“Are you sure you want me to ride in with you? I’m used to walking the fifteen blocks. It’s no big deal.”
“Of course, don’t be silly. Here he is now.”
“What’s your driver’s name?”
“Oh… I don’t know.”
“Seriously, Isabella?” Must be lonely in that ivory tower sometimes.
“It’s not like we talk. I usually make phone calls and check my email in the back seat,” her voice sounds defensive.
Down boy, I warn myself. This is the only world she knows.
The black Town Car approaches, and the driver comes around to open her door. Isabella slides in first, and I offer him my hand. “Good morning. I’m Edward Cullen. Thank you for rerouting for us.”
“Certainly, sir. My pleasure. Name’s Domenic.”
“Excellent, Domenic, nice to meet you.” I dip my head into the back seat to find Isabella looking up at me, completely amused.
“Well, aren’t you the little social butterfly?”
“Are you gonna scoot over or am I sitting on your lap?”
“Don’t muss me on the way to work, Edward. I have an image to uphold,” she says, sliding herself along the leather.
“Of course you do, princess.”
She turns her head away from me as we pull out into traffic. Uh-oh. Back-to-work jitters have set in. She’s going to have one whopper of a day, dealing with the fallout of her choices. I place my hand next to hers on the seat just close enough that she knows I’m there. She wraps a couple of her fingers around a couple of mine but doesn’t turn away from her window.
“So, you’ll meet me at The Tavern at eight then?” I confirm.
“Sure,” she says absently. I leave her to her thoughts.
As the car pulls up to the curb, Domenic comes around and opens the door for me. I help Isabella out but don’t make any further show of affection. She wouldn’t want that here. I follow her lead into the lobby, several steps behind. I push the down button as she presses up. As our heads meet at the panel, I say softly, so only she can hear, “Text me if you need me. I’m right downstairs.”
Her elevator arrives first, and she steps away from me into the open doors. She settles her eyes into that unseeing, anonymous elevator stare, but right before the doors close, they shift to me. I don’t like the scared, apprehensive look I catch. My elevator arrives soon after. I step in and the doors swallow me inside.
I step out of the elevator toward the same office I’ve been settling into for over three years now, but everything feels different today. For starters, there’s no tall, blond man to give me a sendoff kiss in the elevator and wish me well until I see him at lunch. I straighten my shoulders and forge ahead.
Alice is in her regular spot, efficient as ever. I take a deep breath and approach her cubicle. “Alice, I just wanted to tell you again what an amazing job you did with the ball.”
“Thank you, Miss Swan,” she says in a clipped tone, handing me a stack of opened and sorted mail.
“And Alice, about that other favor…”
“Miss Swan, could we please not discuss that?” she begs, cutting me off.
“Of course,” I answer. “Please hold all my calls this morning.”
She nods and sits back down behind her desk. I close my office door behind me and take a deep breath. Well, that was mildly unpleasant, but nothing I can’t get past. I drop down into my chair and click open my email. I scroll through my messages with a practiced triage, picking out the most urgent needs first.
Not one word from Jasper. I know he’s in already; he’s never not in by 7:30. One teeny, tiny selfish part of me misses him, and the rest of me reminds myself that I don’t get to feel that way.
I click open a message from my father.
TO: Isabella M Swan
FROM: Charles Swan
DATE: Dec. 26, 2011
SUBJECT: Lunch with Edward Cullen
Please set up lunch for the three of us this Friday so I might get to know Edward better.
Somewhere outside the office would be preferable.
Chief Executive Officer, Swan Enterprises
I fall back against my chair and exhale to the ceiling. I figure I’ll wait till later to break this news to Edward. If I start texting him now, I’ll be too distracted to get to work.
Setting aside all my personal crap, I turn to my pile of work and dig in with renewed fervor. It feels great to turn back to my marketing projects now that the ball is over. I’m still working furiously hours later when I hear my phone signal an incoming text message.
IMS-Just checking in. Hope you had a chance to eat something. -EMC
There’s so much more I wish I could say, but I have to let her do this her way. And that involves minimal interaction with me at work, for now.
