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We drove to the wharf in a comfortable silence. My mind racing back to the events that had happened in the short time we had been together today. I can't believe I was so forward with her at the house. Tiffany has been a big flirt for the last year but she was harmless. Besides, she was great with the kids and Elizabeth adored her. I usually just ignored her batting eyelashes and occasional comments but tonight I suddenly felt like I should have taken care of this problem sooner. I was more worried at what Bella would think than what Tiffany actually said.
I turned and caught Bella looking my way and then she quickly turned and looked out the window. I stared at her profile for a moment and was struck with her original beauty. She wasn't like the fake women that I see all the time running around Carmel. She was real and had that girl next door charm. Innocentâ€¦..yet not. I'm sure that she's seen more heartache than the average woman her age with her divorce and raising a son by herself.
Seth. I had only been around him a few times but I could tell that he was a great kid. He brought out the adventurer in Tony and for that I think I would probably like him if he was a snot. However he wasn't, he had a kind heart and a sense of justice that made him into a little vigilante. I was going to have to watch him around the Newton kid. I couldn't be angry at him for sticking up for Tony, he was being a friend and I think it was probably the first time that anyone has done that for my son. It amazed me at how quickly they had become friends.
"What are you thinking about?" I heard Bella whisper, her eyes fixed on my face. I glanced over at her and smiled.
"Our boys." I said simply as she sighed deeply.
"Seth has a pretty bad case of hero worship." Bella stated with a giggle. I smiled, knowing that she was referring to me. He was so eager to please and take in anything I had to say. If only my own kids were so eager. I chuckled.
"He really is a great kid." Bella rolled her eyes.
"Sure, he'd be higher on my scale of perfectness if he'd stop bringing reptiles in the house." She said with a little shudder. "This morning I was assaulted by the biggest frog I had ever seen." We laughed together as I pulled into the parking area to the wharf.
I jumped out of the car and ran around to get her door before she had it completely open. I offered her my hand and she took it with a small smile.
"I'm still not letting you off the hook for the chivalry lesson." She said with a teasing smile. I smiled back at her, noticing her perfectly dazzling smile. Her warm hand in mine felt nice as I pulled her up and out of the passenger seat. I released her hand when she was fully upright and felt that tingling feeling in my fingertips at the loss of contact. I rubbed my palm with my thumb and brushed against my wedding ring. A stab of guilt shot through my heart. What am I doing? The question hung over my head as we walked in silence to the wharf.
We came to the first building and Bella walked over to look into the display window. I heard her suck in a breath and point to a large glass blown set of dolphins.
"I had those exact dolphins given to me by my father for my graduation."
"Another critter experience." She laughed lightly, but I could hear a slight sadness in her voice as she spoke. "When we were packing to move down here, Seth's frog got out and in the process of trying to catch him he knocked them over and they broke into a million pieces." Bella shrugged it off causally, but I could tell that it bothered her.
We walked down the wharf and chatted a bit about her first day at work. Her excitement level rose as she spoke reverently about the white shark they had acquired from San Diego. When we reached the Old Fisherman's Grotto, there was a teenager handing out samples of clam chowder. Bella took hers with a thank you and tasted it tentatively. I was enthralled with the little pink tongue that darted out of her mouth to lick her lips. I shook my head, trying to get the image out of my mind.
"Wow. That has to be the best chowder I've ever tasted." I nodded my head, still trying not to focus on her mouth again.
"I guess I know what you'll be ordering for a starter." I teased as I looked down onto her radiant face.
"We're eating here?" I nodded my head as I opened the door for her to enter. When we came in I immediately spotted Emmett sitting at the bar with Rose.
"Emmett's over here." I said as I tugged her along.
"Hey Em. Rose." I said getting there attention as I leaned down and placed a kiss on Rose's cheek. Emmett turned around with a big dimpled grin that widened even more when he spotted Bella.
"Bella!" He bellowed, making me wince at his loud greeting. Emmett never was one to control the volume. "I didn't know that you'd be here." He grinned widely and looked at me, giving me a wink. I rolled my eyes knowing exactly what was going on in his head.
"Bella, this is Rosalie, Emmett's wife." Rose had the same big smile on her face that Emmett had as she took Bella's hand.
"It's lovely to meet you Bella." She smiled and I hoped that she and Emmett would behave.
"Our table should be ready in a few minutes." Emmett offered and then turned his attention to Bella.
"So Bella, what made you agree to go out on a date with this schmuck?" Emmett asked with the signature Cullen grin. I felt a little uneasy at his line of questioning. Did she think this was a date? Was it? I groaned inwardly, not sure if I should correct him, but not wanting to embarrass her. I hate this indecision.
