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Fanfiction inspired by Stephenie Meyers Twilight

Warning: This story is for a Mature Audience ONLY. There are graphic references to rape and physical/mental abuse. While we dont believe in censorship, we would advise caution when reading. For 18 years of age, and up.

Just Wait
By InstantKarmaGirl

Summary: AH AU OOC In a world saturated by vices, Bella is forced to move in with her father to avoid the repercussions of her past deeds. But after she meets the socially withdrawn adopted son of the town's doctor, will she allow herself to open up and heal?

Chapter 1: New Town, New Life Bella The drive from Sea-Tac airport to the little town of Forks was nearly unbearable. I didn't speak more than two words, which consisted of 'hi' and 'fine' to my biological father Charlie. It annoyed me to no end that I was being transported in his stupid fucking police cruiser to his stupid little town. As usual, Charlie had no clue as to what to say to me, so after he asked how I was, he was silent too. Not that I minded that shit. It was good to not constantly have to think of ways to avoid stupid questions. So instead of speaking, I thought about the phone call that brought me to this end of the country where everything was green and wet and so fucking close that I felt claustrophobic. I had been sitting at the incredibly expensive and new kitchen table in my mother Renee's house, listening as she dialed Charlie's number. "She stole a fucking car, Charlie. It's fairly obvious that I can't handle her anymore, isn't it?" Renee's typically flighty voice shrilled at her ex, my father. "Look, you're a goddamn cop and it's your turn. She's only got a year and a half left until she can"

I sighed, trying to imagine Charlie's side of the conversation, wondering if he was really going to let himself be bulldozed by Renee yet again. I wondered how he could even be a police officer lacking enough testicular fortitude to stand up to one miserable woman. "Her choices are slim. Either she goes to jail, goes to live in some kind of group home for troubled kids or she lives with you. You can straighten her out, Charlie, I know you can." Another pause, her eyes flicking to me. "Don't you dare. I've had her since she was two years old so don't go pulling that bullshit about me just not wanting her anymore." The car stopped and I looked out of the rain speckled window up at the house that Charlie had lived in since before I could remember. I stared at the second floor, at the window on the right and I already knew what my bedroom would look like. I had spent summer after summer in that house. It was one of the few times Renee actually smiled around me; when she knew she'd have three whole months without me. I was sure she was happy now, knowing that she was officially free of me and my fucked up life. Or rather, me fucking up her life. "Here we go, Bells," Charlie said, a false happiness apparent in his voice. I rolled my eyes at him, wondering why he allowed himself to be manipulated into taking me. I knew he didn't want me. Hell, even the summers I spent with him, he hadn't wanted me then. He would work and I would spend the days watching TV or roaming the far too safe streets of Forks and in the evenings we'd eat pizza without talking about much of anything. The weekends were the same. I had to accompany him while he fished with his friends. When I grew older, he let me stay home, where I shamelessly went through his things, snickering at the bad porn stashed in his closet. I got out of the car and waited for Charlie to pop the trunk and as soon as he did, I loaded myself down with my things, leaving only one small bag for him. The look on his face told me he thought he should be carrying my things, but I didn't need him, so I was perfectly happy lugging them myself. My bags contained my things and I didn't like other people touching my things, what few things I actually owned. I also didn't like people in my room, so I was thankful when Charlie acknowledged this and stopped in the doorway as I pushed the old door open and looked upon my new/old room for the first time in years. I dropped the bags on the floor as I looked around, nauseated at the sight. It was a kid's room, complete with hand print turkeys and stupid crayon drawings of the sun and trees. I hadn't been to Charlie's since I started high school, but how had I let this room look like this during the summers of junior high? Charlie cleared his throat behind me and I turned to see him set the one bag down on the floor, running his free hand through his hair. "I made an appointment with Dr. Cullen for you. It's tomorrow at 10." I rolled my eyes. "I'm in perfect health, Charlie." I was sure he wanted me to call him dad or some shit but he said nothing. "You're enrolled in school, but you can't start without a complete physical and you know just as well as I do that you have to have an appointment for your diabetes at least twice a year and I figured you were due." Again, I rolled my eyes. Renee never took me to the doctor, for obvious reasons and I could've given a shit less about a physical for school, but I supposed that it was better than a group home or jail. "Fine." "I leave at a quarter to seven every morning but I'll be back at nine thirty to pick you up." After having barricaded the door and spent a few hours taking down all the stupid 'little girl Bella'

drawings and taped up pictures of rainbows and unicorns, I tried to sleep. I slept like shit though. The rain drummed down on the roof and the wind gusted against the house, causing the window pane to creak and groan all night. But it was just fine. I didn't usually sleep much anyway. So Dr. Cullen worked at the hospital. This town was so small that no doctor had a separate office, they all just worked out of the hospital. I hated hospitals. But I had to go, so I found myself alone in a little examination room when in walked the most gorgeous man I'd ever seen. He was wearing a white coat and his blonde hair was perfectly styled making him look like some 1940's movie star. Dear god, if this man was Dr. Cullen, he could examine me any day. "Miss Swan?" I cringed at his words, but pasted on my best smile. "Bella," I corrected him. He smiled at me and my heart felt like I had just finished a marathon. "Bella," he said, my name dripping from his mouth. He motioned behind him and a mousey little nurse came through the door. "This is Tracy." Dammit. Stupid hospital rules about male doctors examining females alone. What I couldn't do with sexy Dr. Cullen and his light pen. The exam was going perfectly fine until he started running his hands over various bones. While I wanted to pretend he was giving me a much more intimate examination, I couldn't. My brain froze, hoping that his good looks made him an incompetent physician. "Hmm." I swallowed hard, looking at the ceiling, ignoring his exploring fingers on my collar bone. "What?" "Have you broken your clavicle before?" Shit. Taking in a deep breath, I nodded. "Yeah." "Did no one set it?" He pulled the top of the gown up slightly, covering my collar bone again and then gently helped me into a sitting position, his hands moving to explore my back. "Um, no." I could feel my skin flush as I tried to figure out how to get around the truth on this one. "It was stupid and I didn't go to the hospital." I saw his perfect eyebrow arch in question. "Skateboarding." It was a lie. I'd never been on a skateboard in all my life. "Hmm," he said again, but then removed his hands from me and sat down on his little stool, scribbling notes into a chart. "So how is your diabetes, Bella?" I shrugged. "Fine." "Are you eating right, counting your carbs?" I let out an exasperated sigh. "Yes." "Exercising?" "Yes." "Monitoring your blood sugar levels?" God dammit, of course I was. "Yes. Four times a day at least." "What about insulin?" I shrugged again. "What about insulin?" I repeated, putting the emphasis on the word about.

"Are you still taking it?" I rolled my eyes. Didn't these guys ever get tired of asking the same damn thing over and over? "Whenever I need it." "So daily?" "Yes," I sighed, highly annoyed. He smiled at me and all of my annoyance fled my body. Stupid good looking doctor. "Well, all we need to do is take a few X-Rays and we'll be all finished here." "X-Rays?" X-Rays had never been a part of the physical experience before. Smiling again, Dr. Cullen nodded. "There are just a few things I'm curious about." I was sitting outside of Dr. Cullen's office, waiting for my father to finish up the discussion. We'd been at the hospital for nearly 3 hours and I was sick of it. The door to the office was slightly ajar, so I could hear their voices as they discussed random things. Dr. Cullen had already filled out the evaluation form that would allow me to go to school and they had a ten minute conversation about some sporting event, so I was quite bored with eavesdropping, until I heard Dr. Cullen ask, "How well do you know your ex-wife, Charlie?" It took my father a moment to answer. "Well, we were together for a little less than two years." He paused. "Why do you ask?" "How much interaction have you had with her over the years?" "Not much. Bella has come out here several times, but always by plane and never with her mother. Why, Carlisle?" Dr. Cullen paused, I supposed for dramatic effect. I held my breath, already sensing where this was going. "Bella has an incredible amount of contusions that have healed on her head but also more healed broken bones than average teenagers usually have." "Well, Renee has always said that Bella's a klutz." "Charlie," Dr. Cullen said with a sigh, "These aren't the types of injuries one gets from falling down. Is it possible that Bella's mother" Shit. Shit. Shit. I stopped listening at that point. He was going to say it and Charlie would have to think about it. And then Charlie would know and we'd probably have to have some kind of conversation about it. My mind drifted until Charlie finally exited the office. "Bella," he said, much softer and careful than ever before. Fuck it, he knew. "You ready?" "Yeah. Everything okay?" I couldn't help but ask. Charlie nodded at me and gave me a tight lipped smile, holding up a piece of paper. "You're free and clear to go to school tomorrow."

Much to my surprise and eternal gratefulness, Charlie didn't say a word about the information he received from the incredible Dr. Cullen. He simply dropped me off at home, told me to make sure to eat and then went back to work. I hoped that Charlie would continue this laissez faire style of parenting. My day went quick as I continued to shift my room into something more suitable. Charlie wasn't much of a housekeeper, so after I finished with my room, I started cleaning the small bathroom upstairs. Cleaning was easy and it kept my mind off of things I usually tried to avoid thinking about. Soon, the upstairs was so sparkling clean that I almost didn't recognize it. I didn't clean Charlie's room, but I went downstairs to clean the living room, dining room and kitchen. The hum of the vacuum lulled my mind into a numb state, leaving me remembering exactly how my collar bone had been broken. Of course Renee didn't take me to the hospital. There would have been questions and poorly concealed dirty looks as the medical professionals made their silent judgments and decided if calling Child Protective Services would be necessary. Looking at Renee and her tiny little five foot five frame, one wouldn't think that she would be able to inflict such damage, but I knew from experience that Renee was a force to be reckoned with. It wasn't that she was so physically strong; it was that she had so much fiery passion and aggression within her. I shook my head as I flipped the vacuum off. I hadn't had any weed since I left Phoenix and I desperately wanted some. It was going to be one of my top priorities at school tomorrow. In this kind of climate, there was bound to be some killer bud growing somewhere and all I needed to do was find the person at Forks High that could hook me up. I didn't have much money saved up, but I could easily get a job and in the past, it was fairly easy to hook up with my hook up. Not that I was a pot whore or anything. It was just easy to find mutual pleasures and typically when you're fucking someone, they don't charge you for the shit you smoke when you're with them and it's easy to get them to break you off some for when you're not. It was nearing five o'clock when I finally starting hunting around in Charlie's cabinets and refrigerator in order to see what I could make for dinner. I wasn't trying to be domestic, but cooking and cleaning were just some of my responsibilities at Renee's so it wasn't as if I was stepping outside the realm of traditional Bella roles. But Charlie had next to no food in his house. His fridge was filled with random condiments and a shit load of beer. If only beer was my preferred method of getting fucked up. And it looked as though he had enough to not even miss a few. Dammit. Well, perhaps I'd be able to stumble across some hidden bottles of the good stuff; the harder stuff where only a few shots would leave me warm and peaceful. I sighed, but dinner was the most important thing at the moment. Finally I found some frozen hamburger and a box of that shitty Helper stuff, so I went to work. It was incredibly unappealing and I would have to talk to Charlie about getting actual food into the house. I was taking my blood sugar reading as Charlie walked in the door. I watched him as I sat at the dining room table. He kicked off his boots, some of the mud splattering the newly cleaned tile. As he unhooked his gun belt and hung it up, he seemed to look around the house, eyeing the clean state of his house, he seemed to remember that I now lived with him. "Bella?" he called. "Right here, Charlie." He looked up and gave me a small smile. "You didn't have to go cleaning anything like this." "I'm sorry." My reaction was immediate and I hated myself for apologizing. I would clean if I wanted to clean.

"What's that smell?" "Dinner. But it's probably pretty shitty. You need more food." Charlie cocked his head to the side. "Watch your language." I bit my tongue and looked back down at the monitor, picking up my pen to record my results. "Everything okay there?" "111. Perfectly normal, Charlie." The rest of dinner was silent, except for when he said that dinner was good, to which I grunted in reply. He handed me seventy-five bucks to go shopping for the week before I went upstairs. It would definitely make scoring easier and seeing how well he stocked his pantry, I knew Charlie would have no clue how much money was actually spent on food. As I went up to my room, Charlie settled down into his recliner, popping the top of one of his beers, another unopened can sitting on the table next to him. Just as I had done the night before, I locked my bedroom door and barricaded it with the wooden computer chair, wedging it up under the door knob. I wasn't exactly nervous about my first day of school. To be honest, I really didn't give a shit if I fit in or made friends or any of that nonsense. But I disliked being driven to school in a police cruiser. That was a bit on the embarrassing side. My license had been taken away and I had no vehicle of my own, so another priority for my school day was to latch on to someone who would give me rides to and from school. I didn't care who it was, just someone with a car. Charlie made what I figured were typical 'Dad' comments before I got out of the car. I was happy to be out of such a confining space with him. He seemed like an okay guy, but being strapped in to a moving vehicle mere inches from the man put me on edge. My first stop was the administrative building where I picked up a stupid map of the school and my class schedule. I took a moment before heading back out to peruse it. At least Charlie made sure that they gave me some of the classes I wanted. I got into Photography, although it was a basic level class and I was already beyond that. U.S. History, blah, Calculus, whatever, Physical Education, are you fucking joking? British Literature. Okay, I could handle that, even though I doubted the reading list covered anything new to me. Spanish. Podra excavar quiz mis cerebros con una cuchara. Biology. I was in A.P. Biology back in Phoenix, so at least I could breeze through this class, and most of my others, with only minimal effort. Quite easily, I located all my classes on the map and then stepped back out into the drizzle. Students passed me left and right, casting me curious looks, their eyes moving from my feet to the top of my head. Apparently I was endlessly fascinating to these culture deprived kids of Forks. As long as none of them talked to me, I'd be okay. "You must be Isabella!" I cringed as I turned to the guy with the pimples and dark hair. "I'm Eric." Good for you. Now what do you want? "It's Bella, actually," I corrected, deciding that being nice, or at least not so shitty to everyone would help with my two priorities of scoring a little weed and finding rides to and from school. "So, do you need help finding your classes? I could help." I gave him a tight lipped smile and I did my best to calm myself. After all, it was probably fairly irrational to be upset with someone offering me help. "I think I can manage."

"Well, I can fill you in about Forks High if you want." Seriously? What did I need filled in about? It was high school, right? There were cheerleaders and jocks, nerds and geeks, thugs and punks, loners and delinquents. I could pick them all out by myself and certainly didn't need a pimply puppy following me around. I sighed. "My first class is English." Eric peered at my paper in a totally intrusive way, scanning all of my classes, teachers and room numbers. "Right this way," he said as he started to lead me down the same path I had already been on. "Yorkie! Finally get a girlfriend?" Again I cringed. Two minutes standing with this fool and already I was his fucking girlfriend? Scowling, I turned to look at the other boy who had just came running up. Obviously a jock, but not a first string jock. By the his expensive clothing, I deduced that he probably only made it on to the varsity teams because his daddy was some local Big Name Guy. "Oh," he said, as he took me in, his eyes scanning every part of my body, leaving me feeling like I'd just been visually violated. "Hi. I'm Mike. You're Isabella, aren't you?" Before I could correct him or even sigh in annoyance at the use of my proper name, Eric smiled at Mike and said, "It's actually Bella and I'm taking her to her first class." Wow. I felt like a piece of meat being dangled between two miniature dogs. Mike rolled his eyes and took the paper from my hands. My teeth clenched. I hated when people touched things that were mine. "I have English with you. Yorkie has Econ, it's in the other direction. Come on, I'll show you." His eyes scanned the list again. "Oh, we have Biology and P.E. together too. Too bad about Biology, the only open seat is next to" "Mike, Bella and I were involved in a very personal conversation and you've very rudely interrupted." The sleaze smiled at me. With a frown on my face, I grabbed my schedule back from the fucking idiot named Mike and rolled my eyes at the brainless wonder called Eric and started towards my classes. That was exactly what I needed. One dork and one jock already fighting over who could walk me to class. What was this? Some kind of Disney Original movie? Neither of them would have a hook up and even if they drove, I didn't think I would be able to stand two minutes alone with either one of them. They both trailed after me, trying to engage me in some form of conversation or another, but I ignored them. It wasn't until someone ran into me, knocking my bag off my shoulder and my schedule out of my hands that I stopped and let them catch up to me. "Jesus Christ, C-C-Cullen. Can't you watch where the fuck you're going?" Mike snarled at the boy who had bent down to pick up his fallen bag while Eric ran after my floating schedule. I wondered briefly why Mike had drawn out the kid's name like that. The boy looked up, first at Mike and then at me, freezing for just a moment when he did so. "S-sorry," he mumbled to me, not looking back at Mike. He stood up straight, holding out my bag to me. What the hell was this guy doing in Podunk, Washington? And why the hell did he take shit from the likes of this stupid Mike guy? The Cullen kid was obviously so much more superior in every way. His bronze hair was unruly but in a way that would make the girls in Phoenix wage war just to run their fingers through it. He had a perfect face, all straight lines, green eyes, and long lashes. And he was tall, well, taller than me, which at five foot four wasn't hard to accomplish. "Why you have to be such a freak?" Mike kept up, roughly grabbing my bag from Cullen and handing it back to me. I was just about to tell Mike to knock it the fuck off when the biggest fucking high school kid I'd ever seen came around the corner. My eyes widened as I took in the anger etched on his face. He stopped right next to the bronze haired god with low self esteem and shot daggers at Mike. Instantly, Mike's

body conveyed his nervousness. On instinct, I stepped away from the three boys, suddenly realizing that Eric had frozen in place behind me. "What is your problem, Newton?" "Um, hey, Emmett," he said, carefully, his voice quivering as he spoke. "Nothing. Your, uh, your brother just nearly knocked the new girl over and I" "Thought calling him a freak would be an appropriate response?" Emmett took another step closer to Mike. This was certainly very, very interesting. The big guy was the bronze guy's brother and while Mike seemed to enjoy being a prick to the bronze guy, he was absolutely terrified of the big guy. I hoped Mike pissed his pants. I shook my head. What the fuck was I doing? Why did I give two shits about the happenings between these people? I had to remember my priorities. The bronze guy seemed absolutely too weak to give me a ride anywhere and I wouldn't be in a confined space with the big one if someone paid me loads of money and weed. And neither of them were dope smokers. I could just tell. Grabbing my schedule from Eric, I began to walk away, not missing the fact that the bronze Cullen's eyes followed my actions carefully. Thank God for lunch. I did enjoy Photography a little, but everyone had nicer cameras than I did and it made me jones for some pot even more. I got to the cafeteria and took a seat at a vacant table. Everyone else seemed to be in the lunch line. I quickly checked my blood sugar, trying to be discreet about it, before I pulled out my bottle of water and pop tart. Ah, the lunch of champions. Before I knew what was happening, the empty table I was sitting at filled up with people I had seen throughout the day. If that didn't sour my mood, the fact that Mike sat down next to me while Eric took a seat across from me surely took my mood from sour to unbelievably tart and acidic. "Oh my God, Bella, I cannot believe that we haven't had a chance to talk yet. You're in my English and Calc classes. I'm Jessica. Mike told me you like Bella rather than Isabella and I totally agree, there's something just so beautiful about the name Bella and something so stuffy about Isabella." My eyes turned to the girl sitting on the other side of Mike. My god she could talk. "Hi." Her eyes widened as if she was shocked that I acknowledged her. "So, how do you like Forks? Are you getting around okay? It must suck to have a cop for a father. I wouldn't want to be driven to school in a cop car. If you want I can take you. I have a Honda, it kind of sucks but I think my parents are planning to get me something new when I graduate. Too bad that's a year and a half away, right?" I smiled, but turned my eyes to the other people in the cafeteria. They settled on the table where Bronze Cullen was sitting with Big Cullen. There were three other people sitting with them. A beautiful blonde, obviously a cheerleader, hanging all over Big Cullen and a small dark haired girl with unbelievably expensive clothing, holding hands with a male blond. "I see you've discovered the Cullens and the Hales. Don't even bother. They're all together. Emmett's with Rosalie and Alice is with Jasper. Rosalie and Jasper are twins and then the Cullens are all adopted or something. Edward's the only one who's not attached to anyone. He doesn't seem to" "They're a big bunch of freaks," a blonde haired girl next to Jessica said. Instantly, I didn't like her. "Thank you!" Mike exclaimed. "They're all crazy or messed up in some kind of way. That's why they flock together like that." "And didn't you and Edward have a thing?" the blonde asked Jessica.