E-Thanks. I’ve got a yogurt in the fridge. I’m okay. Later, IMS
Her message tells me nothing, beyond the fact that she’s forgotten to eat lunch. I will never understand how some women just forget to eat. If I go more than three hours without food, I am met with loud protests and unpleasant cramping, which is why I headed out two hours ago to grab myself a turkey sandwich. Ironically, Isabella and I could share lunch last week, whereas now, I am strictly off limits. I can live with that, because I know she’ll be sharing my bed tonight.
I slide my phone back into my pocket just as Emmett and Rosalie return from their two-hour lunch.
“Dude,” Emmett starts, wheeling his chair across the room to my desk, “is it true you left the ball with La Bella Swan?”
“Where’d you hear that, Emmett?” I ask crossly, neither confirming nor denying his suspicions.
“It’s pretty much all over the company network. Have you not been tracking the chat today?”
“No, Emmett. I actually have real work to do.”
“Okay, man,” he says, holding his hands up in surrender. “Forget I mentioned it.”
I redouble my efforts not to look into the chat files, especially now that I know there’s plenty to see. Instead, I work my way through the trouble reports and one in particular catches my eye.
Date/Time Reported: Monday, December 26, 2011, 1:15 PM
Reported By: Charles Swan
Trouble Noted: Appears to be a virus of some sort
Tech Requested: Edward M Cullen
Special Notes: ASAP
I pop out of my chair with the printout in one hand and my emergency kit in the other. I knock on Rosalie’s glass window, and she looks up and gives me a bored stare. I press the report against the window so she can read the name and I motion to her that I’m going upstairs. She gives me a hand gesture that means ‘Run along, little flea,’ and I’m on my way to the 37th floor, Executive Offices. Where the VP’s and the CEO hang out.
As the elevator car zooms past 35, I allow myself a passing thought to Isabella, sitting in her office, possibly using the feather pen to tick off her to-do list or maybe she’s taken it to the bathroom stall with her today… No, Edward, mustn’t allow those thoughts to invade as you’re going to see her father. Daddy Swan might get the wrong idea if you walk into his office with a huge boner for your first meeting. Come to think of it, he might get the right idea, which could be far worse!
My mind ticks back to my conversation with Bella about her visit with her parents. I recall she said she told them about me, but I have no idea if she’s used my name, or if Mr. Swan would even remember it if she had. This is completely nerve-wracking, and the only option I have is to let him take the lead. I stop outside his office, where his administrative assistant guards access to the Big Boss. She’s an elderly woman with neatly trimmed grey hair and thick black glasses. She appears to have zero sense of humor, so I conduct myself accordingly.
“Hello, I’m Edward Cullen from IT, here to respond to this trouble call from Mr. Swan.”
She holds out her hand to see my paper, and I suddenly feel like the kid in high school who’s asked to show his hall pass. She reads the document painstakingly, and her brow crinkles. “That’s weird, I didn’t file this report. He must’ve done it himself. Have a seat, please, and I’ll buzz him for you.”
I select one of the straight chairs against the wall but don’t make myself too comfortable.
“Mr. Swan will see you now,” she says, again mystified at the turn of events.
I knock several times on the door and hear a firm, “Come in,” from the other side. I make sure my repair kit is in my left hand as I open the door so my right is free. He stands and offers his hand from behind his desk. “Mr. Swan, I’m Edward Cullen, from IT. You asked for me?”
His handshake is firm and he holds my eye as if measuring me for a suit. Or a coffin.
“Yes,” he answers. “I hear you’re the best at ferreting out trouble.”
Or perhaps you’ve actually heard that I’m really good at causing it?
“It says here you’ve got yourself a virus?”
“Right,” he answers, inviting me around his desk to see the problem. “This password screen comes up every three seconds and I can’t get anything done.”
“Ahh. May I?”
He gestures to his chair and I take his seat. I can’t help but notice it’s about twenty times more comfortable than mine. I’m almost overcome by a childlike desire to ride up and down like the old barber shop chairs at Duke’s Clip Shop, but I control my urges and focus on his screen. I press a few keys, and the problem immediately makes itself known. “This is an annoying one, sir, but I just discovered the patch for it last week.”