"Actually, Alice invited me, but she had to go pick up Jasper so I rode with Edward." Rose reached over and smacked Emmett upside the head earning a laugh out of Bella and me which eased some of the tension in the air.
"Cullen table for six" A petite redhead called into the bar.
"That's us." Emmett said as he downed the rest of his drink and offered his arm to Rose. She smiled up at him as she wrapped her arm around his. I had never seen Emmett so content as when he was with Rose. They had a complicated relationship that I didn't fully understand but there constant bickering was expected and it never went further than the surface. He adored her and no matter what airs she put on in front of everyone, the feeling was mutual.
Alice and Jasper showed up just as we arrived at our table. Jasper, Emmett and I all held out the chairs for our dates. Was that what this is? I'd have to talk to Alice later and find out exactly what she said to Bella to get her to come along.
When we were all seated and looking over our menus I noticed that Bella hadn't picked up her menu. I leaned over and whispered in her ear.
"Do you need help picking something to eat?" I asked, trying to be helpful.
"No. I fell in love with the clam chowder and noticed that they had the Sourdough bread bowls and chowder so that's what I'm going to have."
"Would you like some Calamari? It's fantastic." She wrinkled up her nose and shook her head almost violently.
"No, you go ahead. I've had enough of squid for one day." I gave her a quizzical look.
"I had to feed the penguins today and ended up with more on myself than in the tank." She shuddered and I chuckled lightly. I looked up and found four pairs of eyes watching us closely. I shook my head at Emmett when he looked like he was going to say whatever was on his mind. He clamped his mouth shut and looked back at his menu.
"Bella?" She looked up at my sister-in-law. "Alice said you just moved here. What brought you to the Peninsula?" I was thankful that Rose seemed to have taken a liking to Bella. It was always hit and miss with her, especially if she viewed this as a date.
Rose had been the one to introduce Tanya to me just after her and Emmett got married. Tanya's death had affected everyone in my family but no one more so than Rose. She never blamed me for the accident but I immediately felt her pull away from me and the kids. She was always friendly but there was something that was different between us. Almost as if Tanya was the glue that held us all together. I listened half heartedly as Bella talked about her move and her new job.
"So, you have a little boy Anthony's age?" Rose asked with a glimmer in her eye. I knew that Rose had always wanted to give Emmett a boy but it just wasn't in the cards.
"Yes. He's a ball of energy." Bella smiled at something she was remembering, probably the critter incident from this morning. I found myself smiling with her.
"But, he's a great kid." I added, reaching for my water glass. I felt Bella turn towards me and I knew that she was smiling. I brought the water glass to my lips and chanced a glance at her. She quickly looked away a slight blush tinting her cheeks. Rose let out a large sigh.
"We have girls. Don't get me wrong. I love my girls. It's just that we wanted a boy too." She smiled at Emmett and he shrugged his shoulders lightly.
"Girls, boys, it don't matter to me. I've got my nephew when I need some boy bonding time." Emmett said as he squeezed his wife's hand.
"Emmett can only shoot little pink girl bullets." Alice told Bella with a giggle. We all chuckled at her reference to the male being the one to determine the sex of a child.
Dinner came and we enjoyed the meal and conversation. Bella hit it off with Rose and the girls were currently discussing the Good Old Days coming up in a few weeks in Pacific Grove. Emmett leaned towards me and looked over to make sure that Bella was preoccupied. He nodded his head for me to come closer.
"She's hot, bro. What are you waiting for?" I reached over and smacked Emmett upside the head before sitting back in my seat. He chuckled but then motioned me back. I glared at him warning him to behave before I checked to see if the girls had noticed our exchange. Alice's smile looked a little wider than it did a moment ago but they were still engrossed in their conversation.
"Seriously, she's a nice girl." I nodded my head in agreement. "Ask her out." He pushed and I shrugged my shoulders hoping to end any further encouragement.
"What do you think, Edward?" My head snapped to Rose and I gave her a confused stare.
"I'm sorry I didn't catch what you were talking about." I asked as Alice sat bouncing in her seat.
"The Good Old Days. We were talking about going. Do you know if there is a game that day?"
"Yeah, it's a Saturday so we have a game but I think it's in the morning. We'd miss the parade but there's still a lot to do." Alice squealed so Jasper wrapped his arm around her giving me an apologetic look.