Jessica immediately blushed. "Oh yeah. For being a big freak, he's very skilled. It must be those musician's hands." My eyes trailed down the Bronze Cullen's body until they reached his hands. They weren't overly large, yet the fingers were long and slender. I supposed they would be good for playing instruments. "And no need for him to talk when there's so many more interesting things to do with his mouth." Mike rolled his eyes and pushed Jessica a little. "Whatever." "Oh, don't be jealous, Mikey, you know I prefer you in the sack." "Ew," another girl with glasses said, obviously feeling like I did, that we were venturing into the realm of too much fucking information. I didn't want to know who was screwing who here. My eyes left the Cullen/Hale table and moved to a table where all the occupants were males. One of them was incredibly big, almost as big as Emmett. "And who's that guy?" I asked, letting my eyes point the way. "The big guy." "Oh," Jessica's voice seemed fall into a conspiratorial whisper. "That's Jacob Black." For whatever reason, the name seemed oddly familiar. "Total druggie." My eyebrow shot up. "Your dad probably knows him real well." That was all I needed. I tucked my water bottle back into my bag and stood up. "Where are you going, Bella?" Mike asked, his voice anxious. "Um." I couldn't find anything to say, so I just shrugged and took off from the table, making a quick line to Jacob Black's table. I could feel everyone's eyes on me as I did. "Hey," I said, drawing upon all of my confidence. What the fuck did I care what these people thought about me? None of them knew me. Jacob looked up at me, his deep brown eyes narrowing slightly as he studied my face. My god, he was a bit intimidating, even if he was wearing a dirty hippy Bob Marley shirt. "Hey," was all he said. He had to know that I was Bella, the 'new girl'. The fact that he didn't seem as happy or shocked to be speaking with me as everyone else in the school did made me a little nervous. I shifted on my feet, shoving my bag back up on my shoulder. "Can I talk with you?" His eyebrows pushed together as he continued to study me. "About what?" Stupid motherfucker. I knew he was holding. I could just tell. "About your shirt," I said, using my most snotty voice as I narrowed my eyes back at him. Finally, ever so slightly, the edges of his mouth curled up. "So talk." "Somewhere else." He sighed, shoved the rest of his piece of pizza into his mouth and stood up. His friends snickered and made a few crude comments. "Shut up," he said, his mouth still full, smacking the back of one of his friend's head with his hand as he moved past. He guided me out of the cafeteria and didn't stop walking until we were outside, small pellets of rain dripping into my hair. "So?" he said, his long legs stopping and allowing me to catch up to him. "So I heard that you might know where I can get some ganja." Jacob's face was calm. "I don't know what you're talking about." Shaking my head, I clicked my tongue at him. "Yes, you do."

"You're the fucking Chief of Police's daughter and you're asking me on your first day of school if I can get you some pot?" I nodded. "You're insane." "Sometimes, but not right now." "How stupid do you think I am?" I rolled my eyes, leaning back against the moist bricks of the school. "Well, you don't look stupid, but since I don't know you, I have no real way of knowing." "You do know me." I quirked my brow at his statement. "Bella fucking Swan, Charlie Swan's daughter who comes up every summer. We used to make mud pies together." Again I intentionally formed a confused expression. "Jesus, you can't remember our dads dragging us all over the damn state while they fished?" A few vague memories came back to me. I looked up at Jacob's face. There was a boy I remembered shoving into the mud every once in a while and then crying when he pulled my hair. "Smile." I watched as Jacob rolled his eyes, but plastered a smile on his face. "Yeah, now I remember you." He folded his arms over his massive chest and cocked his head to the side. "You stopped visiting." Letting his eyes wander over my body, his smile shifted into something meant to be seductive. "You got all grown up, didn't you?" Again, I couldn't help but roll my eyes as his non-subtle comment. "So can I get some weed or not?" "How do I know that you haven't turned into a Narc?" "Did I tell Charlie about the time when you stole his beer when we were twelve?" He rolled his eyes, obviously accepting the fact that I wasn't a Narc. "So, about that pot" Jacob grabbed my hand and pulled me away from the bricks, away from the school. I wasn't really afraid, even though it seemed like a natural response would have been fear, especially since he was so much bigger than me. And despite having played in the mud with him, I really didn't know him. We stopped just inside the woods that surrounded the school. "I don't have any for you to buy here. One more 'infraction' and I'd be expelled and Charlie would stop being so lenient on me." He dug into his pocket, pulling out a hard pack of Camel Lights. Flipping open the box top, he plucked out a perfectly rolled joint. "But we can get high before going back into hell." He nodded towards the school. "Thank God!" I exclaimed, finding a relatively dry fallen tree to sit down on. "I haven't had any since leaving Phoenix." He lit it and took his time taking several long pulls, some to get it going, others to take into his lungs. Finally, he passed it to me and I felt almost giddy at the feel of it between my fingers as I took a big hit. "So after school," he said during his long exhale, "You can come back to my house and I can get you some of your own." "Thanks." We passed the joint back and forth a few times and I started feeling fucking great. I ran my hands through my hair and let my eyes slip closed. "So you already with Newton or what?" I nearly choked. "What? No. He's justa puppy." Jacob's smile widened and I could tell he was nearly fried too. "Well, then," he said, leaning towards me. I felt my brow furrow but did nothing to stop what I knew

was coming. "Let me stake my claim then." Before I could even process his possessive words his mouth crushed down against mine. It was a fucking great kiss. "Bet you haven't had any of that since Phoenix either." I smiled, letting a chuckle bubble out of me. Feeling warm and relaxed, I sized Jacob up. He was tall and incredibly muscular. I should have at least been slightly afraid of him, like I was when I saw Big Cullen, but something about having had my hair pulled by him and shoving him into the mud as a kid made him safe. I licked my lips, tasting the remains of Jacob and marijuana. Standing up, I pushed him until he was sitting where I had been and then quickly moved to straddle him. Damn right I hadn't had any of that since Phoenix. Taking the smoldering roach, that was nearly too small to smoke, out of his hands, I gave it one last puff before flicking it behind him, listening as it sizzled in the damp foliage. Jacob's hands moved immediately to my ass, cupping it, fingers digging in slightly. I pressed my lips back against his, my hands moving to tangle wildly in his hair. Fuck, I could get laid before Biology. I wondered if little Miss Jessica could say that. He pulled back, his hands still rubbing my ass. "No panties on the first day of school? Jesus, Bella, you've turned into a dirty girl, haven't you?" "You have no idea." A wicked smile played on his face, but Jacob carefully stood me up, letting his hands linger on my hips a moment before brushing one of them in between my legs. "As much as I'd love to explore the Chief of Police's nasty little girl, I can't be late to class. Billy would have a fit if I got expelled." I backed up and grabbed my bag, watching as he rose to his full height. Dude must have been at least six foot six. "How is your dad?" I asked, trying to remember my manners but not really giving a shit. I could barely remember the guy anyway. "Needy as ever," was his reply as he lead me out of the woods. When we reached the edge of the campus, he turned to me. "So after school meet me out front." Score on my top two priorities. I nodded in agreement before moving down the path that I thought would take me to my Biology class. The bell rang just as I entered the class room. Lazily, I moved towards the teacher, holding out my class slip to him. Mike Newton was glaring at me. I gave him a little smirk and then shrugged my shoulders before the teacher introduced himself as Mr. Banner and pointed to my seat. Walking to my seat, I realized that my table partner was none other than the skilled hands, talented mouth Bronze Cullen. He looked way too nervous as I approached. He was breathing hard, as if he'd just gotten done running and his eyes flicked towards me for just a moment before moving to the front of the class and then out the window. Okay, so dude was strange. I supposed if he wasn't trying to grab my shit during class, I could deal with strange Bronze Cullen. "Hey," I said, giving him a tentative smile. I didn't want him to think that I was a prick like Newton and was somehow still pissed at him for running into me. He looked sick as his eyes found mine. All he did was give me a little nod in greeting. "I'm Bella," I said softly as Mr. Banner began to talk, bringing the class to order. Bronze Cullen gave me a small half smile before moving his eyes to the front of the room. I guessed that it was all he was going to give me. It was customary to give your name in return when someone introduced themselves to you, but whatever, I already knew his name. I pretty much zoned out until Mr. Banner called on Bronze Cullen. I had only been paying half attention to the entire class, so when Bronze Cullen hesitated before answering, I tried to remember what had been asked, so that I could whisper the answer to him. That was a nice thing to do right? But before I could, he took a very deep breath in, his hands clenching together on the desk before his head raised just slightly. "K-K-Kr-Krebs Cycle." He blew out a breath of relief as Mr. Banner indicated that

he was correct. Mike Newton turned around in his seat and narrowed his eyes at my desk partner. "V-v-very g-g-good, C-C-Cullen," he said and then broke out in quiet laughter. Bronze Cullen sighed and lowered his head, looking at his clenched hands. So, what? He had a stutter, which made sense, now that I thought about how Mike said his name earlier and Jessica's comment about not needing him to talk. Jesus, high school fucking sucked. I narrowed my eyes at Mike and when he turned his eyes to me, I said, "Don't be a dick." Mike rolled his eyes, but thankfully turned back around. The rest of Biology was boring. When the bell rang, Bronze Cullen was out of his seat quickly and into the hall before I had even closed my notebook. P.E. went by without incident, except for when I "accidently" spiked the volleyball into Mike Newton's head. It never ceased to amaze me how much the other gender would let me get away with. All I had to do was give him big doe eyes and bat my eyelashes and he was over his momentary anger and sending me puppy eyes back. Enough to make me vomit. But just as promised, Jacob was waiting for me out front and had given me a ride in his old beat up Rabbit to his house. His house felt familiar to me, but I didn't get much of a chance to remark on that fact as Jacob took me directly into his room where he proceeded to show me his extensive collection of buds and paraphernalia. But even before I could get him to reveal his pricing, he swept me into his arms and proceeded to resume where we had left off this afternoon in the woods by the school. Mere moments was all it took for me to be spread out on his rickety old desktop, my shirt pulled up, bra cups down, pants hanging off of one leg. Jacob was between my spread legs, doing his thing, making my head thump against the wall in the process. He had one hand curled around my thigh and the other one spread out over my stomach. He was so fucking good at this. It seemed such a waste for one teenage boy to be so fucking good at this, especially in Forks, Washington, where it wouldn't be appreciated. A stray thought passed through my mind, wondering if he had acquired his sexual technique or if he was just naturally skilled at it. But the thought was quite literally pounded out of me. Like usual, I kept my eyes mostly closed, only looking up at him during particularly sensational thrusts. But when I did look at him, he was like a fucking god, literally, all dark and powerful before me. I had no issues building up an orgasm and was incredibly surprised when one orgasm gave away to two. Typically high school boys could barely manage to thrust in a pleasing rhythmic way, let alone drive me to an adequate release. But Jacob had positioned me just right and kept hitting that spot within me that made my toes curl and my tongue itch. And he was just as good at coming himself. Most boys had some kind of epileptic fit when they came, but not Jacob. There were a few good grunts and 'fuck yeah' thrown in for good measure, but he maintained his cool even through his orgasm. His eyes were on me the entire time, even as he withdrew from me, peeling the condom off and tossing it in the trashcan. As I tugged my shirt back down, watching him pull up his pants, zipping them but leaving the top button unbuttoned, I rolled my eyes at him. "Just FYI, Jacob, don't go all romantic on me or any shit like that, okay?" His eyebrow raised, but a smile played on his face. "I don't know what you're talking about." "I'm not the girlfriend type, so don't think that what we just did means anything more than what it was." Again, I rolled my eyes at him as his smile widened. "What?"

"In case no one told you, Isabella Swan," he started in a light voice "I'm not the boyfriend type, so we should get along just fine." He sat back down on the edge of his bed as I pulled up my pants, shoving my feet back into my shoes. "So about this weed that you want" Jacob had cut me a fantastic deal on the quarter I took home, basically just charging me for an eighth. And it wasn't ditch weed either. Little to no shake in that bag. He loaned me a bowl too, but living with the chief of police, it would rarely get used. He also gave me a dugout and a one hitter. And Jacob took me to the store, so I actually had food to cook with for dinner. He offered to pick me up for school the next day and I happily accepted, after reiterating that despite the great orgasms we'd given each other, we were not romantically involved. He, again, informed me that a romantic anything was the farthest thing on his mind and that his life was complicated enough without a girlfriend hanging on him, wanting the moon and shit. So after dinner, and a nice soothing walk, with the one hitter, I barricaded myself in my room and waited for the morning to come, bringing another boring day at Forks High.

Chapter 2: New Girl, Same Cullen Edward I woke up with the worst headache I'd had in a while and it wasn't helped by the fact that Emmett's booming voice in the hallway was loud enough to cause the window panes to rattle. He was yelling at Alice to get out of the bathroom while pounding on the door with what sounded like a closed fist. I would never understand why he didn't just make the short trip to the second floor and use the bathroom down there. "And don't think I can't tell that you're listening, Edward. Get your ass up. We've got less than an hour before first period and I'm not going to be late because of you again." Come on, Emmett. I swear he was like the glue that held everything together around here. The problem was that Emmett didn't need to be the glue. He was just as messed up as the rest of us. Perhaps to the outsider at school, he looked like the one sane guy in the house of the loonies, but Alice and I knew different. Even Carlisle knew. But that was just Emmett. His coping mechanism was being perfect at everything. He got straight A's in every subject, on every paper, on every test and quiz. He was Captain of every major sport at Forks High. He had the best-looking girlfriend and managed to be the Vice President of the student government. He'd probably be asked to be valedictorian when he graduated at the end of the year too. And everyone loved him. So much so that the Prom King contest was really just a formality again this year. Alice was a bit different. Alice was popular, like Emmett but that was only because she tried so hard. She was friends with Rosalie, Emmett's girlfriend, but she wasn't a cheerleader like Rosalie. Typically she bonded with Rosalie and her friends over shopping and stupid things like that. Alice was good at it and I supposed it was her outlet, like athletics was for Emmett and music and writing were to me. But Alice had a harder time with keeping up the prefect faade than Emmett. She had what Carlisle and Esme, the psychiatrist who happens also to be the mother of Jasper and Rosalie, called 'episodes.' Basically they were just periods of time that she blanked out or whatever. Unfortunately, even with medication they still happened and what sucked for Alice is that they happened a lot in school, so she

would miss half a class worth of notes or not be able to finish a test because the time was up. Alice and I were in the same grade, so typically she compared my notes to hers and she was able to keep up that way. As far I as I knew, there were no triggers to Alice's 'episodes' and no real way to stop them. When I had asked her where she went when she zoned out, she just shook her head, but I could tell there was more. I didn't blame her for keeping whatever it was to herself. If it was something bad and Carlisle or Esme found out, she could go back to the institution and I knew how much she had hated that place. "Edward, I'm serious! Tick tock, I'm a clock and that means get your ass out here!" I sighed, knowing that if I didn't move, Emmett would attempt t open the door. That would not help my headache, so I swung my feet over the side of the bed, rubbed my hands down my face and stood up. I opened the door, scratching my neck and cocked an eyebrow at Emmett. "Don't give me that look, Edward." I shook my head. "I h-h-have a head a-a-ache." He rolled his eyes. "Suck it up, dude and take a hot shower, that'll help." He turned back to the closed bathroom door and started banging his fists against it again. "That is, if we can get Alice out." "I'll g-go d-d-downstairs," I mumbled, pulling my door closed. I always closed my door. My room was the only place that was mine, only mine and no one else was allowed in unless I was dying. I had Carlisle's promise on that. The shower did help my head ache, as did the toast and coffee I scarfed down for breakfast. But the two Tylenol helped even more. As usual, Emmett drove while Alice sat in the passenger seat, complaining that we never took her car. I sat quietly in the back, which was typical. There wasn't much I ever really needed to say. "Alice, next year you and Edward can fight it out over what car you drive to school, but until I graduate, I'm driving. Dad said so." Emmett always called Carlisle Dad. He'd only been adopted two years before I was, but he always seemed much closer to Carlisle than Alice or I. "And do you know why he said so?" "Shut up, Emmett," Alice whined. I was sure she didn't want to hear it again. "Because you've already gotten two tickets and nearly ran into Chief Swan, and you've only had your license for a year!" Alice could never produce an excuse for her lead foot but it had been one of her episodes that had caused her to nearly sideswipe Chief Swan's police cruiser. To be honest, Carlisle would probably want me to drive us to school next year anyway. "Oh! Speaking of Chief Swan, his daughter's first day is today." I groaned and immediately wished that I hadn't. "Dude, don't start. You already had the conversation with Esme and Dad." I shook my head and recalled the conversation from the night before. "It will be good for you, Edward," Esme said, smiling her shrink smile at me. "At some point you're going to need to build relationships with people who aren't in your family circle." I shook my head, my eyes darting to Carlisle for help. He knew what I was and wasn't capable of and he would defend me against this highly ridiculous course of action.

