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Chemistry in the Kitchen

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“Mom!” Ian shouted, and her head whipped up from the latest John Grisham novel, sunglasses pushed up into her hair. The clouds had rolled in after they'd arrived, but the balmy summer warmth of the seventy degree day had Ian begging to stay.

Bella Swan watched as he swayed on the monkey bars, the gap between his teeth showing as he grinned her way. His jeans were stained with grass already, and she sighed at the eventual task of scrubbing out the stains.

“Good job, monkey man. Do you need help?” she questioned, and Ian tumbled to the ground as he opened his mouth to respond. Her son had inherited her propensity for accidents, but he didn't shout when he fell, only bounced back up and bounded her way with all of the energy of a four year old.

“Mama, I'm hungry,” he insisted, his hands resting on his hips with the unspoken demand. Bella rolled her eyes and laughs aloud at the whine in his voice, “can we have M'Donald's?”

“Did you eat all of your eggs this morning?” Bella asked, knowing the answer and, from the way his lip pokes out, Ian did, too.

“No, Mama, but I'm hungry now,” he begged, and Bella deftly ran a hand through his hair, the urgent and eager playing having mussed it.

Bella sighed. It's times like these she wished Jake had stuck around. He hadn't been good to her, not really, but he had been a good father to Ian when he wasn't gambling with their savings or cashing out on his retirement without telling her. It'd been wonderful until Ian was two and Jake had lost his job. After that, everything had come crashing down around her.

Ian listened to Jake better though, or so he said after his weekend visits. Bella had the sneaking suspicion that Jake just said that so that she wouldn't say anything about the new toys he brought home constantly.

“Here, have a snack,” she said instead, pushing away thoughts of their past, watching as her son dug into the proffered container of crackers, carrots, and gummy bears. She was prepared, usually, for her son's demands, and always tried to do her best, “if you eat it all, carrots too,” she chided, “we can stop by McDonald's on the way home after you're done.”

Ian grinned, and with renewed gusto, chomped down on the last carrot and forfeited the container before bounding off towards the slide. A young girl, maybe six, stood at the top, contemplating how to go about going down. While Bella's life had certainly not gone to plan-- step one: Move to New York City, step two: become a writer, step three: live her life-- she'd met Jake and started a family, and she couldn't regret that, not when she saw the way Ian kindly talked to the girl about how to go down, demonstrating how himself several times (she suspected it was more about getting repeated turns on the slide, though, than helping). She didn't regret anything. Though Seattle and it's suburbs where no New York, she'd made a life here in Forks, made a living, and she liked it well enough. As ever, though, life with Ian as her main man was fulfilling, but lonely. She missed the nights of warmth and comfort and passion that Jake and she had had when it was good.

Now, Jake had moved on; Leah was good for him, getting him into a Gambler's Anonymous group, finding a sponsor for him, and now, they were welcoming a little girl soon-- but Bella? It was just her and Ian. She'd tried dating around a bit, tried all the apps that Alice, her well-meaning, energetic neighbor and friend pushed on her, but to no avail. Her last date, she'd fallen asleep at the theater and awoken to her date's too warm palm slipping up her thigh and his eager eyes glinting with lust.

No, dating was not her scene right now, clearly; Mike Newton saw to that.

So, she contented herself with the occasional night out with Alice or her co-workers at the blog, and sometimes even indulged Rosalie, her uptight editor with a drink after work, and a lot of Thomas the Tank Engine episodes with Ian. Her life wasn't empty, it just wasn't filled.

There was no one in her bed at night to curb the loneliness, no one there to bitch about Rosalie to-- sure they were friends, but they were editor and food critic first-- and no one to help her raise her son. Raising Ian was rewarding, no doubt, but after two years of constant mothering, she was exhausted and just wanted someone to help. Someone to kiss and to cuddle Ian too when he was having a bad night. Someone to make him macaroni and cheese, and someone other than Alice to watch him while she went on overnight assignments in Seattle.

She turned back to her book, tucking the empty tupperware away; McDonald's for dinner, it was.

---------

A bathed, full of processed McDonald's chicken nuggets Ian lay sleepily against her side as she read through her latest email from Rosalie.

“You sure you don't want to go to bed, honey?” Bella asked once more, watching as her son's brown eyes drooped slowly.

“Nuh-uh, Mama, stay with you.” Dark hair slicked back with sleep sweat mussed as he shoved his face into her stomach; he was a stubborn boy.

“Well, baby, if you stay in bed with me, you have to be very good. No feet in backs tonight, okay?”

He had already fallen asleep, and Bella didn't mind. Life was too fast for her to bear rejecting her son's cuddle filled wishes, even if she did eventually pay for it. There would come a day where he would stop cuddling all together, and so, she took the feet in the back every time. Bella turned back to her work, where her latest write-up, one on the new Queen Anne's Italian joint stared at her mockingly. Sighing, she pulled out her notepad and began to trawl through her notes from Tuesday evening to finish it up and send it to Rosalie, eager to get her new assignment.

