" Tanya points a multi-colored fake fingernail at my boyfriend, almost accusingly. "THIS is Edward Cullen? Where has that little bag of bones gone that you used to drag around eight years ago? Swan, you lucky bitch!"
I can't address her outburst right now, because Edward has finally decided to enter the store. Tanya straightens her torso and composes herself to lean against the next best rack.
"Denali?" I say over my shoulder as I head for the front door to meet Edward.
"Don't cross your arms!"
"What? Why?" Her face registers utter bewilderment.
"Just don't, ok?"
She huffs, and crosses her arms. Of course.
The door opens, Edward's eyes fall upon me and the smile that lights up his face would be sufficient to supply the town of Forks with its yearly requirement of energy.
"Hi," I say, properly dazzled.
He reaches for my hand, but then he spots Tanya behind me and falters. His eyes quickly snap back to mine. He bends forward a little and kind of conspiratorially whispers, "Can I touch you here? Is it... appropriate?"
"Yes," I whisper back, equally secretive, "totally appropriate. You may even kiss me if you want to."
He thinks about it for a second. After side-eyeing Tanya once more, he says, "I guess I just want to hold your hand, if that's ok."
"Sure." I take his hand. "It's perfectly fine with me. But what are you doing here?"
"Picking you up? Lunch break?"
Behind me, Tanya dramatically clears her throat.
"Edward, would you like to meet my co-worker?"
I hope I'm not asking too much; I'm a little insecure about this. I'd never tiptoed around him when he was a child, but somehow things are different now. He nods his head, yes, ever so slightly, not entirely convinced this is a good idea, but he follows me willingly as I drag him along. I watch his reactions carefully as I make the introduction.
"Tanya, this is my boyfriend Edward Cullen. Edward, this is Tanya Denali, future owner of this place and my... friend." Gosh, two days ago I wanted a cat to save me from dying of solitude, and suddenly I have both a boyfriend and a friend. "I suppose, you both remember each other?"
Edward's manners are impeccable. With a polite smile, he gives a little nod. His eyes immediately find the safe spot above Tanya's left shoulder. And there they stay, unwaveringly avoiding her gaze and, to my delight, also the protruding area above her crossed arms.
"Pleased to meet you... again," he says, velvet voice and all, and reaches out his hand.
Tanya doesn't even blink.
"Hot damn!" she says.