"She's right, Edward," was his soft reply. My face fell as my brows furrowed together. "From what I can tell, Bella Swan has had some similar experiences to yours. You could help her. She could help you." "You want to get better, don't you?" I hated when Esme did that, when she indicated to me that she thought I was not right to begin with. "B-b-but I'll have to t-t-talk to h-her and wh-wh-what if I" "You won't get any better communicating if you don't try, Edward. I realize that Emmett and Alice have a tendency to enable you, finishing your sentences and all, but they won't be around to do that for you forever. So it's best that you start standing on your own now." My jaw tightened as I remembered the insinuation that I leaned on Alice and Emmett. I never asked them to take up for me or to help me in any way. It wasn't my fault that it was easier for them to finish my sentences for me than to wait the five minutes it took me to get out a five word question. But now I would have to be 'paired' up with the Swan girl and I had no choice. Of course, neither did she. I didn't even know if she'd been informed yet of the arrangement. And as far as 'similar experiences,' I didn't know why that would be important in the least. If have parts of her past were like mine, then she wouldn't want to talk about them. Just like I didn't. The Jeep stopped and I realized that we were already in the school parking lot, next to Jasper and Rosalie. Emmett and Alice opened their doors, but before getting out, Emmett turned around and looked straight into my eyes, like he did every morning before school. "Don't take shit today, Edward. If Newton says anything to you today, pop him in the mouth. You know Dad won't be mad. He knows that little prick deserves it." Emmett very rarely said anything bad about anyone, but he really disliked Mike Newton, even though they were both on all of the sports teams together. Every day Emmett would tell me to stand up to Newton, to hit him or something, but the thought of actually getting into a fight terrified me more than Mike's verbal abuse. I wasn't necessarily afraid of Mike Newton because honestly, I was taller than him and probably could physically take him, if my stupid mind didn't paralyze me first. All I could do was nod at Emmett. I knew he wanted me to not take 'shit,' as he so eloquently put it, but I knew that he knew today would be no different than any other day. I watched as Alice moved quickly to join Jasper and Rosalie made her way to Emmett as I exited the Jeep. Both Jasper and Rosalie said good morning to me, and I nodded my good morning to them as well. They were close enough to family to where they knew if I didn't speak it wasn't a slight towards them, it was just easier than taking a minute to say 'good morning' back to them. I walked behind them, not really wanting to be a part of the conversation. Jasper and Rosalie had my sympathy as their family was nearly as messed up as mine. And they had a psychiatrist for a mother. That would be worse than having a physician for an adopted father who liked to work in tandem with the psychiatrist. Esme and Carlisle had so many big plans and schemes for making us all healthy. It was amazing that after all of these years that they hadn't given up. As usual, I went straight away to my locker after splitting off from my siblings and their respective significant others. Most of my days repeated in the same fashion, not much deviating from the day before. But today, wasn't like that. Usually I could avoid the attention of Newton by walking far enough away that he didn't notice me, but today, he had been walking with Eric Yorkie and the New Girl. Of course, I didn't realize she was even there until I ran right into her. My head had been down, as usual and for whatever reason, I failed to see their feet as they came towards me.

I ended up knocking into her, sending paper and her bag down to the floor. Yorkie didn't seem to pay me any attention. He was typically decent like that, but Newton had a field day with it. But it was to be expected. He never missed an opportunity to make me feel like dirt, especially when there was someone else around he could impress by putting me down. Today it just so happened to be Bella Swan. And she was beautiful. I couldn't help but stare a little. Her parents certainly knew what they were doing when they named her Bella. She was so unlike all of the girls here in Forks. I didn't know where she was from but I was certain they didn't make girls like her around here. She seemed to accept my simple apology for running into her and didn't seem to appreciate Newton's attempts at pointing out my stuttering issue. And when Emmett came around the corner, she instantly backed away from Newton. I didn't know if it was to indicate that she wasn't 'with' him or because she was slightly frightened of Emmett. I hoped it was because she didn't want to be associated with a moron like Mike. Even before the confrontation was over, she grabbed her things and moved off towards whatever class she had. And I was thankful for that because nothing was more embarrassing than having your big brother force someone to apologize to you. Except having your big brother force someone to apologize to you in front of the pretty new girl. I wished, as always, that Emmett would see that no matter how much he thought he was helping me, that he wasn't. Emmett couldn't be with me all of the time. And if I was just allowed to ignore Newton, the jerk would have at least gotten bored with it all by now and found a new person to humiliate. But since Emmett always kept sticking up for me and forcing Newton to apologize, I was sure Mike thought I sat around at home and cried to Emmett about him, which would only excite the jerk more. All morning in school, my mind wandered to Bella Swan. Now that I had seen her, Carlisle and Esme's little plan seemed to be even less plausible to me than before. How in the world would I, stupid and stuttering Edward Cullen, be able to communicate and have actual conversations with her? It seemed impossible. Even if I didn't stutter normally, I doubt that I'd be able to get through a conversation with someone so beautiful without stammering. And that's not even mentioning my social anxiety disorder. Esme thought that the medications she gave me did something, and maybe they did, but they didn't do enough. The only difference between now and before I started taking those pills was the fact that I could now go to school without having a violent breakdown in the morning. Those had been fun. The only thing that would calm me down was Alice's voice. She and I had been adopted at the same time and for whatever reason, she was the only one who had ever been able to talk sense into me when my mind closed down. She was an angel like that. But now I would be forced to not only associate with Bella Swan, but talk to her too. But that wasn't until tomorrow. I tried to calm myself down from the rising panic I felt today by reminding myself that it wasn't until tomorrow that I had to figure out how to talk to Bella Swan. I watched her at lunch. She had been sitting by herself but then Newton's group joined her. She hadn't looked pleased. Bella's eyes had moved over to look at the table I shared with my siblings and Jasper and Rosalie. I looked away then. And then all of the sudden, she was up and crossing the cafeteria, looking more confident than I would have ever felt in a new school. And she left the cafeteria with Jacob Black. Jacob Black of all people. I didn't have anything against him or anything, except for the fact that he made it no secret that he had his own methods of self-medicating. And even that I didn't care so much about except when he tried to pawn his habits off onto other people. Jacob was about as messed up as the rest of us, but unlike the rest of us who at least attempted to pretend to care about therapy and 'getting better,' he basically spat in the face of Esme and her work.

Bella and Jacob didn't return to lunch, and when she came into my Biology classroom, I nearly fainted. There was only one open seat and Mr. Banner had promised that it would stay open so that I didn't have to sit next to anyone. He promised. But apparently just like everyone else, his promises meant next to nothing because Bella came to sit down next to me. I tried to calm myself down, hoping that this would get me used to it. After all, tomorrow I'd have to spend even more time with her. As she sat down, I could smell that she and Jacob had been smoking marijuana. So she was like too. It was too bad. It made me think of my mother. Not Carlisle's ex-wife, but my real mother. I did my best to push that back, instead trying to concentrate on breathing. Mr. Banner betrayed me a second time today as he called on me with a question about chemical reactions and cellular respiration, and I had to answer. And of course, my stupid mouth and mind couldn't figure out a way for me to answer it without sounding like a stammering idiot. I could always hear myself think without the stutter, but the moment I pushed air through my voice box, it got stuck. It wasn't like I wasn't used to the snickering I got when I had to speak in front of people and for the most part all of these kids were used to it and no longer found it funny. But Mike Newton wasn't one of those kids. He had to turn around and say "V-v-very g-g-good, C-C-Cullen." As if that was even funny. Truthfully though, I wouldn't have minded as much if I hadn't been sitting next to Bella. But as Mike laughed in my face, Bella told him to stop being a dick. It actually made me a little happy that she would do that for me, even though she didn't know me. But then I thought about it some more and I actually got a little sad. I was such a loser that the new girl, who didn't even know me, had to stick up for me. It was embarrassing. I had no idea what someone like Bella Swan would think of me, but she had to know like the rest of the students at Forks High, that I was an incredible loser. As soon as the bell rang, I raced out of class, not wanting a typical run in with Newton and not wanting to show Bella how truly inept I was, at least any more than I had already showed her today. I went to the administrative offices and sat down, relieved that it was just me and a few other people inside the room. It was time for my appointment with the speech pathologist. Every Tuesday and Thursday, I had to come here and finish out my school day with a session with Ms. Rice. She was okay and typically our sessions were just us talking and reading out of books. It was never anything painful, although even after all the years of coming to Ms. Rice or people like her, my stuttering never got any better. I was sure the Esme and Carlisle were convinced that I wasn't trying hard enough, but no one wanted me to speak normally more than I did. Just like usual, Ms. Rice came out and got me after about five minutes. Once she was situated in the chair next to mine in her office, she gave me a quick smile. She never sat behind her desk during our time together. I supposed it was because she wanted to make sure she was friendly and perhaps I could see her as someone equal to me and trustworthy, but she had no speech impediment and probably never knew a day of ridicule in her life. "So, Edward, how's the day going for you?" I shrugged my answer, but knew immediately that she would not approve. Her head tilted and she just waited, so I took a deep breath. "F-f-fine." She waited again and I sighed. "A-b-b-b-bout normal." Smiling, she handed me a book. It was orange and small and I knew exactly what it was. "Have you been practicing?" "Yes."

"Would you like to start?" "N-no." Again, she smiled, taking the book back for a minute to flip open to the page she wanted me to read. She handed it back to me. "Just relax, okay? It's just me and you and no one else is listening. And look," she said, holding up her hands, "no notebook." She had stopped taking notes about me while I read when I told her it made me feel like a lab rat. "F-fine," I said with a sigh. "Relax. Let your mind tell your voice box what sounds to produce and let your mouth do what it needs to do to let them come out naturally." Taking a deep breath, I looked down at the book in my lap, my brow creasing. I hated this page. I wondered if a normal person could get through it without issues. "Th-th-through th-th-three chee-ee-eese t-t-trees, th-th-three free fleeeas flew. While th-th-these fleeeeas flew, freezy b-b-br-breeze b-b-blew. Freezy b-b-breeze made th-th-these th-th-three t-t-trees freeze. Freezy t-trees made th-these trees' cheeeese freeze. That's-s-s what made th-theese th-three free fleas sneeze." Stupid fox. Stupid kid's book. Stupid Dr. Seuss with his impossible words and rhythm! It had taken an insane amount of time for me to get those twenty or twenty five words out. I looked up at Ms. Rice and I knew anguish was written all over my face because that's what I felt. "Don't look so down, Edward. You improved there at the end. You stopped the prolongation of the word 'fleas' in the end and there were little to no blocks in the entire paragraph. Your repetitions are what we need to work on." I sighed, moving my eyes to stare out the window. It was just beginning to drizzle again outside. "Edward," she said, drawing my attention back to her. "You need to work on relaxing. Being nervous before a sentence or a word makes it difficult for your brain to control your mouth." "I'm nnnnot nnnnervous," I said. "You're a not a very good liar, Edward. Your prolongations in that sentence gives you away. You need to remember that you have nothing to be anxious about. We're just talking. Your entire body tenses up when we pick up a book to read it." My hand moved up to my mouth and without really realizing it I began to chew on my fingernails. As soon as I noticed, I threw my hand down to my lap. Ms. Rice was right about the nervousness. But in all of these years I had never been able to tame that. Not even the anti-anxiety pills could change it. Sighing, Ms. Rice held out her hand for the book and I gave it to her, but all she did then was hand me another book. It was green with a turtle on the cover. As much as I didn't want to read aloud anymore, I knew that I could at least handle this book better. Before I could open it, Ms. Rice spoke. "So what's the one thing in the world that can make you relax, Edward?" It was an easy question and I didn't have to think about the answer. But even as my mind clearly shouted out the one thing that always relaxed me, my mouth botched it up. I tried to make the word pass my lips, but it wouldn't. For whatever reason, my mind couldn't get my mouth to form the word. I could feel my cheeks balloon out as I tried to force the word. My right hand clenched into a fist and I brought it down onto my thigh, hoping to kick start my brain into working. This was what Ms. Rice would call a block. It was possibly more frustrating than the actual stuttering itself. Most people had no idea how difficult it was to be able to think of a word or a sentence in your

head but have your body refuse to let it out. It was trapped in the thick cage of my mind. I sighed, my head hanging low. "Relax, Edward. If you can't get it out, quit trying so hard. Breathe and slowly release it." I did as she asked, but the word still refused to pass my lips. We spent five minutes just trying to get the damn thing out. Finally, I let my eyes move to the window and focused on the rain that slid noiselessly down the pane of glass. "M-m-m-uuuusic." Slumping down into my chair, I let my head fall back, my eyes tightly closed, thanking whatever god was truly out there for at least letting me get it out, no matter how horrible it sounded when it did. "Very good." Ms. Rice's voice annoyed me and I sighed again. It wasn't very good. It was barely even mediocre. If it was very good, then I would be speaking in complete sentences in front of the entire school with my head held high. "So music relaxes you?" I nodded and was thankful when she allowed me to get away with it. "Then what you need to do before reading or speaking, is think about the most relaxing music you know. Let that saturate your mind for a moment before trying to talk." She nodded at the book. "Pick a page. Listen to the music in your head. Relax, and then read." I sighed and flipped through the pages until I found the one I could read the best. Taking in a deep breath, I let my sounds of Claire de Lune fill my mind and let myself get lost in it for a moment. The office disappeared, Ms. Rice disappeared and the book within my hands disappeared. Halfway through, I felt as relaxed as I was going to be, so I opened my eyes and looked at the words. I tried not to force it. I tried just to let my brain speak to my vocal chords and the muscles in my mouth without pressure. Three words into the first sentence, my calm broke as I stammered over one tiny little word and after that, it was a disaster. A hand ran through my hair and I lazily opened my eyes to see Alice sitting the back seat of Emmett's Jeep with me. It usually took Emmett ten minutes or more to extract himself from all of his admirers, so I usually found myself with Alice waiting on him. Today, she had slipped into the back seat with me. I could tell by the look on her face her day hadn't been much better than mine. "Can I borrow your English notes?" I nodded and raised an eyebrow. "All I remember is talking about Spain and bullfights and Hemmingway and the next thing I know Jasper's poking me in the side, telling me that class was over." "I'm s-sorry." "Did your day suck too?" I gave her a pointed look. "Yeah, it's Thursday, isn't it? So I guess you won't be talking for the next two days?" she asked, giving me a little smile. I never felt like talking after sessions with Ms. Rice. "Emmett told me about this morning with Mike." I sighed and Alice nudged me with her shoulder until I looked at her again. "If you won't beat the crap out of him then I will. And he said Bella was there! Oh my goodness, Edward, she's cute, isn't she?" I could feel the scowl form on my face. Alice was overly excited at the prospect of a new friend but I was annoyed that she had to remind me of the fact that I had nearly knocked Bella over this morning and then just sat around like a lump while a jerk like Newton made fun of me in front of her. "Don't worry, she won't go out with Mike Newton, Edward."

I couldn't help it. As much as I didn't want to speak, I had to now. "I d-d-don't care," a block formed as I tried to get out my next word and I hated how long it was taking me to get out one simple sentence to my sister, "who she g-g-g-goes out w-w-w-with, Aliiiiice." I sighed, annoyed at the time it took to say the words and with the fact that I had actually even bothered to speak. My annoying sister just smiled at me and ruffled my hair again. I rolled my eyes and ducked my head so that she would be forced to stop touching me. "But she's pretty, though, isn't she?" I gave her a look that told her that I obviously thought she was pretty. "She's in my Photography class. I wonder when her birthday is. I want to buy her a new camera. And some new clothes. I think she would look cute with shorter hair, don't you?" "S-she looks g-g-good now," I said and then immediately hated myself for it. Alice's smile brightened even more. I was so happy I could lighten her mood. I nearly growled at her while I narrowed my eyes and clenched my teeth. "Stop, Edward." "St-st-stop what? You-you're the one thaaaat n-n-needs to st-st-stop, Aliiiice. Don't b-be a," my words halted for a moment and I tried to think of a Chopin song that relaxed me before continuing, "mmmatch mmaker. It n-n-never works." "But you think she's pretty," Alice sung, drawing out the word pretty. "Who's pretty?" Emmett asked as he hopped into the driver's seat. "Bella Swan," Alice answered him. Emmett's smile grew as he turned around, his eyebrows raised, eyes fixed on me. "You think she's pretty," he said with a nod. I sighed and rolled my eyes in response, fairly certain my face was turning an embarrassing shade of red right about now. "Well, hell yeah, she's pretty," Emmett said, obviously taking my silence as an acknowledgment. His face crumpled together as he added, "She should stay away from Black though." He shrugged, turning forward and starting the Jeep. "I guess she's like that though. We'll find out soon enough." Thankfully everyone was quiet until we reached home. As we walked up the front steps, Emmett unlocked the door and then said, "Dad is going to be home late. Dr. Cannatella called out sick, so he's pulling a double." I sighed and pinched the bridge of my nose, knowing what was coming next. "So Esme's going to bring dinner tonight." I had no idea why Carlisle and Esme insisted in treating us like we are all eight year olds, unable to stay in the house for more than a few hours on our own. Emmett, Alice, and I were no culinary wizards, but we certainly could survive cooking spaghetti. And with Esme came Jasper and Rosalie, who would both get all couple-y with Alice and Emmett, which would leave me and Esme alone. And Esme never just let me go to my room and have some peace after dinner. I shook my head, kicking off my shoes in the foyer, mentally preparing for another impromptu session with Dr. Hale and her amazing and unending bag of psychiatric tricks. Dinner was exactly what I had been expecting, an elaborate show of how much public affection Rosalie and Emmett could get away with in front of Esme, and how much of a conversation Jasper and Alice could have without saying a word. It was sickening, truly sickening. Esme tried to spark up a few conversations to include everyone, but as usual, no one was interested. Each time her eyes moved to mine, I shoved some more of the take-out Italian food into my mouth to save myself from the embarrassment of having an actual conversation.

