Christmas morning, I wake alone, but my first thought is of Edward.
E- Merry Christmas! ~I
I-Jingle your ass all the way back to me! E
E-See you at 2:59! ~I
I’m dying to address him as ‘Master’ or even ‘Sir’ but we’re keeping things light for the moment.
Brunch with the folks is not the usual jovial time we’ve all become accustomed to in recent years, but I can’t fault my parents for being disappointed this year. They thought Santa was bringing them a son-in-law. If they had any clue what they’ve gotten instead, I snicker.
My thoughts stray to the possibility of Edward seated next to me at this table next Christmas morning. Could this vision of Christmas future ever be more than a fantasy? Could my parents ever look adoringly at Edward the way they’d looked at Jasper? Will he prove to be that full measure of a man who not only satisfies in the bedroom (and apparently all over the rest of his apartment), but also as a life partner?
And how many miles in front of the horse have I just placed my cart? I shake my head to wipe away my romantic musings. One thing at a time, Bella.
“So, Dad, besides having your hopes and dreams of a marriage proposal crushed, what did you think of the ball?”
“It was perfect down to the last detail, Bella. Everyone was appropriately impressed.”
“The food was delicious, honey,” Mom chimes in. “Did you get to try the Swordfish Oscar?”
“No, I didn’t get past the appetizers. You know, Alice is really the genius who made that all happen.”
“You’re really lucky to have Alice, aren’t you? You two are a great team. I think you could delegate just about anything to her and know everything will come out just as perfectly as if you’d done it yourself,” Dad observes.
I sputter and choke on the bite of strawberry.
“Lift your arms, dear,” Mom says helpfully as I hack away into my napkin, Jasper’s admonishments ringing in my memory.
The only one unhappier than Mom to see my duffle bag near the front door is Boomer. He pads over sadly and rolls submissively onto his back, legs spread wantonly with the hopeful expectation of a full frontal rubdown. There is nothing in this life that rivals the unbounded optimism of the Yellow Lab.
“Hey, big guy. You need a belly rub?” As I crouch down and scrub at his exposed underbelly and chin, his back leg does that hilarious doggy air scratching motion that tells me I’ve hit all the right spots. I chuckle at my realization that despite his passive posture, Boomer’s got me wrapped around his little paw, and I’m pretty sure he knows it.
“He’s going to be so depressed when you leave,” Mom points out.
I give Boomer a parting scratch behind his ears and stand to address my mother. “Just the dog then?”
“Oh, you do love to tease your old Mom.”
I bend to reach my arms around Mom’s shoulders, unable to ignore how fragile she feels in my arms. But her slight frame belies an inner strength that is ever present. “Thanks for coming, Edward. You know we love seeing you.”
“I love you too, Mom.”
“You have a Merry Christmas. And you treat this girl right.”
“Don’t worry, Mom. I’ve got the best possible example right in front of me.”
As if to prove my words, Dad closes his arm around Mom just as I let her go.
“Drive safely, dear,” Mom warns. “Precious cargo.”
He chuckles lightly and gives her a kiss on the cheek. Then nods to me, “Ready?”
I scoop up my bag and say, “Bye, Mom. Talk to you on New Year’s. Thanks for a great dinner last night.”
“Are you sure you won’t take any leftovers?” she tries for the fourth time.
I rub my belly as if being full right now is a reason not to stock up for later. “I promise I’m eating well. I had some broccoli on my pizza just the other day.”
“Oh, Edward,” she tsks. “Stop torturing me already.”
“Be careful with this new man, Bella,” Mom rebukes with her final hug. “You know what they say about rebounding.”
“Mom, have you been reading Cosmo again?” I tease.
“Go ahead, make fun of an old fool, but I still remember how it feels to have a broken heart.”
“Oh, Mom. I’ll be fine.”
Dad steps in. “Merry Christmas, sweetheart. Let’s set up a time later this week for me to get to know this Cullen.”
“You mean, like, lunch? Or are we talking about a shareholders’ meeting?”
“Ho ho ho, Bella. Just a sandwich, okay? I want to make sure he’s good enough for you.”
“Wow, you can tell all that just from a sandwich? I should’ve consulted you a long time ago.” I shudder to imagine what he would’ve thought about our pizza date, the toppings conversation, the knot…and I’m wet.
Dad smiles at my sarcasm, “You know, Bella, they didn’t hand me the key to the corner office because of my good looks.”
Mom pipes up, “Obviously!”
“Really, Renee? Really?” Dad teases playfully with an ‘I’ll-get-you-later’ eyebrow lift.
“All I meant, dear, is that the Board obviously saw how brilliant you are!” Mom delivers her line with perfect deadpan and gives me a very obvious stage wink.
“Listen, I just want to thank you both. For understanding, and for not making this any harder than it already was. I know how you both love Jasper.”
Mom links her arm through mine and says, “We love you, Bella. That’s what matters.”
Dad nods his agreement as he places my suitcases in the trunk of the waiting car. Like the protective father he’s always been, he shakes the driver’s hand, looks him right in the eyes, and says, “Take good care of my little girl.”
“Yes, sir,” answers the dumbfounded chauffeur, sealing me away in the back seat.
Traffic’s especially light, and I can tell Dad’s dying to mine me for information. He struggles for a while and worries the steering wheel with the heels of his hand before saying, “So this girl, she’s some kind of big wig?”
“Yeah. She’s basically the heiress apparent, next in line to the throne. Her dad’s the CEO.”
Dad’s jaw drops and he takes his eyes off the road to see if I’m kidding. When he sees I’m not, he responds, “Well, that certainly seems like a departure.”