Rosalie had been her friend for longer than Bella had worked for her small avant-garde culinary blog, but when Rosalie had mentioned starting the blog, Bella jumped at the chance to write up reviews. It was a dream job; she stayed with Ian most nights, and when she couldn't, Jake was more than happy to take him. Ian was happy to spend his last year before kindergarten eagerly dragging his mother from new park to new park, begging for a skateboard like the “big kids”, and learning to dribble a basketball from Michael, a neighbor kid down the hall, on the complex's nice, fenced court.

A knock sounded through the apartment, loud, firm, and only once. Bella slipped out from beneath the covers and padded into the entryway, where Alice waited at the door.

“Hey, doll, sorry to interrupt. Did you forget?”

Thursday were their wine nights. Right.

“Fuck. Yes. I was in the middle of typing out the last bit of my Mia's piece. Here, come in, let me just grab the snacks and I'll join you. Pick a wine.”

Despite her job, culinary critic extraordinaire (if you're asking Rosalie), professional eater (if you talked to Alice), Bella had little in the way of cooking skills. She understood the chemistry of it, the theory of it all, and the way things came together to please the senses, but her own culinary acumen extended to Kraft Macaroni and hotdogs. Grabbing the leftover brick of 'fancy cheese' (a blueberry honeyed goat cheese) and the nice crackers she'd gotten at a discount-- she's sure the grocery clerk had been flirting-- she tiptoes across the living room, narrowly avoiding Ian's toy truck near the coffee table, the two glasses clinking dangerously loud in the quiet apartment.

To her pleasure, Alice had chosen well. The valpolicella stood open on the coffee table, and the smell teased her senses as she arranged the crackers carefully around the roll of cheese.

“So, tell me alllllllll about this newest place, what is it called? Chemistry or something, right?” Alice gushes. Bella had texted her earlier to babysit Ian for the night after being told she'd have to drive down to Seattle, to a little restaurant. It meant an overnight stay.

Little or not, chimie was making a huge wave in the downtown Seattle culinary scene and Rosalie had decided that this review would be it. The review. The golden one that would finally put their blog on the front page of food review magazines and center them as proper competition against the papers that Rosalie decided were old and stale and “all about old white men who can't tell the difference between a bearnaise and a hollandaise”-- Bella just wanted to try the food, see if it lived up to the hype.

“It's haute French, very upscale. Fancy, and expensive.”

Bella had already done her due diligence and scoped out the menu.

“Okay, but, like,” Alice twirled her hair between her fingers and leaned in to whisper, “is the chef hot?”

Bella rolled her eyes.

“Seriously, you ask that every time and every time I tell you I'm not answering that,” Bella replied. Alice fished her phone out of her pocket and typed away, her fingers clicking at the keys.

“A young head chef, only 31, has made a big splash on his first night in the Queen Anne district with his upscale, blah, blah, blah-- ooooh, he is hot!” Alice pushed her phone towards Bella, pouring herself a glass while she gushed.

Bella fumbled the phone a little, holding her glass out wordlessly for Alice to fill as she reads.

Her eyes, however, gravitated towards the photo of a small group standing on the sidewalk beneath the sign declaring a grand opening. First, there was a stocky, but broad man with dimples, his kind eyes showing even in the grain of the photo, and next to him, arms crossed but head cocked back with laughter was a taller man, blond curls catching the light just right, and next to him, finally, cigarette dangling between two thin fingers, pale skin almost glimmering in the rare Seattle sunshine, was the head chef, his tousled chef whites stained by work, and his eyes squinting at the camera, a careful smile gracing thin, pink lips. His copper hair was mussed, messy and sticking up every which way, as though he'd just run his fingers through it.

Bella swallowed carefully and read the caption, trying not to stare at the imposing, attractive men before her.

Emmett McCarty, finance manager, Jasper Whitlock, front of house manager, and head chef Edward Cullen on opening day.

Bella took a large swallow of wine, handing Alice's phone back.

“Oooh, wait, the blond, he's just dreamy. Oh, wow. He's so attractive I could just--”

“Alice,” Bella warned, eyes shifting towards the hall, beyond which Ian lay sleeping.

“Sorry, you know me, I just can't help it.” Alice laughed, high and a little too loud.

“I'll get my laptop,” Bella said, in an effort to escape to make sure the bedroom door was shut and Ian wasn't rousing from sleep, “and you can help me with my last bit on the piece before I send it to Rose.”

Bella shuffled down the hall and retrieved her laptop, her face burning with every step.

She tried to pretend it was the wine, but instead, Edward Cullen's face swam before her mind's eye.

Edward Cullen, head chef. The Edward Cullen.

His dreams had come true, she thought wistfully, remembering an eager smile and shared laughter soft lips and messy copper hair turning brown as it slicked down with rain water.