And as usual, the two couples disappeared as soon as they finished eating, leaving me with Esme to clear the table. It just wasn't fair. Once when I complained, Jasper told me that it was entirely my fault. He said I needed to be more proactive in avoiding both clearing the table and his mother. I didn't think it would matter at all how proactive I was, Esme would always find me. She probably thought I was the worse of all of us. I could see where she was coming from. After all, I was the one who was socially inept and couldn't even hold a proper conversation with anyone in the house, let alone peers or members of the opposite sex that I wasn't related to. I had just finished loading the dishwasher when I turned to make as hasty of an exit as I could. "Edward," Esme said. I sighed and turned around. "What are you going to do?" As I turned, my brain raced to find the simplest word in my vocabulary to answer her. "M-m-music." "Are you going to play piano?" she asked with a smile. Of course she knew that piano was my preferred instrument, but she asked this question every time. I swallowed and sucked in a large breath of air. Pointing to the ceiling, indicating that I was going to retreat to my room, I answered, "Yes." I watched as she cocked her head to the side, keeping the smile frozen on her face. "The piano's down here." Sighing again, I barely contained the growl that wanted to erupt from my chest. Of course the piano was down here. It was my house; I knew where the piano was. Carlisle kept it hostage down on the first floor in an attempt to lure me out of my bedroom. I had a keyboard in my room, along with my guitars and violins, but he thought if he kept the Grand Piano downstairs I would be tempted to spend more time out in the open. Usually it didn't work, although it nearly broke my heart passing it every day and knowing that it wouldn't be played. I took another breath and tried to push out my word, hoping that it would be enough for her to let me be at least for one night. It was Thursday after all. We'd all have to endure sessions with Dr. Hale tomorrow. The block in my head kept me from saying anything. It wasn't helped by her eyes, fixed on me, as she waited in that annoyingly patient way of hers. Finally, I pushed it from my mind and out of my mouth, stumbling the entire way. "K-k-k-keyyyboard." Her smile stayed on her face as she extended a hand and laid it gently on my shoulder. It was times like these that I wished she wasn't a mother; that she could truly just be a clinical, detached professional. It would have been easier to shut her down; shut her out. But she was in my house after having just fed me dinner, smiling at me with that motherly grin. "Play the piano for me and keep me company." Nothing was ever a request from her; it was always a subtly hidden command. Instead of answering, since I knew I couldn't say no and I didn't want to hear my loser of a voice concede and do something I would rather not do, I just walked out of the kitchen and into the sitting room. She followed me and took a seat in the chaise lounge as I sat on the piano bench. Truthfully, I was excited to play, as I rarely allowed myself to play on anything other than my keyboard. But my excitement only annoyed me since it meant Esme then got what she wanted and she could chalk it up to 'helping' me. I raised the cover and let my fingers start gliding across the keys. I had hundreds of songs memorized, so I rarely needed sheet music. Some were from the great composers that everyone knew, some were obscure little melodies that only true connoisseurs of

classics would know and then still others were my own compositions. I knew which ones Esme liked the best and decided to start with one of her favorites. When I played new songs for her, she always wanted to interpret the emotions behind the song and start labeling my emotions as if I picked the song because it reflected my current mood. Heaven forbid I play Moonlight Sonata. She would instantly think that I was depressed and wanted to start writing my suicide note. It would take too many words for me to express to her that Beethoven's piece didn't make me depressed and it held no connotation of sadness for me. Esme wasn't an aficionado of music. She heard what she heard and analyzed it with a shrink's mind. Music wasn't the same for everyone and just because she got depressed at a certain song, didn't mean that everyone did. Moonlight Sonata was peaceful to me. It was what I thought about on the nights I couldn't sleep. I could imagine myself in a moonlit garden, surrounded by night blooming plants and the sounds of trickling water. I could imagine the moon shining down, illuminating all of the most beautiful things in the garden as the stars twinkled like tiny diamonds reflecting a beam of light. But all Esme seemed to connect it with was morbidity and death. "How was your session with Ms. Rice today, Edward?" "F-fine," I answered casually. There was no need to go into the depth of my failure. "Emmett mentioned that you ran into Bella Swan today." My fingers stopped playing the lighthearted Mozart piece and I swung my head around to look at Esme. I shrugged. "Did you speak with her?" she asked in a hopeful voice. I shook my head. I didn't think one word of apology constituted the type of 'speaking' Esme was talking about. I turned back around and changed songs. I started to play the very first song of my own that I had played for Esme. "Do you have any classes with her?" She was going to continue to ask me about Bella Swan until she was satisfied. I nodded. "B-Biology." "That's great!" I sighed, trying to conceal it. "She'll have friendly face in at least one of her classes. It'll be good for her to have a friend like you." I wanted to slam my hands down on the keys and yell at her. Bella Swan wasn't my friend and even if Esme had some weird ideas about how we could help each other through therapy, she still wouldn't be my friend. Bella was too good, too pretty, and too smart to be my friend. There wasn't a person in that school besides my siblings and their significant others that was willing to be a friend to a retard like me. "She w-won't have m-much trouble finding f-friends, Esme. She's nnnot like me." I ignored the breathy sigh Esme released and continued to play. "You know, Edward, you're able to speak a little more fluently when you play. Have you noticed that?" I ignored her, instead directing my attention to the song, hoping to just get through it and be able to get upstairs, away from her; away from everyone. But Esme wasn't having that. "Carlisle says that you had a panic attack on Monday." My eyes closed. Now I knew what this whole thing was about. She'd gotten me to play the piano, talk about something else and now she was going in for the psychiatrist's kill. Although my breathing sped up slightly, I kept my fingers moving along the keys, producing the same perfect sounds I always did at the piano. "What happened at the mall, Edward?" "I d-di-didn't want to gggo." Alice had asked me to go and of course, Carlisle agreed that I needed to go, even though I needed nothing from the stupid mall.

"But you did and what happened?" she coached. I exhaled, letting my fingers complete the song before I turned to her, knowing that she would make me look at her at some point. My eyes were still closed. "I c-c-c-cccouldn't breathe." "Why?" "T-t-t-t-too maaaany people." Slowly, I let my eyes drift open. "The mmmmedication ddoesn't w-w-work." Although she nodded, she wasn't nodding at me, she was nodding to whatever was going on in her head. "Well, you're able to go to school, usually without incident, but that's a closed community, so to speak. You know everybody there. Perhaps the mall triggered it because the only person you knew was Alice." I failed to see why it mattered. I wished that they would all just realize and respect the fact that I was a freak and I wouldn't be normal and that doing normal things like going to the mall weren't things a freak like me could do. It didn't matter why; it only mattered that I couldn't do it without my body tensing up like it was in a vice and my brain shutting down. But Esme wouldn't give upever. So it was no surprise to me when she said, "You should try it again." My teeth clenched. I should try it again. Yes, what a logical thing for me to do. I definitely wanted to go and freak out amongst random people and have the mall security come and pick me up like a rag doll and be ushered to the hospital in an ambulance while the EMTs tried to ascertain whether I was having a heart attack or a seizure. Yes. That made perfect sense. I stood up. "Where are you going?" Esme asked. What business was it of hers? This was my house, not hers. She was on my time, not hers. I pointed upstairs. "T-t-tired." I started walking towards the steps but stopped when I heard her voice from behind me. "Edward, I know it's hard, but you have to push past it." Great advice. That's like telling a depressed person to just smile, it's not that bad. It should be a rule that therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists had to have some kind of first hand knowledge of some of the disorders they sought to treat so that they wouldn't say stupid things like that. Why didn't I think of that? Just push past it. Great thinking. I would have to give that a try. I forced my feet to move and finally I was in the sanctuary of my room. The rest of the night passed without incident. Esme, Jasper, and Rosalie all went home and no one bothered me again until I woke to the sounds of Emmett beating on the bathroom door again. I wished Carlisle had had enough sense years ago to have given Alice the bedroom with the private bathroom. He still could, seeing as that bedroom was just the guest bedroom anyway. But he wouldn't. Alice had a tendency to cut herself and having a bathroom all to herself seemed to strike fear into Carlisle that one day we'd find the she'd cut herself too deep and had bled out without us knowing about it. But she hadn't been doing that much any more, at least not that I knew of. Jasper was good for her like that. But the fear and threat was still there, so I still had to be awakened by Emmett's fists on the bathroom door while he shouted at her to hurry up. I tried to ignore it when Emmett turned his fists loose on my door, yelling at me to get out of bed. "It's Friday, Edward. Just think two whole days after today that you can spend in your room doing whatever it is that you do!" I was successful in ignoring him up until the point that the door knob

twisted. At the sight and sound of that, I jumped out of bed and grabbed at the door knob. I tried yanking it open, but I realized that I had locked it last night, like I did every night. I let out a shaky breath, trying to control my body's response. I wasn't going to have an attack. I wasn't going to freak out. This was my house. This was my room. It was only Emmett and the door had been locked. When I had mastered my emotions and bodily reactions enough, I unlocked the door and pulled open the door. Emmett was standing there with a smug look etched into his dopey features. "D-d-don't d-d-do thaaat again." His smirk widened. I was sure I didn't sound the least bit intimidating to him, especially since I couldn't even get out four words without sounding like loser. He cocked an eyebrow at me. "Got you out of bed, didn't it?" I huffed, moving out into the hall and closing the door behind me. I sulked down to the free bathroom, listening to Emmett resume his pounding on the bathroom door. Just like every other day, before we got out of the Jeep at school, Emmett turned to me and told me not to take shit from anyone today and again today I took shit from Newton. I was happy to see that this time he wasn't accompanied by Bella Swan but the rest of his followers were tagging along and thought his stuttering jokes were just the funniest thing they'd ever heard. And of course, when Mike knocked the books out of my hands, in what he said was 'pay back' for accidentally knocking into Bella yesterday, they just roared with laughter. And when he did his signature move of shoving me into the locker as he moved past me with his shoulder, one would have thought that he had just won Amateur Night at the Apollo. I bent down to retrieve my books before Emmett could come around the corner and see his loser of a brother picking up his things, like he always did. "Hey," I heard above me. I looked up and there was Bella Swan, standing over me, giving me a smile that clearly told me that she was high. I could feel my face contort as I tried to force a greeting from my mouth, but I couldn't say hello for anything. My stupid mind and body refused once again to work in unison, making me feel like a complete idiot in front of heragain. To my horror, she crouched down next to me and started pulling papers and books towards her and stacking them on her knee. "I'll kick his ass," she said to me with a smile. My eyes closed for a moment as I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me again. She had seen the entire thing. When I opened my eyes she was staring at me. I needed to say something. I needed to prove to her that I wasn't a complete idiot-freak-loser. My tongue seemed to stick to the roof of my mouth. She smiled at me again, pushing the papers into my arms before standing up. My body finally did something my mind told it to, which was to stand up. Her big, round brown eyes looked up at me and I realized how much shorter she was than me. She should be taller with all that confidence. "See you in Bio," she said before brushing past me, her shoulder making contact with my bicep. Letting out an unconsciously held breath, I looked up at the ceiling. What an idiot! Of course I didn't see her again until lunch. She ate very little while Newton and his friends gathered around her as if she were the second coming of Christ. She looked bored with them all, which made me entirely too happy. At some point she had a small conversation with Angela Weber. I wasn't trying to stare or be nosey, I just couldn't seem to help it. And then when there was fifteen minutes left of lunch, she got up and walked out. It wasn't hard to notice that Jacob Black had left just five minutes

before her. And when she got to Biology, ten minutes late, she smiled at Mr. Banner and said "I got a little lost." The school wasn't that big. It would have been hard to get lost, but as she sat down next to me, I could smell that she'd been smoking with Jacob again. As she stared glassily up at the blackboard, I could see a small little red-purplish bruise forming on the side of her neck. It was exactly the same as what Emmett liked to leave on Rosalie and what Alice would blush about after a date with Jasper. Why it bothered me so much that Bella had a hickey, I didn't know. But I knew it did. Mr. Banner passed out slides and microscopes, completing my negative mood by reinforcing that today was in fact the day that I had to work with Bella. I had thought that I would have had another couple of hours, but Mr. Banner had other ideas. I tried to let the music play in my head in anticipation of having to speak to her, hoping that Ms. Rice was right and that all I needed to do was relax and I would be able to have a normal conversation like a normal person. When Bella slid the answer sheet between us, I looked at her. She was looking right at me and she was unbelievably perfect. She was too pretty. Why couldn't Chief Swan have had an ugly daughter, one with buck teeth and a lazy eye? Then she wouldn't have been so intimidating. The music fled my mind and in fact, so did everything else. She smiled at me, "So now you're forced to talk to me," she said, her tone low and conspiratorial. My brow creased and my mouth suddenly went dry. She was expecting me to speak. She had expectations already and I was going to fail and then there would be no hope of salvaging her opinion of me. My heart raced and my breathing sped up as I tried to get my brain to work beyond the bare minimum of necessary function. I felt sick. I wrung my hands together as I desperately told my mouth and mind to work together and produce a sound that at least mimicked a word. My breath caught when one of her small hands moved to mine and immediately my hands stilled. "I was just kidding, Edward. You don't have to talk if you don't want to." Edward. She said my name. She knew my name. And she hadn't made it a joke, imitating my stammer; not that I thought she would, but it was a relief. She withdrew her hand and I immediately moved mine under the table to my lap where they balled into fists. Bella spoke again, her voice light and casual as if she were talking to a normal person. "So I imagine that you're all sorts of smart because quiet types are always smart." She slid a slide into place underneath the microscope and adjusted the settings. "But don't think you're going to carry me through this class. I'm all kinds of knowledgeable about Biological topics, let me just tell you. I took AP in Phoenix. But I'm not going to carry you either." She pulled away from the microscope and wrote down the answer on the sheet, then shoved the instrument towards me, replacing the slide as she did. So she was from Phoenix and she thought I was smart. That was a good thing, I thought. She smiled at me again and then I couldn't help it; I gave her a half smile back. I looked through the eyepiece and instantly knew what the answer was, so I wrote it down. When I looked back up, Bella was still looking at me, this time with raised eyebrows. My mouth opened to speak before I even realized that I wanted to say something, but all that came out was "Ah-ah-ah," I sighed in defeat. "Duh-duh-duh," came from in front of us. I looked up to see Mike Newton, turned around in his seat, giving me a cross eyed look as he verbally humiliated me. Something launched itself from my table, hitting Mike in the chest. His eyes narrowed at Bella.

"Hey, that could have hit me in the eye!" I realized that the item had been a pencil and that Bella had thrown it at him. "So turn the fuck around and stop making poor Angela carry your ass through this remedial class." Mike huffed, rolling his eyes as he turned around. Bella turned back to me. "I told you I'd kick his ass, stupid fucker." I just looked at her. If Esme and Carlisle thought we had similar backgrounds, how in the world had she turned out so completely different than me? We finished the work before the bell rang and sat there in silence. It was fine by me because it was hardly fair for Bella to have to fill the void all by herself. After Biology, since it was Friday and I didn't have to see Ms. Rice, I went to the library to help return books and help grade papers. It was an easy task and Carlisle had arranged it as a way to give me credit for being a student aide. I didn't have to be around anyone other than the librarian, Ms. Peters and I rarely had to speak at all. For the rest of the school day I thought about everything Bella had said to me today. And I had to chuckle from time to time, thinking about what she said before the bell rang after Biology. She'd leaned in closer to me and said, "Hey, if everything goes right," I had gotten nervous at that point, "Mike should have a big knot on his head or maybe a swollen nose in an hour." I had wondered what she meant. Was she actually going to punch him? "I plan to spike a volleyball at his face next period in gym," she explained. So it hadn't been the worst day ever, but I was still unbelievably relieved when I was able to sit down in Emmett's Jeep, waiting to go home. But I would find no rest there. Esme and Carlisle would be there to start our weekend right; with therapy. I wondered if Bella even knew what was in store for her or not.

Chapter 3: Forks Friday Night Club Bella My second day at Forks High started off boring enough. I avoided Mike and Eric like the plague, even as they followed me around like puppies that thought I had a Milkbone in my pants. The first part of my day was fine. Photography was a waste, seeing as everyone else was developing their film for the assignment I hadn't done the assignment since Ms. Clark assigned it a week ago. Lunch was filled with annoying people sitting with me even though I hadn't asked them too. I did have a conversation with a girl named Angela Weber about what kids did for fun around here. She was as cool as someone like her could be, but she was nice and that wasnice. But I bored of it all quickly. Just as I thought I was going to go insane, I watched as Jacob made a point to stand up from his group of friends and walk past my table, his hand tapping his pocket, which told me he was going to light up. I waited for just a minute or two before I left the cafeteria and walked to the woods, where I found him waiting. "Thank the fucking Flying Spaghetti Monster!" I said as I sat down next to him on the fallen tree. "The what?" he asked with a soft laugh.

