"I swear to you, Edward, if this is about you throwing a hissy fit because of Alice's new boyfriend, I will spank you over my knee, whether you're too old for that or might like it too much for my own comfort nonwithstanding."

That gets me moving away from Bella immediately, who answers my rueful smile with one of her own. Trying to look properly chastised I turn to my mother then, who is still gazing at us levelly.

"Why should I? He looks like a decent enough guy."

My mother's elegant brows rise, and her snort isn't exactly ladylike.

"Don't give me that crap. I hope it's not too much to ask of my grown-up son that he behaves like an adult?"

"Of course not," I grumble, then I feel like hitting myself for sounding like a petulant child. "Look, this isn't about Nate or Alice, and in fact we were just about to rejoin the merry band that's ready to descend on the dining room any moment now."

"If you say so," she replies, the turns around, switching effortlessly from stern mother to best hostess there is. "Oh, and as you're already in the kitchen, could you please bring four bottles of beer with you? Emmett and Nate already said they want one, and Jazz really looks like he could use one, too."

"And the forth one?"

"Why, for Bella of course! At least I figure she will drink some as since she broke up with Mike she stopped pretending she doesn't love to chuck down a Heineken as much as you guys? I know you won't touch any, seeing as you're designated driver and due for work in the evening."

With that she leaves us to ourselves, and when I glance at Bella, she grins and stretches up onto her tip-toes to place a quick kiss on my chin.

"That would be really nice of you."

And just like that I'm left alone in the kitchen, with nothing else to do other than to fetch the booze or look even more stupid. I hurry to rejoin the others, not wanting to seem like I'm moping around when I'm really not.

Of course my mother's assessment has been correct – while I'm surprised that I really don't feel any resentment towards Nate, Jazz has a much harder time coping with meeting his successor so soon. He accepts his beer with a grateful smile when I hand him the bottle. Being the last to reach the table I'm forced to take the last remaining place, between Bella and Jazz. I'm pretty sure that my mother had intended for me to sit between her and Bella but sneaky as she is, my beloved has stealthily switched our seats, leaving me smack in the middle of everything. The other long side of the table is divided between Rose and Emmett on the one end closest to Jazz, and Alice and Nate on the other, with my father having the honors of occupying the head of the table.

At first conversation is a little awkward, but Emmett and Jazz soon enough start discussing the latest NHll results while Bella and Nate resume their talk about that book she mentioned earlier. It turns out Nate is a history professor at Columbia, and he seems only too happy to regale our merry group with some anecdotes from his studies when my mother prompts him to – better than the cranberries on the carpet tale anyway.

Slowly everyone is easing up, and once we dig into the food, things are as close to civil as can be expected. Rose keeps eyeing us speculatively but holds her tongue, and thankfully no one else drops any weird comments, either. When the conversation turns to the Revolutionary War, Jazz finally chimes in. I'm surprised how relaxed he seems, and allow myself to let my own guard down a little. Everyone is enjoying the food, and to mixed amounts the company also; in fact the only one glaring at anyone is my father in my general direction from time to time, and I can certainly live with that.

Things progress like that to coffee and pumpkin pie, when Alice suddenly speaks up, looking all ecstatic and ready to bounce in her chair as she grabs Nate's hand on her left, and Rose's on her right.

"We forgot to say what we're all thankful for! Come on, everybody, we need to do this or it's not a proper Thanksgiving!"

I have to bite down on my tongue to keep from groaning, but of course no one protests – keeping Alice from her perceived traditions is like stealing a small child's cotton candy. A bit grudgingly everyone clasps hands around the table then, only Emmett and Rose modifying the gesture where he's holding the baby with one arm, and Rose her little daughter's hand instead of her husband's.

"Let's start with our happy, young parents, I'm sure yours will be easy to guess!"

Rose still looks less than ecstatic, but then again she seems tired and strung out since she got here.