I know he doesn’t mean anything judgmental by it. He has every right to be stunned. I’ve never come close to bringing home a girl of Bella’s caliber, on any level. I smile and shake my head at my own good fortune in all this. “You can say that again.”
Dad’s anxiety loosens into a cautious smile as well. “Well, she oughtta give you a run for your money, then.”
I have a healthy guffaw over that one, thinking back over how Bella held my feet to the fire about my stalker ways and hidden identities. And how she wouldn’t tell me what size slippers to buy her, as if I didn’t have a file already set up with all her sizes and preferences. It took me three clicks last night to set that order into production.
“I’d say we’re well matched on that front,” I tell him.
~ -/- ~
“This was way too quick.”
“I know, Dad. Let’s plan a weekend in the City. You and Mom can meet Isabella, we’ll take in a show…”
He pats me twice before releasing me. “I’ll put your mom on planning that. Be good in the meantime, son. Try to ease up on the pranks?”
“Only if the situation cries out for it, Dad,” I promise him with a wink, which he answers with a good-natured eye roll.
I step up onto the sidewalk and watch vigilantly as he carefully signals, then pulls the Prius out into traffic and away from the station. Slinging my bag over my shoulder, I turn toward my train, home to Isabella.
“Hi,” the rich honey tone of his voice reaches across the miles, through the metal I’m clutching to my ear, and melts me.
“Merry Christmas, Isabella.” Indeed.
“Merry Christmas, Edward.”
“You on your way home?”
“Mm hmm, back of the car. You on the train?”
“Yeah. So how was it with your parents?”
“It was good. They took things well…considering.”
For one second, I consider keeping this from Edward. Just as quickly, though, I remind myself that honesty is going to rule the day from now forward, or this new thing we have is not worth what we’ve both already risked. “Jasper had asked my father for his blessing, and he was about two hours away from a very public proposal.”
“Wow! And you didn’t know?”
“I have to admit, I suspected. And then, I felt the ring box in his pocket while we were dancing.”
“Yeah, not so much. But, y’know, that’s Jas. Not a deceitful bone in his body. Keeping that secret was probably the hardest thing he’s ever done,” I realize as I say it out loud.
Silence. “Are you still there?” I check my display and see that we still seem to be connected.
“Yes,” he says quietly. “I’m just thinking about all the deceitful bones you must imagine I have in my body.”
“Ah…shit, Edward. I didn’t mean it like that.”
“It’s all right. I couldn’t really blame you if you did.”
Crap, how do I reassure him that I’m ready to move past our unorthodox beginning? “I told my parents about you,” I blurt.
“What? You did? They must have been murderous!”
I snort, “Maybe, but toward me, not you.”
“Thank goodness. So, there won’t be an armed guard waiting at my desk Monday morning to whisk me out of the building with all my belongings in a sad little cardboard box?”
“No such luck,” I chuckle at his drama. “And how did everything go in suburban Philadelphia? Were the parents ‘pleased’?”
“Yes, it’s the belt. I’m telling you, works every time.”
“Hunh, worked for me,” she teases.
“Yes, I well remember,” I say, closing my eyes to sink into the lovely memory. “Plenty more where that came from, baby.”
“Are you sure you’re not trying to kill me, Edward?” she whispers into the phone.
“Definitely not,” I chuckle. Okay, time to change the subject. “So…my parents want to meet you.”
Too much too soon?
“What?!” she exclaims, clearly snapped out of her drunken lust with my little P-bomb. “You told them about us?” I can’t tell if she’s terrified or thrilled. Probably a healthy dose of both.
“Well, I didn’t exactly have a choice. You don’t know my Mom. She could put the entire CIA to shame. I swear, that woman could’ve found Osama Bin Laden five years ago!”
“So, what exactly did you tell them?” I can visualize her taking her lower lip between her teeth.
I peek over my left shoulder. The greasy kid next to me has his ear buds firmly implanted and I can hear the buzz of his iPod. The perfect seat mate.
“I told them I found a girl who writes really hot porn and loves to crawl around naked for me.”
“Huhhhhhh!” I hear her suck in a huge gasp of air. “YOU DID NOT!”
“No, sweetheart,” I chuckle. “I most definitely did not.”
“God, you can be such an asshole sometimes.”
“Wow, that didn’t take very long!” I am full out laughing now, delighted that she can so easily go from obedient submissive to indignant girlfriend in a matter of minutes.
“Jesus, Edward. You scared the hell out of me. So what DID you tell them about me?”
“I told them I think I may have met my match.”
I can’t lie, his comment makes me swoon. It sounds so damn satisfying to be regarded as an equal, or at least a worthy adversary. I love that he allows for a little space in the conversation and doesn’t try to fill this important moment with unimportant banter.
Finally, he breaks the pregnant silence with a soft, “So when are you due back?”
“Traffic’s lighter than expected, so it may be a little earlier than I thought.”
“That’s great, but I won’t make it home before 2:30.”
“Listen, Edward, I’ve got all my stuff. Do you mind if I head straight over to your place? I don’t want to have to run into-”
“Of course, Isabella. It’s fine. If you beat me, just wait outside my door. On your knees.”
I drag in another sharp breath. This guy is literally sucking the life out of me one gulp at a time.
“Bella, I was just kidding. The doorman will let you in. I already left word.”
I don’t know if I’m more frustrated or disappointed in his teasing. “Oh,” is all I can manage.
“I like your enthusiasm, baby.” I can hear his smug smile.
I’m mortified at my helpless responses to his every tease, “See what you’ve unleashed?”
“Hold that thought,” he chuckles darkly.