"Google it." I watched excitedly as he plucked a pre-rolled joint from his pack of cigarettes and lit it. He didn't take long passing it to me and I inhaled deeply, feeling the muscles in my face relax just from the first hit. We were quiet while we passed the J back and forth, but when he crushed it against the tree, he turned to me. "How was the night with Charlie?" "Fucking boring." Quickly, I turned myself, lifting my leg over his lap to straddle him. His hands immediately moved to my waist, holding me to him as my mouth attacked his. He tasted like pizza and chronic, which sounded more disgusting than it was. It was only moments until his mouth was at my neck, lapping and sucking. I hated hickeys, but his hands were doing the most intriguing things to my body, so I let him continue on his bruise-producing quest. Before I knew it, I had unzipped his pants, bringing his erection out and stroking him off while his mouth devoured mine. He came all over my hand and I pulled away, using the wet leaves to wipe his cum off of me. As I was bent down, he pressed himself against me from behind. "You can fuck me later. We have class," I reminded him as I straightened up and pulled away, grabbing my back pack and walking away. I was only a few minutes late to class and came up with some lame excuse as I ducked past the teacher. Taking my seat next to Bronze Cullen, I let my mind wander until the teacher started passing out papers and slides and microscopes. I was in a good mood, so I started to tease Bronze Cullen about the fact that he'd have to talk to me now. I didn't mean it in a bad or insulting way, but he looked like he was going to throw up or cry or have some kind of a breakdown, so I stopped, reminding him that he didn't have talk to me unless he wanted to. Being high, I was chatty, so I started talking to him about how good I was in Biology or whatever. At one point he opened his mouth as if to speak, but before he could really get anything out, Mike Newton turned around and made fun of him again. Mike was a fucking prick, so I flung my sharpened pencil at him. After that, I changed for P.E., spiked another volleyball at Mike's face and then batted my eye lashes at him until he couldn't stay pissed at me. I wondered how long it would be until I had to do more than flirt to cover up my violent tendencies towards him. Again, Jacob was waiting for me out front and I had expected him to make good on my promise of fucking him after school, but we didn't go to his house. He stopped his car at my house. "I thought" He shook his head dismissively. "I have a thing tonight, so maybe tomorrow." "A thing?" I asked. "Yeah, it's fucking stupid. But tomorrow I could pick you up early for a little wake-n-bake and then we could hike in the woods." Jacob licked his lips and leaned in close to me. "Ever been fucked in a forest?" Desert, yes. Forest, no. I smiled wickedly at him. "Don't come over too early, it's fucking Saturday after all. And don't think that it's a date or anything." Jacob sighed and I shrugged. "Just felt like I needed to remind you." "Your dad and my dad are going fishing tomorrow like usual. I won't be over before Charlie leaves." At my silent question, he answered, "Your dad would fucking flip if he knew his precious little girl was

getting banged by me. He fucking hates me." "You're his best friend's son." "Who sells dope and corrupts the youth of Forks." I shrugged again. "Socrates did the same thing, except for the dope-selling and now he's studied by everyone." Jacob gave me a quizzical look, obviously not knowing or caring about Socrates. "What does Billy think of your dope selling ways?" Jacob sighed. "He doesn't approve but he doesn't ask questions or make a big thing about it. He can't work and I can't make the kind of money we need by flipping burgers, so he realizes either I sell the shit or we don't eat and he can't go to the doctor." His eyes flicked to the clock on the dash. "Fuck, I have to go. See you tomorrow." As my hand found the door handle, he added, "Don't bother wearing panties tomorrow, unless you want them ripped off." I bit back a giggle and exited the car without saying another word. I had just gotten out a few ingredients for dinner when Charlie came through the front door. "Hey, kid," he said as he moved into the kitchen. "You're early." I looked down at the bag of fast food in his hands. "And you have food." "Yeah," he said, his eyes nervously darting around the kitchen and not resting on me. "I forgot to tell you, but we have an appointment." He held out the bag. "So here, I brought food for tonight." "What appointment?" I asked, my face settling into a frown. "And I typically stay away from fast food." "I got you a salad, 'cause I know you have to eat healthy and all that." Again, he was nervous, his voice told me that he was hiding something, but before I could ask, he said, "Come on, we have to eat." Charlie was quiet and nervous during the entire car ride and he carefully avoided answering any question about where we were going. I didn't like it. I hated surprises and I hated being trapped in a car without the slightest idea of where I was going to end up. I hadn't been caught doing anything bad, so far, so I didn't think he was taking me to jail or a group home, but when we stopped at a large three story house, I turned to him, with betrayal burning in my eyes. "What's this? Where are we?" "Calm down there, Bella, it's all apart of the agreement." I breathed out angrily. "What agreement?" "The agreement with the judge in Phoenix. In order for you to avoid any kind of severe discipline, I had to take you." I couldn't help but hear an emphasis on the word 'had.' "And you have to go to therapy. This is Dr. Cullen's place. He and Dr. Hale have set up" "EXCUSE ME?" I yelled. "I don't need therapy!" Charlie sighed and shook his head. "You stole a car, Isabella. You don't think you could just get away with that did you?" The whole thing pissed me off, ruining my relatively good mood. The word therapy snapped the very thin thread within me. I had been polite and nice so far, but it ended here.

"Of course not, Charlie." I drug out his name, unimpressed by his parental authority. "But I thought moving to Podunk, Washington with you was enough of a punishment," I spat at him. He sighed again and turned his eyes from me as if I was just going to let him be all cool and calm and cop-like with this shit. "Don't you think it's torture enough for me already to have to live in your shitty little house and pretend like you're actually related to me?" I watched his jaw clench. His voice was tight when he spoke. "Listen to me, Bella. I wish like hell I'd been there for you more while you were growing up, but there wasn't a choice." What the fuck ever. He was a deluded fucking man, thinking that he didn't have a choice. Everyone always had a choice. He was just covering for the fact that the choice he made didn't include me. "But I am your father, I will not have you disrespecting me like this." I cruelly laughed in his face. "Charlie, you're not my father. You're not a parent. You're the fucking witless sperm donor Renee duped seventeen years ago." I was about to continue when I heard a smack echo in the car and felt heat spreading across my cheek. The motherfucker hit me! Well, at least he had balls. But the fact that the fucker had even touched me pissed me right the fuck off. I knew that Charlie could really hurt me if he wanted to, but deep down, I knew he wasn't that type of person. Very calmly, I turned to him, giving him my most hateful stare. "Take it easy there, Chief," I warned, my voice icy. "What would the nice townsfolk of Forks think of the local law enforcement abusing his newly-arrived daughter? Don't forget, I'm about to go in for therapy. I would hate to have to tell someone about how horrible my father is to me." "Bella," he said, his voice strong, but still conveying regret. "Bella, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have" Fuck his regret. Fuck his stupid reaction and fuck him. "No! You shouldn't have, Charlie." "You know I wouldn't" Blah, blah, blah. I tuned him out, having heard it all be fore, just not from him. "Let's get this over with, shall we?" I said as I opened the car door, incredibly ready to be away from him. I walked quickly to the front steps and ran up them, banging on the door with my closed fist. Internally, I was in a rage, but there wasn't anything I could do in this situation. Therapy it was. And just like all of the other things I had been forced to do in my life, I would just close my eyes, be a good girl and wait until it was over. The door opened and I couldn't help but mutter, "Jesus fucking Christ." It was the goddamned Pixie Cullen who was in my Photography class. So great, not only was there some kind of therapy going on inside this mansion, but there were kids from my school. "Hi, Bella!" she said, entirely too chipper for my tastes. Her eyes moved to my cheek and instinctively my hand moved over to cover it. Charlie hadn't slapped me that hard. I doubted there was a hand print, probably just a red mark. "Rash," I said quietly. I wouldn't have thought it possible, but my spirits fell even more when I heard voices coming from behind her. Too many fucking voices. So not only was there therapy, but there was therapy with many kids from my school. That was just great. I could feel Charlie coming up behind me, so I pointed inside. "I'm supposed to be in there." Pixie Cullen smiled and nodded, opening up the door wider. "Hello, Chief Swan. Esme and Carlisle are upstairs in the study. They want to talk to you." Pixie snuck her arm through mine and began dragging me further into the house. "I'll keep Bella company."

Charlie moved to the steps as if he knew where he was going and I let my eyes scan the chaotic scene before me. Holy shit. Not only where all of the perfect Cullens and Hales there, there were two kids, a boy and a girl who looked like each other that I recognized from school. There were two boys that looked like they had to be freshmen and then there was Angela, sitting on the couch, her hands folded in her lap. "What the fuck, Bella?" I turned to my left and saw Jacob coming closer to me. Pixie Cullen's grip on me tightened as he approached, but I pulled myself free. "Jacob, watch your language, please." She shot him an annoyed look. I rolled my eyes at Pixie Cullen and moved towards Jacob. "This was your thing?" He shrugged. "Every Friday night, just enough shit to totally fuck up the weekend." He leaned in close, his smile evident on his face and he lowered his voice. "But don't forget about me fucking you in the forest tomorrow. Just keep that in your mind while you're enduring the pain that is group therapy." "Fucking group therapy?" Therapy was one thing. Sharing things, private and embarrassing things with kids from school was entirely another thing. "You could have warned me, Jacob. If I'd known this was what my Friday was going to look like, I would have smoked a bowl before comingor, you know, slit my wrists." Jacob grabbed my arm and pulled me away from Pixie Cullen and the others. "Don't say shit like that here, Bella. That bitch Esme will commit you and you won't be able to do anything about it." "I was joking." "She won't be." I tilted my head to the side. "Do we have time to get high?" I whispered. "No. And how was I supposed to know that you were as fucked up as the rest of us? I had no idea Charlie would drag your ass to something like this. You used to be all sweet and goody-goody." "I stole a car." I watched with amusement as Jacob's face brightened. "No shit? The Cullens all have sweet rides if you ever get the hankering to steal another one," he whispered into my ear as my eyes moved over all of the faces, many of them turned towards us, curious. "Bet we could make a run for Mexico." "So what the fuck is this shit?" I jerked my head back towards the group of kids. "Just what it looks like. The two dumbass doctors have put together this little group to make the parents of Forks feel like their kids won't always be screw ups. First, it's all about the individual counseling with Esme, then we have group, and then we have to pair off with 'one of our peers.'" "Oh! I'll be your peer!" He rolled his eyes. "I already got one." Jabbing a finger to the corner where the boy and girl who looked like each other sat, he shook his head. "I got stuck with Leah. Bitch is whiney as fuck." "So this is what I have to look forward to on Friday nights now?" "Usually you don't have to have a one on one with Esme every week because there are too many of us

and only one of her, but since you're new, you might have to do it every week for a while." Jacob shrugged. I heard footsteps on the stairs and watched as Jacob glanced up. My eyes trailed his and I saw Charlie coming down. Jacob moved away from me and went to mingle with the other Forks Fuck Ups. Folding my arms around my torso, I scowled as Charlie approached me. "Esme's waiting for you. Make the best of it, Bella. I'll be back to pick you up." He was trying to be encouraging but the fact that he had physically hit me only half an hour ago still made my blood boil. "Try not to assault anyone else while you're away." I gave him a sharp look and watched his face fall. Not letting him walk away from me, I brushed past him and moved up the stairs. I had no idea of where to go, so I just walked down the hallway until I found an open door. "Bella." I turned, entering into the room. Dr. Cullen smiled at me and motioned to an over stuffed leather chair. "This is Dr. Esme Hale. You may know her children from school, Jasper and Rosalie." I shrugged. "Well, I need to get back down stairs, but make yourself comfortable. There's water or soda in the refrigerator." He pointed towards the small dorm fridge underneath the elaborate bookcase. "Well, on second thought, with your diabetes, just water." I rolled my eyes. Like I needed reminding that I wasn't supposed to have soda. His saying that only made me crave a Pepsi even more. Great job, Dr. Cullen. Tempt the diabetic car thief. Next why don't you dangle the keys to your BMW in my face. Idiot. He left and my eyes had no where else to settle but onto Dr. Hale. "Hi, Bella." I took a deep breath. "Hello." "Your father told me that it was quite a shock for you to learn that you'd be spending time with me this evening. I'm sorry that you found out like that." I said nothing as I rubbed my hands over my forehead. "So we're just going to talk. I'm a psychiatrist, so I've been to medical school and my job is to look at both the mental and the physical elements to any disorder." "I don't have a disorder." I glared at her. Two seconds with me and she already thought she knew everything. Stupid Dr. Bitch. "This is our first session, so I'll just explain a few things to you first. I'll be taping our sessions to help me analyze the situation." Her hand went to a tiny rectangle and she pushed a button. Then she held up a notebook. "And I'll be taking a few notes. Don't let either of these things intimidate you. After we talk, we'll go downstairs and spend sometime talking in a group setting. I'm sure you noticed everyone downstairs. And after that, we usually end the night in peer to peer sessions. That is a time where you're not supervised with the other child, you're simply being a kid with another kid. It will help the two of you create a bond so that if you ever need anything and don't feel comfortable speaking with me or another adult, you will always have a friend who can help you." "So who am I going to be with?" "Edward Cullen." "Are you fucking serious?" Esme's face tightened as she wrote something down in her stupid notebook. "Dude can barely speak and I'm supposed to have some kind of meaningful, therapeutic relationship with him?" She took a deep breath, licking her lips before locking her eyes on me. "Don't count Edward out, Bella.

He's a very complicated person and his speech impediment doesn't define who he is." "I don't care about his fucking stuttering. He's in my Biology class and we work just fine together, but I don't understand the point of" "Perhaps if you just let down your guard and allow the process to work, you may begin to understand the point of all of this." I sat fuming in silence for a moment, willing myself to just get through this. It was still better than a group home or jail. "Tell me about the car you stole." I looked up at her, shocked at her boldness. "It was blue." I gave her a slight sneer and the bitch just smiled. "Why did you steal it?" Shaking my head, I sighed. This chick wouldn't understand the real reason and if she did, all she'd do was ask more and more pointless questions. "Because it was shiny and fast and I liked it." Dr. Hale smiled at me again. I didn't like it; it was condescending. It was one of those 'I know something you don't know' smile. "What?" I couldn't stop myself from asking. "You may or may not know this, Bella," she said, voice still calm and annoyingly friendly. "But you were very nearly sent to a juvenile detention center. There were conditions of the court set so that you could avoid that. One was living with your father. Another was attending therapy." Of course I knew all that. "For how long?" "Every week until you graduate." I huffed and she cocked her eyebrow. "It's really not that bad. Perhaps you'd care to tour a detention center?" I sighed and rolled my eyes. Dr. Hale flipped open a folder, her eyes scanning the pages within. "What's all that?" Again, the bitch smiled at me. "This is basically your life on paper. Medical records, school counselor notes, transcripts, court summaries." My eyes narrowed as she picked up a paper and studied it. Stupid bitch. "You're a smart girl, Bella. You've always gotten good grades." She paused. "Except in sixth grade. What happened in sixth grade to make you go from all A's to nearly flunking every subject?" My teeth clenched and I closed my eyes. "You were able to pull your grades back up though. "Dr. Cullen shared your x-Rays with me. How does a girl who is clearly not interested in athletics acquire so many injuries?" My heart had begun to race and my breathing had sped up as my eyes fixed on a spot on the wall next to Dr. Hale. "When I look at these disciplinary records, from your old schools, do you know what I see?" I didn't answer. "I see someone who almost intentionally got in trouble. Detentions, Saturday school, all those punishments would take you away from home. But never a suspension. Whatever behavior got you into trouble mysteriously disappeared before the offense was elevated to the level of suspension. What a good way to escape spending time at home." "Shut up," I said quietly, though clenched teeth. "Why did you steal the car?" Slowly, I answered, "Because I liked it." Again she smiled condescendingly at me, letting me know that she saw through me. She leaned in

towards me. "I'm much more perceptive than a high school guidance counselor. Don't try to pull the wool over my eyes. If you're honest with me, I can be honest with you when I say that I can help." I clenched my teeth harder. I didn't need help. Dr. Hale glanced at her watch. "We can be done for this week. It's nearly time for group." "Goody." I stood up and crossed the room. "Bella?" I paused, my hand on the door knob. "Thanks for coming today."

Chapter 4: Dark and Tortured Bella I descended the stairs after finishing with Dr. Bitch Hale and ignored the way everyone looked at me as I entered the large living room. There was a little bit of room next to Angela on the long sofa or there was a spot in between Bronze Cullen and one of the little Freshmen guys. I moved towards the sofa and flopped down. "This fucking blows," I said under my breath. "Just breathe." I looked at Angela but her eyes were fixed ahead. "Let your mind go somewhere else and before you know it, it'll be time to go home." I wanted to ask Angela why she had to be here. She seemed perfectly normal to me. But before I could, Dr. Bitch came in and sat down in front of us. This was the most ridiculous thing I could imagine doing on my first Friday in Forks. I did what Angela suggested and let my mind wander after Esme introduced me to the Forks Fuck Up Club. I thought about getting high a lot. I thought about the shiny, fast, blue car. I thought about fucking Jacob in the morning. Even if Hale wanted me to, I wasn't going to talk, but luckily I didn't have to. Only about half of the kids did, but I didn't listen because I didn't care about their stupid stories. Half an hour into it, I felt my eye lids droop. I wondered if I could get away with sleeping through it all. I was just about to test it when Angela spoke up next to me. Obviously she hadn't been paying attention either, so she had Hale repeat the question. "Oh, um, I'm doing fine. I ate lunch today and had a taco for dinner." Okay, I obviously missed something important. Was this group about what we ate? It wasn't until Dr. Hale asked her about throwing up that I realized that Angela was here because she had a couple of high profile eating disorders. Apparently anorexia was her disorder of choice but she had been opting towards bulimia since everyone now kept track of what she ate. When the doctor asked her about the emotions she had when she admitted to tossing her taco only moments after eating it, Angela took a deep breath and answered, "I was relieved." "And what made you feel relieved?" "The taco was easily 90 to 100 calories by itself and as soon as I get home tonight, my mother's going force me to eat some fatty baked good with her and she won't let me leave until it's been down for an hour. So at least I know that the 100-calorie taco isn't going to combine with the 500 plus calories she's going to force me to eat." Angela was clearly nuts. She was like a size 4 or something, no where near fat. But all the girls in Phoenix had eating disorders too and not one of them was fat before acquiring the starving or puking habit. Perhaps her self image would be heightened if she simply got new glasses or contacts. She was decently pretty, although being in the same room as Barbie Hale would make every girl want to toss their lunch. Once Angela was finished talking, I let my mind wander again until, finally, the whole group sharing experience was over. Everyone got up and instantly found their designated peer and moved off to

various locations throughout the downstairs. I just sat still on the couch. Obviously I was supposed to be paired with Edward but I had no intentions of running over to him and being all buddy-buddy with him. This afternoon in Bio, I had been stoned and I was always friendly and chatty when I was stoned, but this was an entirely different situation. I was being forced to interact with him now and the rebel in me, well, she rebelled against it. It wasn't anything personal against him. From my peripheral vision, I could see him sitting over there, quietly, his hands folded on his lap. It wasn't until Dr. Hale stood up and called his name that he moved. He tensed slightly, his head lifting to look at her. "Edward, why don't you show Bella your house? I'm sure she'd like to see the game room." He nodded and looked at me nervously, standing up and turning slightly towards me. "Bella," Hale said to me. I narrowed my eyes at her, but stood up too. She smiled and then turned and walked away. Sighing deeply, I moved over to Edward. He looked absolutely gorgeous. Pitiful, but gorgeously pitiful. Who would have thought such a hottie like him would have such a hard time talking. Although that couldn't be the only reason he was in the Forks Fuck Up Club with the rest of us. When he didn't speak, I felt horrible for him, so I made the decision not to give him a hard time. It wasn't his fault we were stuck together like this. "So you have room of games, or what?" His mouth opened and closed and then opened again. I could see his tongue pressing against his lower teeth, trying to form a word, but then his mouth snapped closed again. He nodded and then began walking out of the large room and down the hall. Having no other choice but to follow, I walked behind him, my eyes taking in the expensive dcor, wondering what it would be like to live in a house like this. Bronze Cullen stopped in front of a door and nodded his head towards it. I moved around him and peered into the room. Just about everyone from the living room was in there, excluding the Cullens and the Hales. I looked back to Bronze Cullen and asked, "Are you going in?" He shook his head quickly. "T-t-too maaaany p-peeeeople." It was a little packed in there, but Jacob was in there and I wanted to go hang out with him. But this time was supposed to be for your 'partner' or whatever Hale was calling it. I shrugged, taking a deep breath. "So show me the rest of your house." Bronze Cullen gave me a little smile and a nod. When he started walking, I walked with him. He didn't really point out anything and he didn't say anything, but only a complete moron would need the kitchen or the bathroom pointed out to them. It was obvious what those rooms were. As we walked, I wondered if people got lost in here. He took me upstairs. I huffed as we passed the study, the room where Bitch Hale and I had our first little 'chat.' Most of the doors in the hallway were closed and most of them he opened for me, letting me look into each room. It was the strangest home tour I'd ever been on, but this was definitely the strangest Friday night I'd had in a long time. The last one had been six months ago and it involved copious amounts of acid and freaky talking tree people. Bronze Cullen stopped at a door he seemed hesitant to open, so I just waited, feigning disinterest. When he finally opened the door, a concentrated look upon his face, I realized that this must have been his room. I moved closer to the doorway, peering in. His face was incredibly tense. "This your room?" He nodded, but made no sound or gesture to invite me inside, so I decided to be obtuse and just walk through the doorjamb. As I did so, I heard a shaky little breath come from him. The room was very nice. It was large and very clean and organized. The opposite of my tiny little space in Charlie's small house. One entire wall was taken up by a built in bookshelf that he'd filled with books, CDs, even old vinyl albums. Along another wall, the wall I was closest to, there was a door, I assumed his closet, and there were musical instruments hanging up. Three guitars, two violins, and god love him, he had a banjo too.