"Okay, how about this. I'm thankful for my husband remembering that he pledged he would be on diaper duty whenever he's home, even at 4am in the morning. And I'm thankful for my wonderful darling daughter letting me sleep for up to three hours in one go before she loudly demands me to demonstrate again why we're mammals. Anything else? Oh, right, I'm thankful for endless reruns of TV shows at night because otherwise I'd never get to catch up on them all in just under a month!"

Everyone except Alice and my father seems to find her answer hilarious, the same as with Emmett's when he keeps it short with a loud, "I'm thankful for not having to smell gherkins on Rose's breath 24/7 anymore!" Then they kiss, probably with a little too much tongue than most people would find appropriate, but I don't think either of them really cares.

Once Rose and Emmett are behaving like proper parents again silence falls for a moment as Jazz seems more than a little reluctant to pick up, but after a moment he opens his mouth nevertheless.

"I'm thankful for everyone I know being healthy, and that despite the abysmal economic situation right now having found somewhat of a semi-secure freelance job for the next months."

Bella gives a whoop at his words that Rose echoes with loud clapping, once again making me wonder why I'm always the last to hear of such things. Jazz nods his thanks to Rose, then grins at Bella, and with his eyes flickering to me for a second he adds, "And I'm thankful for my friends, above all else."

Before anyone can read too much into that, I pick right up from him.

"I'm thankful for Bella loving me and bearing with me even when I behave like a stubborn idiot, and she has to guide me with her oh so gentle words to see reason again."

The lovely woman in question snorts at that, then gives me a light kiss before she murmurs a low, "Smartass!" into my ear. I snort, then go on.

"And because it's so true, I'm also happy for having the best friends in the world."

Bella echoes my words, although she adds that she's ecstatic about the first book she did a collaboration on hitting the shelves soon, before she, too, adds the friends remark. When my mother doesn't offer her own thanksgiving comment right away Bella leans close to me and chuckles softly, then adds, for my ears only,

"And every time I wriggle my ass around on this abysmally uncomfortable chair I get reminded of how much fun it was to have your cock in my ass while Jazz was fucking my pussy this morning, and oh boy, I'm so very thankful for that, too."

I try hard to disguise my laugh with a snort but still catch a look from my mother that tells me plainly that while she has no way of knowing what exactly Bella just said that drew that reaction from me, she can take an accurate guess at the nature of our whispering. Yet there's only amused happiness on her face when she does it, before she turns to the table at large and offers her own thankfulness – that includes for a cask of 1996

Château lléoville Barton Saint-Julien Bordeaux that she brought with her from last summer's visit to France.

Carlisle offers a rather dry line about things going well in the hospital, and Nate, trying to be gallant but without appearing as if he is insincerely polite offers thanks to the cooks of the dinner, and of course Esme's invitation.

Then it's Alice's turn at last. At first she clears her throat, then proceeds by making gooey eyes at Nate that make me pray inwardly that Bella will never turn to such saccharine moves, but from the way she keeps frowning I feel assured that unless she wants to tease me in the future I'm on the safe side.

"I'm thankful for so many things, like my newest clothing line being the hit in France and Italy, and of course everyone around me being healthy, but most of all I'm thankful, no, scratch that, amazingly grateful for having met Nate, because he's everything I've ever looked for in a man, and more than I could have asked for!"

Way to sucker-punch someone without even talking to them, and the somewhat awkward silence that follows her words shows that I'm not the only one feeling like that. Trying to rescue the situation, my mom then asks a seemingly harmless question.

"So, Nate, how did you and Alice meet?"

It's funny how everyone suddenly perks up, while trying to seem inconspicuous about it. The fact that Alice tenses a little is not lost on me, but considering the way she usually acquires her conquests, I expect that to be because the tale probably involves alcohol, which, considering their painful breakup, wouldn't be a surprise to me.

Only that what Nate relates, with an easy smile and not a care in the world of what his words cause, exceeds my expectations by far.

