Behind Closed Doors – C7

DISCLAIMER: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. I’m here having fun.

-BCD-

Chapter 7: The Boss

“Bella, don’t forget. I need both of your articles by 3:00 p.m.” He plops down in one of the chairs across from my desk with a look of pure defeat on his features.

“I know, Emmett. I know. You’ll have them by then,” I reassure.

We are all aware we need to meet his early deadline with the Fourth of July holiday quickly approaching. I think he’s reminding us every hour or half-hour it seems, while I try to reread the same sentence for the sixth time.

Emmett is always a little on edge this time of year and not his normal jovial self. There’s no one I know who loves his country more than Emmett does. However, I think it’s the random popping and booming of the nightly, stray fireworks prior to the actual day, which leaves him unsettled. We will all be breathing a little easier for him once the holiday passes.

He lets out a huge sigh as I watch his unraveling slowly continue.

“Are you okay?”

“I don’t know. Some days, I feel just… lost. Like, why am I even here? Who really cares?”

“Hey, I know it’s tough, but you’re a fighter, a survivor, and one of the most handsome veterans I know.”

My compliment gets me a small smile, so I continue.

“Emmett, you should be extremely proud of yourself. You’ve accomplished so much. Most have a difficult time coming back and readjusting to civilian life. You make it look effortless, when I know it isn’t.”

He lets out another heavy sigh as he contemplates my words.

Originally, I met Emmett in Carlisle’s office at Harvard during my undergrad. At the time, he had received an honorable discharge from the Marine Corps, but it only took one glance to see he was still in full-blown, Marine mode.

Being a Marine is a tradition in the McCarty home, and his father expected Emmett to enlist after graduating from high school. However, Emmett received a full ride scholarship to Harvard. Not only was Emmett an All-State football player who would join Harvard’s team, but he was also an academic All-Star in the classroom. In a true Emmett compromise, he agreed to enlist upon graduating from college, and when that day came, his father was right there to make sure he upheld the family tradition.

After getting his college degree in journalism, he entered Officer Candidate School and trained three years to become a Cobra helicopter pilot. As a combat pilot, he provided support for Marines on the ground by protecting transport helicopters, medevac aircraft, or destroying nearby threats using rockets, missiles, or guns.

He served his country for five years, before a lucky ground-to-air missile grounded his helicopter and his career, taking his left leg below the knee. After being fitted for a prosthesis and enduring plenty of physical therapy, Emmett returned home, where he faced new challenges of adapting back into civilian life.

It’s Carlisle who has nurtured Emmett’s civilian career to what it is today, and in the process, the two of us have found an easy friendship during his visits to see Carlisle. Emmett took a job as a reporter for the Post, like me, but it was his articles detailing struggles in combat and behind enemy lines that got him noticed and promoted to his current position, as my boss.

He’s everything you could hope for in a boss. He reassures when it’s needed, encourages the small wins, and creates an easygoing atmosphere. Emmett’s time in the military sharpened all of his skills, as he’s an active listener who communicates effectively. Under his guidance, our department runs like a well-oiled machine.

I won’t lie. Emmett is extremely easy on the eyes, standing at six foot, three inches with a muscular build while sporting short, curly brown hair and blue eyes. It’s true that most women are suckers for his smile and those heart-stopping dimples, but it’s his charm and personality that wins everyone over, including me.

So, it saddens me to see him looking so dejected and defeated.

“Hey, are you still seeing that one girl… what was her name?” I prompt, hoping he will focus on something other than this current funk looming around his edges.

He shrugs me off, so I know I’m going to need to dig a little deeper.

“Was it Jill or Jennifer? I think you said she’s a masseuse?”

“Yeah, Jen the masseuse.”

“Are you still seeing her?”

“Not really. It turns out, dating a masseuse seems like a good idea, but she isn’t interested in giving you a massage every time you see her.”

“What about Tiffany, the hairstylist?”

“She was too critical and wanted to wax my brows and other shit.”

“Well, it takes a very special woman who can appreciate the unibrow.”

“My brows aren’t that bad.”

I grin because he’s starting to come alive when I get him talking. “Have you ever thought about getting a dog or a cat?”

“No, but I had several large retrievers growing up. We used them for hunting.”

“What did you hunt?”

“Mostly birds, like pheasant or quail.”

“What if you got a dog now?” I ask, knowing Emmett would probably do better with some constant companionship in his life. I’m surprised he doesn’t already have one. “Maybe like a small dog that could stay at your apartment. You could have a dog walker come by while you’re at work or you could do a doggie daycare nearby.”