Below them was the most expensive keyboard I had ever seen sitting on a simple black base next to a desk with a very expensive looking laptop. On the opposite wall there was a black leather couch and nothing else. To my left was a modest looking bed. I found myself idly wondering if that was where the great Jessica Stanley/Bronze Cullen fuck had occurred. His stuttering behind me drew my thoughts back and I turned around and smiled. He looked like he needed an invitation into his own bedroom. I had no idea what it was that he was trying to force from his mouth, so I pointed at the guitars. "Obviously, you're into music." He stepped inside the door, turning to take a cursory glance at his instruments. "Y-y-yes." I moved further into the room, sparing a sideway glimpse at him to ensure he was cool with it. "So do you do any of the music classes at school?" "N-n-no." I was sure he was good enough to make the band or whatever they had at Forks High. It seemed strange that someone who seemed to love music wouldn't get involved in the school's music program. "Why?" After a deep breath, his brows creased, his eyes dropping to examine the gold carpet. "T-t-too m-many p-p-peeeeople." His words halted for a moment before he continued. "Y-you have t-to d-do re-re-rech-have t-to p-play in front of p-peeople." Yes, that would obviously be a problem for Bronze Cullen. "Can I look at your books?" He nodded before perching himself on the edge of the bed, his eyes raised back up to mine. I turned to peruse the selection he of books he had, utterly fascinated that he would have some of these on his shelf. "D-d-do you liiike" I turned and watched as his face grew red trying to get a word out, his cheeks ballooning out. It made me uncomfortable for him. It had to suck having to struggle so hard just to say a simple word. "Books?" He nodded, blowing out a breath and giving me a crooked smile. He should smile more. "Yes. I like books." "D-do you h-have m-m-m..a lot?" "Um, no. Usually I just get them from the library." Renee hated spending money on me. I had yet to see what the high school or the Forks Public Library held. I hoped it was stocked full of good ones, but if not, I saw now that I could just borrow one from Bronze Cullen. "A fan of Seuss?" His eyes moved to where my finger pointed and his face turned red again. "N-n-no. It-it-it's fffor m-my" He was obviously anxious again. "Seuss is cool." I let my hand move over the binding of some of the more academic looking spines. The dude read Russian literature. "Have you read this?" I asked, pulling out Tolstoy's War and Peace. He nodded his head emphatically, like he really enjoyed it. I couldn't help but give him a genuine smile. Most people at school probably figured he was stupid or retarded in some way, but Jesus, the guy read some of the most complex literature out there. I was certain that Mike Newton and that bitch Lauren hadn't even heard of Tolstoy. My hand stopped again and I pulled out a familiar book. "I like Dostoyevski better." Turning back to Bronze Cullen, I moved to sit down on the couch, my fingers idly flipping through the pages of the book. He nodded at me, as if to say that he enjoyed Dostoyevski better than Tolstoy too. "He's much more existential, isn't he?" He smiled. "D-dark and t-tortured." I looked at him then, really looked at him while my fingers ran lightly over a page. His eyes immediately dropped to his lap, watching as his hands clutched each other and released continually. He didn't like being around a lot of people. He was clearly musical and liked to read. He liked to read authors who were dark and tortured. I wondered if he was dark and tortured. Just seeing how he was treated in school would be enough to validate that. "Edward?" His head lifted as his eyes found mine.

"Why do you let Mike Newton treat you like that?" Eyes widening, his mouth opened and his jaw jutted out. His breathing had sped up, causing his chest to rise and fall rapidly. He looked like he was going to get sick as he tried to form words. "Isabella!" I turned towards the open door and stood up. "That's Charlie. I guess it's time to go home." I returned the book to the shelf and moved to the door. "I like your room. See you Monday." Very quickly, I found myself back downstairs and rolled my eyes as I saw Charlie talking to Jacob. "And you're staying out of trouble?" "Yes, sir." I couldn't help but smile behind Charlie's back, earning a slightly pointed look from Jacob. "Charlie? You ready or are you here for therapy too?" I moved out the door and down the steps. I waited in the cruiser until Charlie joined me. "You survived, huh?" I folded my arms over my chest and stared out the window. I might have had to live with him, but I didn't have to talk to him. "Look, Bella, I'm sorry about before. I'm..I'm not used to beinga parent. I'm a cop. When someone steps out of line, you shove 'em back into line. I didn't mean to hit you." "Whatever, Charlie. Can we just go now?" I had barricaded myself in my room for the rest of the night while Charlie sat down in his recliner watching some sports game and drinking beer after beer. Around midnight I snuck downstairs for something to eat and found him passed out. I simply rolled my eyes. How clich. The police chief was the town drunk. Very funny. Morning came quickly and I found myself waiting for Charlie to leave. Finally at a quarter to eight, he stumbled out to his car and took off. I wasted no time getting ready. Showering, brushing teeth, dressing, checking my blood sugar, eating and packing a few things to eat just in case. By the time Jacob arrived I was bored out of my mind. "It's about time," I said as I slipped into the passenger seat. "Not my fault. Billy had to have some kind of heart-to-heart talk with me this morning." "About what?" Jacob smiled widely at me. "He knows you and I aredoing whatever it is that we're doing." "And?" He licked his lips. "I'm not to get you pregnant and under no circumstances am I to sell you drugs." I laughed. "Well, I agree about the pregnant part, but I think the last part needs to be amended. How about we go with under no circumstances are you to sell me drugs and get caught?" "I like it." It only took a few minutes to drive to the woods he wanted to hike in. I had no idea why we had to drive to hike in the woods when there was an entire forest steps from my house, but it really didn't matter because I was with Jacob and being with Jacob held the promise of certain things that I really, really wanted right now. We had only been walking a few minutes before Jacob asked, "So what did you think of the thing last night?" "What the Forks Friday Night Fuck Up Club?" I rolled my eyes. "It was super awesome." "How was your alone time with Esme?"

"Who?" I pretended I didn't understand. "Oh, you mean Dr. Bitch." "Guess that sums it up, doesn't it?" He looked around for a moment and then copped a squat next to a tree. I mirrored his actions and watched as he pulled out his little sack of green and plucked a paper from the pack. "Just a word of advice. You have to talk to her. You don't have to be truthful but if you try to just keep quiet, she really goes in for the kill and then she's all about doggin' you out during group. The more you tell her, lies or not, the less likely she'll out you in front of everyone." I sighed heavily, but felt marginally better when he passed the joint to me. "The whole thing's fucking stupid." "Yeah, but you have to do it." I quirked an eyebrow and tried to keep the hit in for as long as I possibly could. "So why are you there?" I exhaled slowly. "Charlie," he practically growled. "He and Billy made some deal to keep me out of juvie. I would have had to go to Olympia or some place. Charlie knows how dependent Billy is on me. Jesus, what the fuck would the old man do if I wasn't there to wash his clothes or cook him dinner? I could just imagine Billy laying on the floor after one of his benders and not being able to pick his sorry ass up." So Billy was a drinker too. Perhaps he and Charlie's fishing trips were really just covers for their weekend keg parties. I stifled a giggle. "Yeah, I'm kind of noticing that Charlie's a little prick with a big gun, huh?" Jacob said nothing, so we sat in silence finishing the joint. It wasn't until he had sprawled out on the dirty, mossy ground that Jacob asked, "So how was your time with Cullen?" His voice was light, as if he thought it was funny that my partner was Bronze Cullen. "He's alright." Jacob snickered. "What?" I watched as Jacob's eyes opened and he rolled them at me. Despite my numbing high, my body tensed in preparation of negative words against Bronze Cullen. I actually kind of liked him. He was unassuming and it was obvious that the cards he'd been dealt sucked beyond the telling. "It's just thatNevermind." "What?" "He's fucking weird, Bella." "So are you, but I still hang out with your dirty ass." "My ass is not dirty. Edward's all socially stupid and shit. I mean, the kid never talks and when he does, it's all da-da-da and ma-ma-ma and I-I-I-I c-c-c-c-can't taaaaaalk l-l-l-like a n-n-n-n-normal human being." "Wow. I didn't know you were such a prick, Jake." He sat up and shot me a dirty look. "I'm not being a prick; I'm simply stating the facts." "Maybe he has a hard time talking because he knows fuckheads like you judge him for something he can't help. And who cares about any of that? He's still a person, dickhead. He has a mind and soul and deserves to be treated like a human instead of some" Jacob laughed. "Oh my god! Bella, you're in love with the retarded Cullen kid, aren't you?" I rolled my eyes and clenched my teeth. Of course I wasn't in love with him but it pissed me off that Jacob would call him retarded just because he stuttered. "Fuck you, Jake." I stood up, but his hand captured my wrist and roughly yanked me back down. Just as I hit the ground, Jacob ensnared me within his arms, pulling me towards him and pressing me against him. I found myself straddling him, his hold on me unrelenting. "Don't be mad, Bella. Feel free to make fun of me about having to spend time with Leah. Now if you want to get to know a true Forks Fuck Up, spend some time with Leah. She can't even kill herself properly. Like she didn't know that in order to bleed

out quickly, you had to hit an artery." He rolled his eyes again, but spoke no more. "Don't be mean, Jake." "Don't be bossy, Bells." His mouth moved to my neck. "Don't I owe you a good forest fucking?"

Chapter 5: Lab Rat Edward She had been in my room. She touched my books and we had what could have been considered an actual conversation. Especially for me. I had been proud of myself for not being a complete freak about it but then she just looked at me. And much to my horror, she asked me why I let Newton treat me so bad. As if I had a choice. I agonized over that question for the rest of the night. After everyone had left, Esme, just thought it would be a good time for us to have our official session. We were in Carlisle's study like every Friday night. It was incredibly unfair that every Friday I had to have a session with her when everyone else only had to sit down with her every other week or so. "So Bella's definitely nice, isn't she?" Of course she would want to talk about Bella. I nodded. "I noticed that you two didn't stay downstairs." I shook my head. Very observant. I supposed she got those keen observation skills from her many years in college. "Did you show her your bedroom?" My eyes narrowed. "Th-th-the door wwwas o-open th-the entire t-t-time." She smiled at me. "Yes, I'm not really worried about that. It's your house; you and your brother and sister are allowed to have guests in your rooms. I am just amazed that you allowed her to be in there. From what Carlisle tells me, you don't allow people in your room." "S-sh-she likes b-b-books." "That's wonderful. Did you have a good conversation with her?" I blatantly rolled my eyes at her and motioned with one hand to my mouth and throat. Obviously I didn't have a good conversation with her with my inability to actually talk normally. "Edward," Esme's voice was soft and held that motherly tone again. "There will come a point in your life when you cannot blame your speech impediment for everything." Usually, my emotions were held very squarely in check. I held them there quite tightly to avoid blowing up and subsequently sounding like a moron when I couldn't manage to have a proper tirade. But how the hell could this woman sit here across from me and tell me that I couldn't blame my stuttering for not being able to communicate effectively? She had no idea what it is like to have a million thoughts I wanted to share with everyone but couldn't because of some physiological or mental glitch. My hands balled into fists and I pressed them into my thighs. How the hell could she think that I wouldn't want to have a normal conversation with a pretty girl my age? How could she imply that I didn't try? She knew I sat up every night reading stupid Dr. Seuss books aloud, trying to harness my voice and get rid of my impediment. Why the hell did she have to keep pulling and tugging at me so damn much? Emmett was probably humping her stupid golden child Rosalie right now and Jasper was probably in the midst of doing something far more reproachable to Alice than I could even think about and yet here she was telling me that I use my

stuttering as a crutch to avoid people. "I-I-I d-d-d-doooon't b-b-bl-bl-blame" I couldn't manage to get the rest of my words out. They were blocked. She cocked her stupid head to the side and she looked at me like I was four years old. "Edward, I'm sorry if what I said upset you. That wasn't my intention. I know and understand that your stuttering is something that is not your fault and that you cannot control. However, please understand that I also know your history and I know that with or without your stuttering, you would still avoid building relationships with people." I kept my hands clenched as I gritted my teeth. I would not be talking about all of this again tonight. Wasn't it enough that I had let Bella into my room? Wasn't it enough that I at least tried to talk with her? "Remember how long it took you to form a bond with Emmett? With Carlisle, even?" "Th-theeeey're dif-different. Wa-wa-with Alice, I" "Yes. I understand the differences between Emmett and Carlisle and Alice. But even though you've finally accepted them as family, you still don't allow any of them into your room and you certainly don't let them touch your things. And even with my children, who have been in your life nearly as long as Carlisle and Emmett, you still keep them at a distance." I was feeling defiant, so I shrugged my shoulders and narrowed my eyes. "M-m-maybe I just dddon't l-l-like them." Much to my dismay, Esme smiled at me. "You're a terrible liar. I know you like them, but you refuse to allow yourself to grow any closer to them because you have a fear that everyone you love will either leave you or hurt you." "Th-that's n-not t-t-t-t," I stopped and sighed. "If it's not true, Edward, let's talk about your mother." "N-no!" "What about your father? Do you want to talk about him?" My whole body felt like it was so tight it would snap at any moment and I would break. I tried to keep the emotions down now, but the tears burned my eyes. I refused to let them fall though. I shook my head. "So you don't want to talk about your mom and you don't want to talk about your father. Should we talk about Joseph?" My chest tightened and my lungs seized. "D-d-don't," I begged, unable to keep my tears back now. I didn't understand why she was being so cruel. Instinctively, my legs drew up to my chest and my arms wrapped around them. I couldn't breathe. My heart felt like it was going to thump right out of my chest. "P-p-please, don't." "I know this is difficult, Edward. I can see that it causes you an extreme amount of stress and anxiety, but we cannot let this rule your life. You keep so much of yourself hidden inside that it can only fester and break you." I started to feel light headed and my body began to tingle. I was only vaguely aware of Esme moving to me, putting one hand on my arm and the other on my forehead. "You need to relax, Edward. No one is going to hurt you here." At some point, Carlisle came into the room, which never really helped anything. Panic attacks always seemed to be better when men weren't around, but I felt something sharp jab into my arm and slowly began to realize as my body relaxed on its own, that he had given me a sedative. Finally I was able to

breathe, the tears draining from my eyes. There was no way for me to measure the time it took from the onset to when I was finally able to stand up by myself, but I had a feeling that it had been a good chunk of time. Licking my lips, I moved to the door. "I-I'm goooing to sssleeeep now." My legs shook and I wobbled. Carlisle offered me assistance, holding out his arm to steady me, but instead I held one of my hands out against the wall and waited until my jelly legs solidified. Very, very slowly, I moved out into the hallway, too sedated to care much that Emmett, Rosalie, Alice and Jasper were out there too. I slid my hand along the wall as a guide, keeping my eyes on the floor as I walked to my room. Once inside, I locked the door and grabbed my iPod. Flopping down onto my bed, I put the ear buds in and found my Classical playlist. My eyes closed and I concentrated on breathing. In and out. In and out. But as I lay there, my body nearly helplessly sedated, my mind moved back to Bella's question. The answer was inextricably linked to what had just happened in Carlisle's study. I was unbelievably thankful when sleep finally overtook me, rescuing me from my wandering mind. Soft knocks woke me on Saturday. My head hurt and my body felt heavy as I rolled out of bed and stumbled to the door. Alice waited on the other side, giving me a small smile. "It's noon and Carlisle said you need to eat something." "I-I'm not h-hungry." I sounded tired even to myself. Alice nodded. "I told him you'd say that. But you have to come out sometime. He's going to leave for the hospital soon, so make an appearance, eat something, and then you'll be free to lie around until Monday morning. If you don't he'll just call Esme." I sighed, closing the door behind me and watched as her smile faltered and she reached up to run a hand through my hair. "It'll be okay, Edward." That was what she said all the time. But she knew just as I did that it wouldn't be okay because 'okay' wasn't something that people like us ever got to be. Reluctantly, I went downstairs and had lunch with my family. But not before Carlisle did his doctor thing. There were times when it was really useful to have a doctor in the house. Like the time Alice "accidentally" cut herself while attempting to recreate a Bobby Flay dish, or when Emmett dislocated his shoulder playing football with his jock friends in the back yard, or when I was sick with the flu. But today, it was annoying to have to sit on the stool next to the island counter in the kitchen, being watched by Alice and Emmett, as Carlisle took my temperature, checked my ears, eyes, and reflexes. While he checked my blood pressure, he asked all of the normal doctor questions like, how I had slept, how I did I feel, was anything bothering me. As usual, I kept my answers short. When he was finished, he held my face between his hands and looked directly into my eyes. He wasn't checking for anything because he'd already done that. He was searching for something, as if looking into my eyes would hand him the secrets of deconstructing Edward. After a long moment, it became really uncomfortable, so I shook my head, averting my eyes from his and moving my hands to his wrists and pulling them away. Nothing like being a lab rat first thing in the morning. Or afternoon, rather. I ate my sandwich and listened as Carlisle and Emmett had a discussion about whatever sport Emmett was starring in at the moment. I thought it was basketball, but with Emmett, I could never keep track. He had practice this afternoon and then was taking Rosalie shopping. I could tell by the barely