"Actually, we met in Paris. Cheesy, right?" he offers, then smiles at Alice as he takes her hand in his. "I was there for a guest lecture at the Sorbonne, and Alice for a fashion show, I think. Then we ran into each other again in New York, had dinner together, and when it happened a third time here in Seattle, it started feeling a little too much like it was meant to be. And, well, the rest is history!"

The silence meeting his words is palpable, and when Bella finally asks the question we're probably all burning to know the answer to, her voice is oddly hollow.

"How long ago was that? That you met in Seattle, I mean. I guess New York was in September?"

The week of her birthday party, if I remember correctly.

Nate obviously realizes that the mood on the table has suddenly changed, but the question is innocent enough, so he answers promptly."About four weeks ago, why do you ask?"If things have been awkward before, now they are painful, and I'm not the only one who spares a quick glance in Jasper's direction. He's about the only one not avidly following Nate's words, the way he keeps looking at the half empty beer glass in his hand with his face absolutely devoid of emotion. I don't know how to react, stunned as I am by the implications, and feeling Bella go oddly still at my other side doesn't help my indecision.My mother tries to jump into the gap then, offering a slightly strained, "Well, that does sound like fate," but her words do nothing to dissolve the tension.But they seem to tear Jazz out of his stupor, for he drains his glass with a long gulp, then stands up, the sound of the chair scraping across the floor grating up my spine."If you will excuse me for a moment," he offers in a near soundless voice, then he is out of the room. Still torn with indecision I'm looking after him when Bella jumps to her feet, running after him as she calls his name, sympathy so heavy in her tone that it's impossible for anyone not to make the connection.Nobody says anything for at least twenty seconds, when, probably picking up on the general mood in the room, the baby starts to cry. Rose laughs mirthlessly as she gathers her daughter in her arms and grabs a napkin, then gets up to feed the baby in the other room."Mona, you already have impeccable timing, why do I get the feeling you'll make sure that your mommy and daddy won't be able to get you a sister or brother unless we hand you over to someone else for a few hours each week?"She's barely around the table when Alice gets up to follow her. Through the whole exchange she has been obviously uncomfortable, but while she seems all too ready to seize the opportunity to flee, she doesn't really look apologetic."Edward, will you help me clear the table?" my mother asks me, and I'm not sure if she does it to keep me occupied, or because she wants to squeeze the details out of me in the kitchen. Either way I nod, happy not to belong to the unhappy few left sitting at the table.True enough, the moment I'm done putting the last dishes into the washer I find her looking at me, concern making her face appear years older than her birth certificate states."I might not know all the details, but I simply remember that Bella told me about their breakup two weeks ago?"I just reply with a mute nod."And I presume she didn't sit on that information for a month already?""Nope."She sighs then and rubs her eyes, before she turns a stern look at me."If you expect me to kick her out or something now, you're sorely mistaken-""Mom, stop it!" I exclaim, probably loud enough that the people across the street can hear me still. Taking a deep breath I tune my voice lower as I go on. "I'd never ask you to do something like that, and you know that. Can't hold it against you if you'd want me to, though, so you'd have an excuse.But seriously, I don't really give a fuck about it."I don't know who's more surprised about my outburst, me or her, and after opening and closing her mouth twice without making a sound she whips around and walks out. Scrunching my eyes shut I lean against the kitchen island until I hear the back door open and close, admitting Bella and Jazz back in. Bella just looks at me for a moment before she walks on into the dining room, leaving Jazz teetering between following her and coming over to me. I'm not surprised when he walks into the kitchen, and after a long, haunted look lets me hug him in silence.The moment only lasts for a few seconds, as I step away from him quickly when a very distinct scent hits my nostrils."Jesus, have you been smoking pot?"I only need to look at his blood-shot eyes, but he still nods in confirmation."On my parents' back porch?""Yeah, on their back porch, while Bella was giving me a blowjob no less."I don't know whether to stare or laugh."She did that?""Actually, no, she only offered it in jest, but I think from the way sympathy was pouring out of her she would have done it if she had thought it would help any."His laugh is