“Like a Yorkie or Chihuahua?”

“Yeah, a sweet little lap dog, maybe a Maltese. Then I could come over to your place and love on your dog when I need a fix.”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

“You should think about it. Angela is allergic to cats and most dogs, so we decided to table the issue for us.”

“Is Angela still dating Ben?” He perks up a little more with the mention of her name, as I know he has a small crush on her.

“Yes, it seems pretty serious.”

“Oh.”

“Hey, how about after we’re done for the day, we grab dinner. My treat. We can even go to Old Ebbitt’s Grill, one of your favorites. What do you say, feeling up for some oysters?”

“All right. Miss Swan. I see what you’re trying to do. I’ll leave so you can get your work done. I’ll call and make reservations, then we can go to dinner later.”

“Deal.” I give him a thumbs up and go back to my open document, trying to reestablish my last train of thought.

-BCD-

Emmett and I have made it through a dozen oysters, crab cakes, and a pile of calamari, plus a Black and Tan for each of us, when a familiar face walks toward our table.

“Bella?”

“Hi, Alice.” I’m surprised to see her, but not as much as I am to see her dinner companion.

“I’m not stalking you really, Bella. The universe must be trying to tell us something. Miss, would it be okay if we took the table next to my friend?”

“Sure. No problem.” The hostess leaves menus at their spots and Alice moves to the booth side to sit next to me.

Alice doesn’t miss a beat and makes a quick introduction. “Bella, I’d like for you to meet my cousin, Edward Masen. Edward, this is Bella Swan. She’s a reporter for the Post, and we met at the White House Women’s Luncheon a little while back.”

“Nice to meet you, Bella.” He appears unmoved by my presence as he gently shakes my hand.

Oh, dear. This should be interesting.

“You, too. This is my boss, Emmett McCarty. Emmett this is Alice Whitlock and Edward Masen.”

“I hope we aren’t bothering you.” Alice slips off her jacket.

“No, not at all. We are just finishing up another long day in the office and enjoying dinner at one of Emmett’s favorite spots.”

“I love this place too, but it’s funny, you never know who you will see here.”

My eyes lock with Edward’s while his face gives away nothing. “I agree. Funny.”

“Edward is in the same field as you Bella, and I guess, you too, Emmett. He writes for the Wall Street Journal, but he also hosts a talk show. They talk about all of the ins and outs of Washington and politics. Right, Edward?”

“Yes, that’s what we do.” He confirms the information without a glance in my direction.

During a rare pause in the conversation, Alice and Edward study their menus while Emmett shoots me a look.

I just shrug and give him my best I-have-no-idea face.

“Edward, do you know what you’re getting? I’m starving, but I’d better stick with fish so I don’t overdo it. Maybe the grilled swordfish.”

“I think I’ll get the hanger steak.”

The server comes by and takes their orders, then Alice jumps right back in to keep the conversation going.

“So, Bella, what are your plans for the Fourth?” she prompts.

I certainly can’t tell her I plan to spend the day with her dinner companion in hopes of rounding a few more of those bases we passed a few weeks ago.

“Nothing too exciting, probably watching the fireworks. My boss barely gives me any down time for fun.” I wink at Emmett.

“Oh, the fireworks are spectacular. Best display in the country, in my opinion, and for once, an event I have nothing to do with organizing. What about you Emmett?”

“I’m going to the Nationals’ game with some buddies.” He shrugs and finishes the last of his beer.

“Emmett was just telling me he’s thinking of getting a dog and he may have a line on one sweet little pup in particular.” I grin over his afternoon search at my prompting.

“Oh, Emmett, pets are the best. I keep telling Sue she should consider some pets, as most of the First Families have them. However, she has yet to give me the green light that she’s interested. Did the Clearwaters have any pets when you were younger, Bella?”

“Yes, but usually they were strays. Sue would take them in and nurse them back to health, as they showed up on her doorstep in need of plenty of tender loving care. Most were malnourished, but some were three-legged or missing an eye. It didn’t matter. She loved them all.”

“Oh, maybe I can have her go to a local shelter to adopt a pet or two. It doesn’t sound like a purebred is a requirement like her…” Alice lowers her voice. “Uppity predecessors.”

I smile. “No, there’s nothing pretentious about Sue or the Clearwaters. They’re regular people.”

“There’s a rumor floating around that Seth lost his phone—again.”