concealed squeal from Alice that she desperately wanted to be included in the shopping trip. It was moderately amusing to see Emmett casually ignore Alice's bouncing body and her pleading eyes. It wasn't until Carlisle stood up, glancing at his watch, that Emmett finally asked Alice if she'd like to go to Port Angeles with them. It was not surprising that Alice let out the squeal of delight she'd been containing and clapped her hands together like a three year old being offered ice cream. After Carlisle gave her the speech about the importance of thrift and knowing the limit of the credit card, all eyes turned towards me. "Please go with us," Alice begged. I just shook my head, my eyes squarely on Carlisle, hoping he wouldn't make me. I could see the dilemma working itself out inside his brain. If he made me go, I would most likely have another attack and having had one on Monday and then another one last night, it seemed like too much stress for my body to go through. But then again, I imagined that Carlisle would be concerned with me being alone. Just thinking about that made me upset. I'd been with Carlisle for five years and I had never done anything to harm myself or others or his property. I didn't deserve the careful consideration he had to give each time when thinking about letting me have a moment's peace alone in my own house. "Perhaps I can call Esme," he muttered, his eyes flicking to me quickly. I scowled at him, not wanting to speak but wanting him desperately to know that this was my weekend and I didn't want another impromptu session with Dr. Hale. "Alright, Edward," he said with a sigh. "But you keep the phone in your room, right next to you. If you need anything, you page me. I'll call you every now and then." He turned to Emmett. "How long do you expect to be gone?" Emmett looked at me, giving me one of his signature pitied looks, and then back at Carlisle. "Maybe eight or nine? He'll be fine, Dad." He turned to Alice. "Be ready by four. Rose can't stand to be kept waiting." Rolling her eyes, Alice sighed. "As if we all didn't know that." Finally, Carlisle and Emmett left. I rinsed my plate and put it in the dishwasher, marginally happier that I would now have at least three or four hours to myself. I could play the Grand Piano if I wanted. I could even sing if I wanted to. Not that I did, but Ms. Rice had told me once that people who stutter could usually sing without impediment. Well, at least most of them. Not that singing interested me all that much, but it might be interesting to hear my voice be smooth for once. "Want to watch TV?" I turned to find Alice behind me. Crinkling my nose, I shook my head. "Please? Don't spend the rest of the weekend in your room. If you're not going shopping with us, then at least spend a little time with me." I sighed and she smiled, knowing that of everyone, she was the one person I couldn't say no to when she started pouting. "Yay! We can listen to music instead." So I found myself lying on the floor with Alice, no lights on as the sounds of Alice's favorite New Age musician filled the room. It was raining out, as usual, so without lights, the living room was dim enough to be comfortable and relaxing. Typically, I found some of the music a little 'out there' but this CD was nice, soothing. It was nice to lie on the floor and stare up at the ceiling and not feel pressure to think about any one thing in particular. "Edward," Alice broke the silence, her voice very soft and soothing like the music. I rolled my head towards her and she did the same. "What happened last night?" I sighed, moving to look back at the ceiling. Alice wasn't really being nosey just to be nosey, she was just a curious person. And I couldn't fault her for it either. She and I had known each other since we

were eleven and even though it'd only been six years, she was the closest thing I had to actual family. From the moment I met her at our foster parents' house, she was my best friend and she had only unconditional love to give me. If there was anyone in the world I could talk to, it was Alice. "S-she asked a-a-bout mmmy p-parents and J-J-J-Joseph." I heard Alice's angry growl and saw her roll onto her side towards me. She ran her hand through my hair and almost instantly, I closed my eyes, bracing for the tears. I didn't want to cry, but Alice had a way of making me feel like it was safe to do so. "Want me to kick Esme's ass for you?" The edges of my mouth curled up. "I d-d-don't t-t-think Jas-Jasper would liiike you b-beeeating up his m-mom." She giggled. "I don't know, Edward, he might help me. You should hear some of the questions she asks him. Just imagine having to live with her. One minute you're happily chewing away at your toast and the next minute she's asking you how you feel when your girlfriend goes down on you." My eyes widened and I nearly choked on air. Alice was able to do that. She was able to talk about something completely serious but manage to bring something completely inappropriate and outrageous into it. "I-I-I dddon't want to kn-kn-know about that, Aliiiice." She laughed again, her fingers continuing to run through my hair. "Duh. That's why I don't talk to you about it, dork." Alice was quiet for a moment longer before asking, "So did you tell her anything?" I shook my head. I had been too busy freaking out and failing to get adequate air into my lungs. "S-she already kn-knows. Sh-she haaaas th-the files." "Yeah, but Esme likes it when she can get you to have a breakthrough or whatever." "Y-y-you t-t-t-tell hhhher things?" I turned my head to look at her. Alice shrugged. "It's easier that way. And it's different for me, Edward. I'm with her son. I have to give her some reason to be okay with me being with Jasper. People don't want their children to date people with dissociative disorders and people who cut themselves from time to time. So I play the game she wants me to play and give her just enough to let her know that she's helping me, but more importantly, that Jasper's helping me." "Sh-she asks a-a-about your p-p-past?" "Yeah, but I can't help her with that so much, you know? If I can't remember it, I can't talk about it. So she does these things where we talk about random things, like shopping or whatever, and when I zone out, she asks me questions." I narrowed my eyes at her and she shrugged again. "I guess I talk because when I come back she's got pages of notes and we talk about it next time." "D-do you liiiike th-that?" I asked it because I knew that I wouldn't like having someone talk to me when I was basically not there mentally. She shook her head. "There are some things that are meant to stay in the past. I don't need to know about them." Her hand stopped its movement in my hair and she lay down on her back again. "One of my old therapists said once that old wounds are the hardest to heal and the scars they leave are the most painful." Sighing, Alice let her eyes slipped closed. "So I'm not really rushing to remember my old wounds." Alice and I lay on the plush carpet for another hour, not really speaking, more just enjoying each other's quiet company, but then she had to get ready for shopping. I sat down at the Grand Piano and

played for nearly two hours, nodding to Alice as she moved through the front door, her little legs carrying her as fast as she could go. Emmett's constant honking distracted me, causing me to shift from what was one of my most soothing compositions to something rather aggressive and violent. The phone rang. It was Carlisle checking up on me. I hated talking on the phone. My stuttering never seemed to improve, even though I wasn't face to face with anyone. It took me nearly three minutes to spit out that I was fine. Carlisle reminded me to keep the cordless next to me at all times and I wondered what he thought could happen to me in a few short hours. It didn't take me long to migrate back up to where I was most comfortable. My room. I had been strumming my guitar, mindlessly letting my fingers do their thing while I mentally checked out. It was pleasant, listening to the music I was producing without really thinking about anything. This was why I liked music. I could associate everything or nothing with it, all depending on my mood. I had been at it for a while before any coherent thought passed through my mind and when it did, I was surprised that it was about Bella Swan. I wondered what she was doing with her weekend and why it was that Esme and Carlisle seemed to think her past and mine were similar. I hoped she didn't have a past like mine. And it really didn't seem so. She didn't seem to have any problems engaging people socially and seemed to exude confidence with everything she did or said. The only negative things I could think about her related to her association with Jacob Black and her obvious use of the 'product' he sold. And the only reason why I thought any of that was negative was because of my mother. Otherwise, Jacob was a decent guy. Of course, I couldn't deny that I still would have preferred that she didn't hang out with him, but I couldn't very well expect her to spend time with me when she didn't have to. I mean, I left a lot to be desired. But if I was normal, I could speak with her like everyone else. We could discuss books like she seemed to want to and I could What a waste. I thought I had killed that part of me that dreamt of being different but every once in a while, it popped back up and my face was shoved back into reality once more. Of course part of me wished that Bella and I could be like Emmett and Rosalie or Jasper and Alice, but Bella liked boys who could talk and converse and who were more normal than I was. Setting down my guitar, I lay back on my bed and let myself wish again that I was someone else. It was unfair that not only did God or the Universe or Random Forces deemed fit to give me what was a natural inability to speak, but also gave me one of the worst childhoods anyone could ever come up with. I was happy to have Carlisle take me in, that was for sure, but there was no erasing the past. Alice's old therapist had been right. Old wounds are hard to heal and what's left behind hurts like hell. It wasn't like I didn't want to heal, because I did. I knew that I would stutter with or without the emotional baggage that came along with a childhood like mine, but it might've helped if I didn't have all of the things nagging inside my head about what happened to me as a kid. I could live with the stutter if I could give back the past, and I couldn't help but think that if I didn't have the stutter, I could deal with the past better. My stutter kept me from people. I knew most of the students at school thought that I was mentally challenged as opposed to just verbally challenged. My verbal challenge brought forth my social challenge and they interpreted that as a mental thing. On the few occasions I'd been able to do something close to socializing with someone outside of my family, it hadn't lasted long and I could see that the other person was doing it more as a bet with their friends than to really get to know me. But that's why Esme and Carlisle's expectations of me concerning Bella had me worried. Why would she want to get to know me? What was her motivation? Why would anyone want to put that much

work into getting to know someone like me? I mean, I actually felt bad for people who had to sit in front of me and patiently wait for my mouth to catch up with my mind. I fell asleep before anyone came home, but was woken up by Emmett banging on the door. I responded with "Wh-wh-what?" "Nothing," he said through the door, and then "No, Dad, he was just sleeping. He's fine." Obviously Carlisle called him to ensure I was okay. I seriously didn't understand what he had thought was going to happen.

Chapter 6: Down Edward I had spent Sunday in my room, only emerging to eat. Carlisle tried to engage me in conversation, but I just wasn't up for it. I shrugged, nodded, and shook my head in answer to all of his questions. And this morning, just like every weekday morning, I awoke to Emmett pounding on the bathroom door. Remembering his trick of wiggling the door knob, which had upset me, I got out of bed and flung open my door. "Morning, Sunshine," Emmett beamed at me, to which I just rolled my eyes. The car ride was no different than any other day. To be completely honest, I had really wanted to stay home, but that would never happen. The highlight of my morning, however, was passing Bella in the hall, this time without having some kind of incident with Newton. And she smiled at me. It was just a second or two, but it was a real smile. The only bad thing was that I hadn't had time to smile back at her. For the remainder of the morning, I wondered how her weekend had gone and what she had done. But by the end of lunch, when I saw her leaving the cafeteria just moments after Jacob Black, I realize that her weekend had probably included him. And that disturbed me. And then I felt ridiculous for being disturbed that Bella had most like hung out with her friend. I didn't own her. She wasn't mine. She wasn't going to me mine and she wasn't even my friend. She was being forced to spend time with me. But that didn't stop me from wishing she was my friend. So when Biology rolled around, I was feeling incredibly down. She was late again, giving an obviously fake apologetic glance at Mr. Banner before slipping into her seat next to me. For whatever reason, my mood had turned a tad hostile. I wasn't really upset with her; I was more upset with my inadequacies as a human being. She turned at me and shot me a small smile. "Hey." I sighed and gave her a nod, thinking that attempting a verbal greeting would either sound stupid or angry or not come out all. She leaned a little closer, taking a peek at the notes I had begun writing and that annoyed me. It wasn't fair for her to use me for my note taking ability simply because she was too busy doing whatever it was she did with Jacob Black to make it to class on time. "Did I miss much?" My jaw clenched. "N-n-no," was all I managed to get out, but then I grudgingly slid my notebook closer to her so that she could copy what I had written, because, honestly, it wasn't her fault I was so incredibly socially defunct and undesirable. I tried to pay attention to what Banner was saying, but I had no notebook to write anything down in as Bella copied from mine, so there was little point in it all. After a few minutes, she slid the notebook back to me. I readjusted it and prepared to start taking more notes from the lecture when I looked down. She'd written "Thanks!" in the margin and drew a little smiley face. Turning my head to look out the window, I wondered if Jacob Black got smiley faces. She didn't seem like the smiley face kind of girl.

The rest of the class went by in a blur. All I did was stare out of the window, thinking random thoughts of a normal life. I wondered if people like Mike Newton or Jessica Stanley or Tyler Crowley, or even Eric Yorkie even realized how appealing their lives were. I was sure they thought they were boring or at least ordinary, but I wondered if they even had a clue as to how much people like me coveted their ordinary, boring life. I would have to snap out of this mood soon. Carlisle would notice and then he would make me talk to Esme before Friday, probably even tomorrow. And tomorrow was another session with Ms. Rice. I might implode if I had to have sessions with both Ms. Rice and Esme. The bell rang, startling me out of my thoughts. I looked down at my notebook with the smiley face and realized that I hadn't taken any more notes. I would have to get them from Alice tonight. I slammed the cover closed and shoved it into my bag, along with the text book. "You okay today?" Turning to my right, I found Bella looking at me, her mouth twisted up and her eyebrows knitted together as if she were trying to figure out a puzzle. She was incredibly pretty. Too pretty. Too pretty for me to look at, too pretty for me to talk to, too pretty for me to even be able to imagine her wanting to know me. "F-f-fine." "Fine? Fine, like, you're fine or fine like, you're agreeing to tell me if you're okay today or fine like" I sighed as I stood up, swinging my bag up onto my shoulder. "I-I-I'm f-ffffine, B-B-B-Bel- At that point, Mike Newton had noticed that I hadn't left the room yet and was still talking with Bella, so of course, he moved over and shoved me from across the table and said, "Bel-la. It's not that fucking difficult, you 'tard." He had shoved me into the table behind me, forcing me to sit down on the top of it. The table had squeaked and the feet had scrapped against the linoleum loudly, which only drew more attention to the scene. My thigh had hit the edge of the table and while I hadn't thought Newton had shoved me that hard, I could feel the heat of the impact on my leg. "Why do you have to be such a dick?" For a quick moment, I closed my eyes and clenched my teeth. What a perfect situation. Yet again, Bella was defending me, so not only was I not a normal person, I was also an emasculated, non-normal person. Opening my eyes, I stood up straight, pulling my bag back up my shoulder and tried to slip out behind Bella. "For Christ's sake, Bella, while I think it's incredibly sexy the way you have pity on the less fortunate, he can't even say your fucking name." "So then logically, it's the best course of action to physically assault him, is it?" I had extracted myself from behind Bella, but as I moved to walk away, leaving them to continue their argument, I felt small fingers encircle my wrist. Immediately my eyes moved down to where Bella had a hold of me. It felt like it burned worse than where my leg had hit the table. "He's a person." "Not much of one, Bella." I pulled my arm free of her hold, just barely able to look at her face. She was flush and for the moment she glared at Newton, she looked deadly, but as soon as she turned to me, her face softened and she got the same look of pity that I'd seen thousands of times before. "S-st-st-stop." Newton laughed as I hurriedly left the classroom. "Yeah, B-B-Bella, just s-s-s-st-st-stop!" Ms. Peters saw my face and didn't make me do anything for my final period of the day. I just sat in her tiny little office, sinking further and further down into the old armchair in the corner. The final bell rang and I continued to sit there for a few minutes more. Emmett would make us wait like usual and I didn't look forward to waiting in the jeep with Alice. She would try to talk to me and I was in no mood for talking. Most of the students were gone by the time I walked through the parking lot. My whole body tensed even more when my eyes settled on the Jeep. Alice sat on the bumper with Jasper standing between her legs while Emmett was sprawled out atop Rosalie on the hood of her red convertible. There were times when I didn't mind their very public displays of affection and then there were times like now

that I wished that I could just burn my eyes out to avoid having to witness it. But as I moved closer, I realized that I would have to burst my ear drums too as they were not the quietest bunch. None of them even realized I was there until I opened the door to the Jeep, slid into the back seat and then slammed the door loudly. It was another five minutes of 'oh' and 'uh' and 'damn baby' before Emmett and Alice extracted themselves from the Hales and decided it was time to leave. I sat perfectly still, my eyes fixed on the clock in the dash board as they hopped in, both rubbing their mouths and straightening their clothing out. It was disgusting. "Hey, Edward," Alice said happily, but I didn't respond or even react as if I had heard her. I was upset and angry. I knew they didn't deserve to be on the receiving end of it all but I had no other outlet. I didn't want to talk to them and they couldn't make me. "What's up, bro?" I continued to stare at the clock as the last number changed and wondered how long it would take my two genius siblings to figure out that I wasn't talking. "What happened today?" For a moment, my eyes flicked to Alice but I recovered quickly, moving them back to the clock. I hated how transparent I seemed to be. "Edward, don't be an ass." I didn't respond, so Emmett had no choice but to start the Jeep and drive us home. I didn't even know why I rode with them everyday. I had my own car and unlike Alice, I had decent driving record. Tuesday was worse than Monday. Bella smiled at me in the hall again, but today Newton had made it a point to be waiting for me. Another signature shoulder shove. Typically they didn't hurt all that much, but this time his shoulder didn't just connect with my side, it connected with my ribs. So I spent most of the day pretending that it didn't hurt and trying to convince myself of that fact. At lunch, Emmett had asked me about what happened. Obviously one of his stupid friends ran right to him and told him about it. Even though I didn't confirm what happened, he spent the next fifteen minutes coming up with plans to make Newton bleed without getting himself expelled. He said all of this in front of Jasper and Rosalie. I knew that everyone else considered them some what of extended family, but I still didn't need to see the pity in their eyes as their thoughts turned to how utterly useless and loser like I was. I allowed myself a quick glance up at Bella's table and followed her eyes over to Jacob Black's table. He would be getting up soon and she would be following him again. I didn't want to see it, so I left the cafeteria early, not bothering to look behind me when Alice called my name. I spent the remainder of lunch in Mr. Banner's empty classroom collating a handout packet for him. Bella didn't even bother coming to class today. Ms. Rice was as determined as ever, even after I told her that I'd rather not practice today. I had my whole silent thing going and hadn't spoken in about twenty four hours and it worked for me. But she would have none of that, so it was all 'No sir, I would not like them here or there, I would not like them anywhere.' But as that simple sentence left my mouth, it sounded like Dr. Seuss on a carnival ride. Four year old kids everywhere could say that sentence just fine, but it stuck in my mouth, instantly reminding me and shoving it in my face that I couldn't speak; I couldn't be normal; I couldn't do anything right. And as I shifted in my chair, my ribs hurt. Wednesday proceeded much in the same fashion as Tuesday, except that I didn't look up from the tiled floor to see if Bella smiled at me in the hall today and I walked faster than normal, trying to out run Newton. But Newton was persistent, so I couldn't really avoid him. This time it was the 'send Edward's books and bag flying and laugh' game. It was just as humiliating, yet I didn't have to acquire