We spent the remainder of dinner talking together about anything and everything. I couldn't help but notice how easily Bella fit in our little group. She laughed easily with Rose and teased Emmett just as much as he did her. She didn't seem to mind Alice's raging energy and she even found something in common with Jasper, who had a harder time getting to know people. Then there was me. I liked her. She was different from Tanya but I could also see the similarities. She had a passion for things that she cared about and she was charming and genuine.
"Would anyone like dessert?" The waiter asked as he cleared off our finished plates. Emmett reached for the desert menu when Alice chimed up and answered for everyone.
"No, just the checks please." Emmett looked at her like he was going to tear her apart. Jasper instinctively pulled Alice closer to him.
"What the hell, Ally!" Emmett whined. "They have the best cheesecake on the Peninsula." Alice shook her head at him like he was a small child that needed correcting.
"Because, we're going to Rosine's." Emmett snapped the dessert menu shut and a big grin lit up his face.
"Well why didn't you say so?" He said as he rubbed his hands together like he had just won the lottery.
"Who's Rosine?" I heard Bella ask Alice and I smiled at the opportunity that we would have to introduce Bella to Dessert Heaven, as Alice liked to call it. I braced myself and just as I predicted Alice squealed causing Emmet and Jasper to stick there finger in their ear and itched at the high pitched noise that rattled their eardrum.
"It's only the best place to get dessert ever!" She started bouncing in her seat and Bella looked at me with a raised eyebrow for me to explain.
"Rosine's has a wide array of deserts but they are known for their portion size." She nodded as the waiter came by with the checks. He handed one to Jasper, Emmett and then myself. Bella looked over my shoulder as she grabbed her purse. I slipped my credit card in the holder and quickly handed it to the waiter before he could leave.
"My treat." I said to her as she reached for her wallet. I saw a flash anger cross her eyes and wondered if it might be better to let her have her feminist moment. She pulled out some cash and set it in front of me. I pushed it back in front of her and I watched her jaw clench in agitation. She was a fiery little thing and I wondered how far I could push her before she erupted.
The money sat on the table between us and I wondered if she was going to give in and let me win or what her next move would be. Alice was droning on about her favorite desert and how it was always too much for her to finish, completely oblivious to the power struggle going on across from her. I looked over at Bella and she had a small smile on her face. Could it have been that easy?
Our waiter returned with the checks and we all stood up to leave. I watched as Bella picked up the cash off the table and I felt a small sense of victory as I turned to head for the door. My family was already outside waiting for us when I felt Bella's hand on my arm. I turned to see what she needed and noticed a wicked grin on her face. I looked at her questioningly as I felt her hand on my hip. A small jolt of electricity raced through my groin and I froze at the stir of emotion I hadn't felt in a long time.
I looked down at her hand as it moved from my hip to slip into the pocket of my pants. I gulped down the lump that had formed in my throat as she pushed her hand deeper in and then quickly pulled it out and patted the pocket. I looked at her and I'm sure she saw the stunned look in my eyes.
"This isn't a date so I'm paying for my dinner. If you want to pay, you'll need to ask me out again." I stared dumbfounded as she walked out the door, giving me a small smirk as she looked over her shoulder. I shook my head trying to clear the slight buzz that sounded in my head from the moment she touched me. I reached in to my pocket and pulled at the money for her dinner. Score one for Bella. I thought with a chuckle as I shoved the cash back into my pocket.
"We're going to go see the sea lions." Alice bounced happily and then took off down the wharf with Jasper's hand securely in her own. As we walked Bella would occasionally look over at me with a smug smile on her face.
"Bella, come see!" Alice squealed from the end of the pier. Bella and I looked over the railing to the docks below and there were about twenty huge sea lions piled on top of each other. The combined weight of the obese animals was sinking the dock. As we watched the slumbering sea lions there was a splash just to the right where we were watching. I heard Bella suck in a breath and I looked towards the splash. A few seconds later a graceful bottlenose dolphin leaped out of the water.
"They don't normally come in this close. It's dangerous for them to be in the harbor." Bella whispered to herself but I caught every word.
"Will they be okay?" I asked, wondering if we needed to do something. Bella nodded her head.
"They're extremely smart. Some think that their intelligence rivals our own." Alice let out another squeal when it jumped out of the water again. It was almost like it was giving us our own little show. Moments later another dolphin made its appearance known.
"Did you know that dolphins have been reported to have saved humans from shark attacks?" Bella asked as I nodded my head remembering the story of a local surfer that was friends with one of our X-ray technicians at the hospital.
"Todd Endris." I said quietly. Bella looked at me slightly confused by my comment.