I chuckle. “I may have heard that rumor too. Seth is the life of the party, so I’m not surprised. He was very quiet growing up, but he’s certainly become more outgoing with the move.”

Since we are finished with our meal, Emmett decides to forego another drink and call it an evening.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Bella. Do you want me to walk you to your car?”

“No, I’m fine. I’m just going to finish the last of my beer, then I’ll head out too.”

“Okay, nice meeting you, Alice. Edward.”

“I’m going to find the ladies room, if you both will excuse me.” Alice makes her way toward the back of the restaurant.

I swirl the contents of my glass and take another sip. I can feel Edward’s eyes on me, and when I glance in his direction, I can tell he’s surprised we find ourselves somewhat alone in a restaurant full of people.

“How—” he starts.

“Edward! I thought that was you. I didn’t know you would be here tonight or you could have joined our table.”

Lucky me. Tanya Denali. Of course, they know each other more closely than his mention of her only being a guest on his show.

“Tanya, good to see you.” Edward gives her the easy smile and attention he can’t seem to garner for me.

“Isn’t it? I just finished dinner with friends, but if you want, we can go have a drink together in the bar? I’m always up for another round, especially with you.”

“I’ll have to pass. I’m having dinner with my cousin.” Edward points to the spot across from him.

She glances in my direction, but dismisses me as anyone significant. I try not to pay any attention to their interaction, but it is next to impossible. She’s louder than necessary, bringing unwanted attention to our table.

“Alice is here? Oh, she’s such a sweetheart. I have to go, but tell her I said hi and give her a kiss for me.” She leans in and plants a kiss on Edward’s cheek before he can move away.

“I’ll do that.” He uses his napkin to wipe off the lipstick she’s left on his cheek.

“See ya later, handsome.” She runs her hand across his shoulders and gives him a flirty smile as she heads for the main door.

“Bella—” he starts.

“Sorry, that took so long. There was a bit of a line.” Alice returns to her seat.

I take a deep breath to calm my nerves and plan my escape, as I’ve seen all I need to see. “I think I’m going to head out. I have an early morning, like Emmett. It was great seeing you again, Alice, and meeting you, Edward. Enjoy your dinner.”

I can’t get out of the restaurant fast enough and make a hasty retreat to my car then drive home. I’m filled with so many emotions during the drive that I’m not sure which is the most dominant one. I think it may be jealousy at Tanya’s flirty display, but mostly anger at myself and our arrangement. After all, no one knows we’re together, and for the first time, it hurts being unable to stake my claim on Edward for everyone to see.

Maybe he isn’t as serious about this relationship as I thought he was. What if he has secret arrangements with other women? Am I one of many? Nobody special? I don’t even know how to label us. We aren’t boyfriend and girlfriend or even friends with benefits. If anything, we’re friends without benefits, and that status seems quite precarious at this point, as I wonder if we are merely acquaintances. My excitement and trepidation over seeing him this evening has turned my head upside down with the possibilities we are only privately dating and not even exclusively. I feel like his dirty secret, which makes me think ending whatever this is could be best for both of us before either gets hurt.

When I reach our apartment, Angela is home, but in her room as I can hear her talking on the phone through the door.

I head into my room with a plan to shower and collapse, but check my phone to see no new texts or messages from anyone, especially Edward. I’m surprised he has nothing to say, which only confirms my suspicions of how invested he is in this relationship—or whatever we are.

Oh, God.

What if Shelly Cope, his agent, was right and I am the flavor of the month.

After my shower, I don’t feel any better, and replaying the entire evening over in my head, leaves an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach I can’t shake. I’m feeling disappointed and needy, hoping Edward will reach out and dash my doubts. He’s turning me into a hot mess of insecurities, which is part of the reason why I don’t date.

Against my better judgment, I check my phone one more time before calling it a night, only to find that I do have a new message, but not from Edward. It’s a message with an adorable photo, showing off the newest addition to the McCarty family, a Chihuahua aptly named Hercules. With Emmett proudly holding Hercules in the palm of his hand, I’m envious of the beginning of the sweetest, lifelong friendship, while whatever relationship I had with Edward is probably ending.

A/N: Huge thank yous to LizziePaige, Honeymoon Edward, purpleC305, and Midnight Cougar for their help with this story.

Our favorite couple has hit a small bump in the road which has left Bella stewing over the encounter as her doubts and insecurities have surfaced. Do you think Edward is fairing any better? I hope you enjoyed getting to know “The Boss.” I always have a soft spot for Emmett and this one is no different.