He watches with admiration as I locate the file on my disc and eradicate his problem. Ten minutes later, I offer him back his chair. “Should be good as new.”
He presses a few keys and responds with relief when his problem doesn’t recur. “Thanks, I really appreciate that.”
“That’s what we’re here for, sir. Glad I could help.”
He stands and shakes my hand again. “So, Edward, has Bella asked you yet for lunch on Friday?”
“Sir?” I ask, still in his grasp.
“Oh, I guess not,” he says with a chuckle. “I asked Bella to set up lunch for the three of us for Friday, so I could get to know you better.”
“That’ll be a pleasure, sir. Thanks very much.”
“No, Edward, thank you.”
IMS-Just met Dad. Yes, I’d love to have lunch Friday with the 2 of you. -EMC
WHAT? I dial Edward, and he picks up immediately.
“Edward, hi. What’s that message? You met my dad?”
“Mmm hmmm. I fixed his computer. He told me about the lunch invitation.”
“Oh, he is a crafty one! I’m sorry, Edward, I was going to ask you when I saw you tonight. I’m trying really hard to get through my day without…” thinking about you every second.
“It’s okay. I get it,” he says, not sounding hurt in the least. “You holding up okay?”
“Aside from the cold shoulder from Alice, I’m doing fine,” I answer.
“All right. You’ll call me if you need me, right?”
“Sure. Thanks for understanding.”
“See you later, sweetheart,” he promises and clicks off. I hold the phone to my ear a few seconds after, soaking in the comfort of his nearness.
There’s a knock on my door, and I look up, surprised to see Alice pushing in.
“Alice, hi. What is it?”
“I just came in to let you know I’m being transferred.”
“Transferred? Why? Where?”
Her face brightens. “I got a promotion. I’m going up to 37.”
“37? Wow, Alice that’s great news for you. Who are you going to be working for?”
“Your father. It seems that Mrs. Cope is retiring at the end of the year, and the transfer request I put in this morning was flagged immediately for officer grade, and voila!”
She’s positively radiant, and it takes me a minute to realize she’s requested the transfer. I stand and shake her hand. “Alice, you’re a fabulous assistant, and I know my dad’s been jealous for quite some time. I hope you’ll be really happy…upstairs.”
“Thanks, Miss Swan. I’m packing up and moving this afternoon so she can train me. I guess you’ll get someone new in the morning.”
“Well, Alice, whoever it is couldn’t possibly hold a candle to you.”
“Okay, then, I’m off to pack.” She turns on her heel and exits my office.
IMS-Still working? –EMC
I can finally see my desk! Just walking out the door. See you at the Tavern?
Meet me in lobby instead?
Ur still here? Y?
Lots of trouble calls today. Something’s going around.
PLEASE tell me you didn’t do it!
I’m appalled that you could think that of me! ;-)
Can we continue this conv in person?
Yes, get down here!
I’ve resolved to give her more space at work, and every rational impulse in my body completely understands why I have to wait for her in a remote corner of the lobby and not meet her at the elevator bank, let alone her office. But the rest of me can’t help feeling relegated to the dark shadows. At least, before, IT guy was able to play the role of her friend at work; now I can’t help but feel like her dirty little secret.
Boo fucking hoo! taunts the Dark Prince. This gorgeous creature is only yours outside of work hours? And she’ll play whenever you raise an eyebrow? And may I remind you, your first night out together is Monday night football with your friends? I oughtta slap you silly!
Okay, Edward concedes. I get it, I get it. I’ll give her some time. But I’m not waiting in the wings forever.
How about New Year’s then? At least give her till then to pull you from the shadows.
Fine. Deal. 2012 is going to be the Year of the Edward.
I’m so absorbed in my musings, I don’t notice when she comes right up on me. “Hi,” she says, startling me.
“Oh shit, you scared me!”
She giggles, “Nice to see you, too.”
“Isabella, are you sure you still want to do this? We can always just have a quiet night in, or…”
“Are you trying to weasel out of our bet?” she asks with a playful grin.
“Oh, I am so not a weaseler, Isabella.”
“Okay then, let’s go.”
Game on, princess. We walk out together and I hail a cab. “We’re headed to The Tavern.”