"Todd Endris is a surfer here on the Peninsula that was attacked by a seventeen foot Great White. He said that a pod of dolphins protected him from the shark returning. He's friends with someone I know at the hospital." Bella looked slightly shocked.
"Really?" She said with awe in her voice, I nodded my head at her disbelief. "I knew that there were reports of them protecting humans but I didn't know that they literally saved someone who was actually being attacked." A small shudder ripped through her tiny frame as I'm sure she was envisioning the brutality of the scene.
We stayed and watched the dolphins playing in the moonlight until they moved on to deeper waters. Bella and I were in deep conversation over dolphin safe tuna and how the Aquarium was helping in the effort to educated consumers when Emmett interrupted.
"Hate to rain on your environmentalist party but I'm dying for a piece of Peanut Butter Cream Cake." Rose slipped her hand in his and they briskly walked back to the parking lot.
"What's Peanut Butter Cream Cake?" Bella asked in a whisper as if she were afraid to be overheard by Emmett. She learned fast, Em would probably rake her over the coals for not knowing what his favorite cake was.
"It's chocolate cake, with chocolate and peanut butter frosting with halved peanut butter cups on top."
"Ooooooo. That sounds good." She said as I shrugged my shoulders.
"I prefer the pie." I said casually as we walked quickly back to the car. It only took us a few minutes to arrive at the restaurant. I was surprised when Bella didn't rush to open her door and actually let me open it for her. I held out my hand to help her out and she smiled radiantly at me.
"So, you've decided to let me treat you like a lady?" I asked in a teasing tone.
"Actually, I've decided to give in and embrace the chivalry since you gave in earlier." The reminder of her hand in my pocket flashed through my mind and I stuffed it down in the far depths of my memory, not wanting to turn into a bumbling idiot again.
We walked into Rosine's and Bella stood at the desert display with a slack jaw. I chuckled and let her gaze over the heavenly display and then nudged her towards the table that currently held our party.
"So Bella. Did you see anything you liked?" Alice asked. Bella nodded and the waitress came by to get our order.
Emmett ordered his favorite, which he would share with Rose while Jasper and Alice ordered a slice of cheesecake to share. The waitress came to Bella and nodded for her to order.
"I'd like the Apple pie à la mode." Alice and Rose stopped chatting and stared at Bella while I shook my head at another coincidence.
"What?" Bella asked when everyone was looking at her. I leaned down and whispered quietly in her ear.
"That's what I usually order." I said quietly. She smiled widely and then gave me a wink.
"Great minds think alike." She said with a smirk.
"Bella, you might want to share that with Edward. It's huge." Rose suggested as I looked over at her for her reaction.
"Sure, that'll be great. I'm still stuffed from all that Sourdough." I grinned as a thought came to my mind.
"Fine by me, but I'm paying." I said with more force than I had meant. Thankfully, she giggled and smiled up at me.
"I'll let you get this one." She conceded. What could have been another awkward moment was actually quite pleasant as we shared the pie and ice cream. She seemed to not care for the crust and left it for me which was my favorite part, so it worked out perfectly.
We said goodbye to my siblings and their significant others and headed back to my home where Bella could pick up Seth. I all of a sudden felt nervous and started second guessing the decision that I had made earlier when Emmett pulled me aside at dinner. My hands began to sweat as I gripped the steering wheel tightly.
"That was a lot of fun tonight." Bella broke the silence and I nodded, afraid that if I spoke I would give away how anxious I was feeling. "Thank you for dessert. I think that was the best apple pie I've ever had."
"I'd have to agree with you on that." I said as some of my anxiety eased when she started speaking. The silence set in again and I knew that if I didn't ask now I would chicken out.
"I really did have a great time with you tonight." I said somewhat shyly.
"Me too." She said quietly. I caught her smiling before she turned towards the window.
"Uhâ€¦â€¦wouldyouliketogooutwithmeagainsometime?" I said in a rush, feeling like a nerdy sixteen year old asking the head cheerleader to the prom.
"Excuse me, can you repeat that?"
"Would you like to go out with me again sometime?" She paused for a long time and I considered letting her off the hook and retracting my invitation when she finally spoke.
"That would be nice." She whispered and I heard a hint of embarrassment in her voice. I wondered if she was tinged with the lovely blush I had seen earlier.
"How about Friday?" I asked knowing that if I left it there I probably wouldn't get to the point of actually securing a date.
"Yeah," She said shyly. "That sounds fine." Bella amazed me at how she could go from confident, strong, professional woman to timid and uncertain girl in a matter of moments. I fought the urge to grin like a fool but unfortunately the grin won.