real enough, thanks to the wonders of marijuana, but cuts off suddenly when his eyes fix on something behind me. Turning my head I find no other than Nate hovering just inside the doorframe, looking something between nervous and apologetic. For a moment I feel like he has caught us doing something indecent but we weren't touching at that point, and there's no guile in his eyes, either."I'm terribly sorry if what I said caused you distress, this was never my intention, and I hope you accept my apology?"I want to groan inside at his words – also because he doesn't even seem to know who he's apologizing to, Jazz or me – but before I can say something, Jazz replies with more maturity than I would have guessed him able to."It's not your fault, man, and no reason to apologize. Can't really be a great moment for you when you find yourself poking an anthill like that without even knowing that it's been there all along."Nate has the grace not to answer, and after a moment Jazz nods, then walks by him to rejoin the others. I wait for him to say something else but when he doesn't, I shrug."If you haven't figured it out already, he's Alice's ex. And if you were wondering, they didn't break up four weeks ago."With that I leave him there alone in the kitchen, wondering if this will be the last I've seen of him, or not. The mood inside the dining room hasn't changed much, Rose and Alice are still missing, and not quite surprising my mother has managed to procure a glass of Scotch for herself that she's sipping daintily. Sagging back onto my seat between Bella and Jazz I'm surprised to see Nate return so soon, but before the awkwardness can get any worse by itself, the girls enter the room. I'm not sure if that's an improvement.Alice meets my gaze levelly as she takes her place again, but she doesn't seem apologetic in the least. I don't know why exactly that rubs me the wrong way – and it's not like there's a shortage of reasons, really – but I'm actually surprised that she doesn't even seem to feel any remorse at what she has caused. It seems that me looking at her is a silent challenge for her, because when no one else says anything, she takes a dainty sip from her by now cold coffee, looking from me to Bella, and lastly to Jazz."Okay, I get it, so there's a slight time discrepancy here that everyone is oh so scandalized about now, but can we see this topic as acknowledged and move on, please? This is getting a little tedious."Bella on my right goes very still, assuming the kind of calm I've seen one too many times in my life. As long as she's raving mad and screams, Bella is a force to be reckoned with, but whatever is bothering her is easily resolved. But this calm is the exact same way she was acting when I got to stammer out my fleeting apologies last summer that ended with me proposing to her. And if I'm not completely mistaken, whatever she's readying herself to tell Alice is not something that should be uttered in present company, if ever.I try to be stealthy as I slide a hand up her leg in a pacifying gesture, but of course she tenses up even more before she turns her head and glares at me, a clear warning to back down and let her handle this. I can see the frustration in her gaze, and that's mostly what keeps me from just leaning back and letting things unfold. Holding her gaze I do my best to tell her with my eyes to let it go. If she wants to, she can have my ass later at home, but I really don't want her involved in this cluster fuck.It seems as if today is my lucky day as Bella finally exhales loudly and looks away, tension slowly leaving her posture as she mentally backs down. I'm just about to do the same, hoping to somehow get out of here before anything else can happen that might bring this powder keg to explode, but then Alice gives a small yet derisive laugh."And if he tells you to bark, you won't even ask how loud, right? It's sad to see women give up their independence like that, but your stunt with Mike should probably have been a dead giveaway that you're prone to that."My head whips around and for a few seconds I can only stare at Alice, dumbfounded. I half expect Bella to get in her face, but instead of letting her emotions rule, she only leans back further in her chair and regards the woman sitting across from her calmly."If he gave me a good reason for it, why not? There are worse things he could ask me to do, but I wonder, do any of them hold up to cheating?Somehow I don't think so."So much for keeping things civil, but I still admire Bella's calm, although towards the end some of her anger is leaking into her voice. Alice straightens at the jibe, then huffs as she spares a glance in my direction."At least I'm in good company, wouldn't you say? Then again, judging from your previous behavior all should be forgotten and forgiven in a week or two and we can go back to being besties. But oh, I'm not so sure I'd even want that, seeing as you're once again fucking my ex!"