another bruise for it. Emmett had been around the corner and came up, stalking Newton and making me feel even less like man than I had when I woke up. I skipped lunch and spent the hour in Mr. Banner's class room again, my head pillowed on my arms as I stared out the window. Bella was on time today. Before she could say anything, I pushed yesterday's notes towards her and turned away to stare out of the window again. When the bell rang, I grabbed my note book back and flew out of the classroom, anxious not to be harassed by Newton again because I was speaking to Bella. Wednesday night, Carlisle again tried to engage me in conversation and after failing, he gave a few pointed looks at Alice and Emmett. They disappeared upstairs and within a half an hour, Esme was at our house, looking at me like I was a lab rat again. Instead of making me go upstairs into Carlisle's study to have 'session,' Esme spoke to me downstairs, with Carlisle still in the room. "So how are you, Edward?" I shrugged. "Not talking again, I see. I thought we had pushed through all that." No, she had pushed through all that. I had merely been in the room when she had this little break through she was calling mine. I didn't want to talk. I didn't have to and I wouldn't. After a sideways glance at Carlisle, Esme smiled at me. "You have your entire family worried." I sighed, not knowing how I was supposed to respond to that. Of course I knew they were worried and as much as I cared for each of them, I couldn't care that they were worried. I was allowed to have my feelings, wasn't I? I wasn't supposed to put on the act of the good son, was I? That was Emmett's role. "Would you like to play the piano, Edward?" I shook my head. "Son, please." My eyes closed at Carlisle's soft plea. I wished that I could be like Emmett for him. I wished he could truly help me the way he wanted to. I wished that I could be close to him and I wished that I was normal for him. It was heart breaking enough to know that I would never be able to truly be comfortable around him simply because of his role, his gender, the authority that radiated from him, but it tore at me that I couldn't even engage him in simple conversation. I adored that he helped people for a living and I admired him for having gone to through school for so long to do what he loved and I would have enjoyed being able to ask him questions and tell him things. But I couldn't. I scratched idly at Carlisle's expensive dining room table, keeping my head down I was suddenly very tired and although I heard their voices, nothing really registered in my brain. My hands moved up to hold my head, the skin on my forehead stretching as gravity tried to pull it towards the table. I breathed deeply, trying to calm and center myself. "I-I w-w-would liiiiike t-t-t-o go, go t-t-to bed now." As Ms. Rice would say, at least I finished strong. On Thursday morning, I was fully prepared to stay in bed and ignore Emmett's booming voice, but again he pulled the trick where he jiggled the door knob, which instantly caused my body to produce an excessive amount of fear induced adrenaline. I wasn't surprised when Emmett silently accompanied me to my locker before first period and then walked me to class. He was protective like that, even if it meant making me feel like a bigger tool for letting him play my personal bodyguard for the day. I hadn't slept much the night before, so I didn't have much fight left in me. It seemed like a better option to have Emmett hawk me than to be shoved into the row of lockers again. "Bella," he whispered. I looked up at him, wondering why he would say her name, but he just nodded in front of him. "I'll see you at lunch." He left and I looked at where he nodded and there stood Bella, standing outside of my first period class, her eyes directly fixed upon me. I felt trapped. I didn't think I could walk into class without acknowledging her and I didn't necessarily want to, but I was still feeling irrational resentment towards her. What if I accidentally spewed that resentment onto her and she saw how truly vile I was? But then I remembered my inability to speak like a normal person.

She moved towards me and my feet stopped. "Hi." I nodded to her. "H-hi." Taking a deep breath, she cocked her head to the side as she looked up at me. "So there's this foreign film festival in Olympia this weekend," she shook her head, "well, all next week too, but this Saturday is Russian movies and they're going to play Prisoner of the Mountains, which is based on Tolstoy's Prisoner of the Caucasus and also Anna Karenina from like the early 1900's and I know it's not all dark and tortured but I wanted to know if you wanted to go." My eyes had widened as my brain attempted to process the information she had just given me. I was still stuck on Russian movies before I noticed her looking around nervously. My eyes narrowed as I studied her. Maybe she didn't want to be seen with me. Maybe I was supposed to answer quickly. I was pretty sure she was asking me to go to Olympia with her on Saturday and for a moment, my heart quickened as I thought about spending time with her. She wasn't even being forced into doing it. And she asked me. I opened my mouth to answer, but the block formed and I closed it again. My fists clenched at my sides and I hoped that Newton wasn't around to watch this because if he was, there'd be hell to pay for my inability to get out a simple 'yes.' I opened my mouth again, meaning to say yes, but all that came out was something that sounded like "da-da-da, na-na." They weren't even close to the sounds of the three simple letters I needed. I knew that I looked like an idiot, my face twitching as I tried to force the word. Her hand moved to my forearm and I stopped trying to speak and simply looked at her. "Edward," she said with a smile, "just shake your head for no or nod for yes." Did she think I was an idiot? I wasn't mad that she said what she said, I was truly just concerned that she finally started listening to Newton and thought I was supposed to be in Special Ed. But I pushed all of the negative thoughts from my mind and nodded, frantically. And then finally, my mouth responded, and I was able to mutter, "Y-y-yeessss." Her smile seemed to grow bigger and I felt my heart pound in my chest. "Good. I hope you have a car, because I don't, but I can totally chip in for gas money." I shook my head and wanted to tell her that she didn't have to because I would be more than happy to drive her anywhere she wanted to go. And again, I was thankful for my mouth not complying. I would have sounded like an ass. "You don't have a car?" I shook my head again. "N-n-no, I-I-I ddddo. I-I-I just d-d-d-don't neeeeed g-g-gas money." She smiled again and gave me a little nod. Bella started to move past me, having to get to her own first period class and all, but then stopped. When she turned back to me, her forehead was creased and she was chewing on her bottom lip. "Not that I think you think otherwise, but I just want you to know that this isn't, like, a date or anything. I don't" Her voice trailed off as she shook her head, her bottom lip sucked in again and her hands tucking her hair behind her ears. "I don't really date and I don't do the whole girlfriend thing, so don'tI mean, like I said, not that you are, but don't expect likeromantic anything. Just two people who like Russian novels watching Russian movies, okay?" I nodded and I couldn't help but smile a little. She gave me a parting nod before turning and walking away. No date. Got that and I was fine with it because the pressure of a date would have been crushing. And there was no way that I could expect her to want something romantic from someone like me. Just two people who like Russian things. I could handle that. She didn't ask Newton to go to Olympia with her. My smile grew. The day flew by and I was surprisingly happy for once. It seemed that my inability to be a normal human hadn't stopped Bella from wanting to watch Russian movies with me. Even at lunch, when Bella got up and followed Jacob Black out of the cafeteria, my mood stayed positive because she hadn't invited Jacob to go watch Russian movies with her either. She'd asked me.

And when she arrived twenty minutes late to Biology, I put my notebook in the middle of the desk and took notes on another sheet of paper. She, Bella Swan, the talk of the high school, had asked me, Edward Cullen, the outcast of the high school, to go to Olympia with her on Saturday to watch movies made in Russia with her. Even my inadequacies with reading children's books with Ms. Rice didn't spoil my good mood. Of course, Alice and Emmett were extremely interested in what Bella had wanted this morning and since I gave them no information at lunch time, they were waiting to accost me on the ride home. Emmett had practice, so he wanted information as quickly as possible so that he could return to the school. It wasn't like I was purposefully keeping the fact that she had asked me to go with her on Saturday to myself, but it just seemed easier to not stutter and stammer my way through it more than once. Although I had said yes to Bella, I still needed to get Carlisle to say it was okay, which meant asking him tonight when he got home. Emmett and Alice would be there then. After Emmett dropped us off, Alice kept up her annoying questioning, even standing outside of my bedroom door, trying to coax me to answer. I sat down at my keyboard, plugged the head phones in and blocked her out. It was easy for me to get lost in music. Before I knew it, Carlisle and Emmett were home and it was time for dinner. Before I could even taste the enchiladas Carlisle had brought home for dinner, Alice bounced in her chair. "Bella wanted something from Edward this morning in the hall and Edward won't tell us what it is. Make him." I rolled my eyes at her while shoving in a small bite of the food. Emmett looked highly amused as his eyes danced around the table, taking in me, Alice, and Carlisle in turn. I looked at Carlisle and while his expression was curious, he turned to Alice. "Perhaps it's not our business to know. Edward doesn't ask you about what you and Jasper speak about, does he?" Alice bounced again, all nervous energy and nosiness. "But Bella's not Jasper and Edward's not me. Edward barely talks to anyone and now" I sighed, not having wanted this conversation to have been dictated by anyone else. I retrained my eyes on Carlisle and set down my fork. The moment I opened my mouth to speak, it was clearly apparent that pushing out words wasn't going to happen easily. I thought about music and heard the composition I had been working in play in my head. When I looked back up, I saw that Carlisle was patiently waiting, Alice was still practically bouncing, and Emmett still looked more amused than he should have. "S-sh-she w-w-wants tttto go ttto a f-f-f-fo-fo-foa couple of m-m-movies w-with mme on Sssaturday." I was relieved to finally have it out and did my best to ignore Alice's childlike clapping and Emmett's not so subtle grin. "That's great. Which movie?" This was going to be the part Carlisle didn't like so much. I already knew that he would think we were going to Port Angeles to watch a regular movie, but now I had to tell him where Bella wanted to go. "T-th-there's a f-f-film f-f-fest" Carlisle's eyes widened and he set down his fork, giving me the look I hated. "The foreign film festival in Olympia?" I swallowed hard at the sound of his voice. Nodding, I tried to stay positive, even though fear was clutching me tightly at this point. He looked at me in silence for a moment longer before twining his hands together in front of him. "No. Absolutely not." I was about ready to protest when Alice's noise of indignation sounded loudly from beside me. "That's not fair, Carlisle. Why can't he go?" He turned his cool eyes over to Alice. "It's over three hours away, Alice. It would be an all day trip and" "Dad, Edward's a safe driver and he never gets in trouble, like ever, and it seems a little unfair to tell him that he can't go simply because it's three hours away. We live in the Olympic Pennisula, Dad, nothing's close."

Carlisle sighed and rubbed his temples. "What if he has an anxiety attack? He'll be three hours away from anyone who can help." He paused, thinking. "Perhaps you can go with him, Emmett." I felt my jaw drop at the suggestion that I needed a chaperone. Emmett laughed. "I can't cramp his style like that, old man. Don't you remember what it was like to be seventeen and on a date?" "I-i-it's n-n-n-not addddate." Carlisle turned his focus back to me. "I -I-I w-w-won't p-p-p-p," the word panic stuck in my throat and I realized with all my stammering, I would never be convincing. I tried again anyway, "P-p-panic." Taking in a few deep breathed, I locked my eyes with him, hoping that he could see that this was important to me. I never asked for much of anything and I never caused trouble. "P-p-p-please?" He was silent and he let out an elongated sigh. As soon as he opened his mouth, I knew I had him. Excitement filled every part of my body and I almost bounced like Alice. "You will have your cell phone on you at all times. You will let Bella know that my number is on speed dial. You will tell her about your attacks and indicate that should you need her to, she is to call 911 and then call me, understood?" I nodded. "And you will call in every hour to let me know that you're okay." I felt my brow furrow. "B-b-but we'll b-b-be wwwwwatching a m-movie." "Fine. Every two hours." Carlisle picked up his fork and pointed at my dinner. "Now eat." "Look, he's smiling! Dad, when was the last time you saw him smile?"

Chapter 7: Take Two Bella My weekend had been filled with Jacob and boredom. Sex in the woods was fucking fantastic on Saturday. Sunday was boring though; Charlie never left the house. I had to come up with an excuse for going outside just to smoke a little pot. The week started out just fine, class, lunch, smoking pot with Jakeand other things. But Bronze Cullen was acting strange. Not that I really knew what strange was for him, having known him all of a couple days or whatever. So I'd asked him what was wrong and Prick Newton shoved him, laughed at him and generally treated him like dirt. And perhaps it wasn't really my place to stand up to Mike like that for him, but I couldn't help it. Tuesday and Wednesday were the same. Bronze Cullen seemeddepressed. Of course, it could have stemmed from the full-on body check Newton gave him on Tuesday. I was a ways away, so I couldn't see it completely, but it looked like it hurt. And I'm well-versed in hurt. I felt bad skipping Biology on Tuesday, but Jacob and I had really gone at it and there was no way I could go to class looking the way I did. Wednesday Bronze Cullen let me copy his notes, but he wouldn't look at me. It was Wednesday night when I found the advertisement about the foreign film festival. I really wanted to go, but I couldn't very well walk to Olympia. Jake would never want to go to something like that, and all he'd do was feel me up, down and all around during the movie anyway, so I decided I'd ask Bronze Cullen. Even though we'd been forced to be together last Friday, I hadn't had a bad time and he hadn't seemed to either. On Saturday they would be playing Russian films and with all of those Russian novels he had read, I figured he'd go. I had thought for a moment that he'd say no. Hell, as he walked closer with Big Cullen next to him, I had thought that I wouldn't even be able to ask. But he said yes and so Thursday night at dinner, I told

Charlie I was going. Of course, my sperm donor of a father was actually a little pissed that I didn't ask him, but I didn't care. He didn't own me and if he said that I couldn't go, I'd steal his fucking car and go anyway. He asked who I planned to go with and I told him about going with Bronze Cullen; of course, I called him Edward for Charlie's sake. After dinner, Charlie made a phone call while I cleaned up. By the time the dishes were washed, rinsed, dried and put away, he was leaning against the counter, his hands crossed over his chest. He was actually a little close to me; closer than I was comfortable with, so I hung up the towel and moved a foot or two back. "So this Edward kid's record is clean." I gaped at him. He had actually called the station and got one of his minions to run a police report on him. "Charlie. Seriously?" "He had a parking ticket last year but paid it in full the next day." Rolling my eyes, I shrugged, letting my arms cross over my chest, mimicking his stance. "So does that mean I can go?" "Yes. But I'm warning you, Bella, if you betray my trust in you, you'll have an awfully hard time earning it back." I managed not to smirk at him. He was warning me about breaking trust? How fatherly. "Fine." School was fine on Friday. I smiled at Bronze Cullen in the hall and he actually smiled back. As far as I knew, Newton didn't fuck with him. Probably because Big Cullen was stalking his little brother's every move. I was suddenly very happy that I had no siblings. Photography was actually fun for the first time. The teacher let us pair up and we got to outside and start snapping away. Pixie Cullen grabbed my arm and told me that I was going to be her partner. She was kind of a cool chick, a little on the weird side, but cool enough for me not to hate her instantly. She talked a lot, but not like Jessica Stanley. She wasn't automatically telling me of her conquests, or what or who so and so did last Friday night. Mostly she talked about things she liked, asking me what I liked in turn. We decided to take pictures of the woods, which suited me just fine because I could get high a little earlier than planned. Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster for my one hitter. Although I could tell that Pixie didn't like me getting high, she didn't say anything either. She just milled around, taking random pictures of bugs and leaves and rotting foliage. Two deep-ass hits were all I needed. It was still early and I was still toasty from the wake and bake with Jake this morning. When I was finished and we were tromping through the woods, Pixie asked me about Phoenix and how I liked Forks. She asked me if I liked to shop, to which I replied, "Do I look like I enjoy shopping? Pixie Cullen, an obviously avid shopper, just laughed. I liked her. "So Pix...um, Alice, what's up with your dad and that Dr. Hale chick?" A wry smile formed on her face. "Do-gooders with no social life beyond each other." Raising my eyebrows, I took a quick shot of a mushroom growing from the side of a tree. "So are they like, you know, knocking boots?" Again, Pixie laughed. "Wow, that was so totally 1990's, Bella." She twirled around for whatever reason and then continued, "But if by 'knocking boots' you mean having steamy sex, I think so. I mean, I have no idea how steamy it is, but I would imagine that there's more to their relationship. She's always at our house." "How can you stand it?" "Obviously you're not a fan of Esme?" I shrugged in reply. "It does suck to have a psychiatrist hanging out all the time, but usually Jasper comes with her, so I'm okay with it. Edward's the one with that gets stuck with Esme's bull. When Carlisle's not there and Rose and Jasper are, he gets stuck hanging with her, which basically means extra super fun sessions for him." I bit my lower lip for a moment. "So what's his deal anyway? I mean, beyond the stuttering thing."

Pixie stopped walking and regarded me carefully, her eyes narrowing. She made me uncomfortable and I was about to tell her to forget it, but then she spoke. "Edward's got anxiety issues." "He doesn't like people?" She took a deep breath and then began walking again. "People don't like Edward, at least that's what he thinks." I thought he was okay. I mean, I realized that high school kids might not be mature enough to get over a slight communication problem, but it seemed strange that 'people' in general would have an aversion to him. "Why would he think that?" Pixie didn't answer, she just quickly aimed her fancy ass camera at me and snapped a picture before I could bat it away. "So are you coming tonight?" "I didn't think I had a choice." I looked at her as she looked at the incredibly expensive watch on her wrist. "We should head back." The walk was silent until we hit the edge of the woods, the school clearly in sight now. "So what do you think of Edward?" I didn't know how to answer. It was an odd question. I didn't know if I had an actual opinion about him yet. "He's alright." "You guys are going to Olympia tomorrow, right?" Obviously he'd told his family, which wasokay, I supposed. He probably had to ask permission or something. "Yeah." "That'll be awesome. Edward rarely ever does anything fun. He lives too much in his head. Way too intellectual." I watched as Pixie twirled around some more just for the hell of it. "Plus he, like, never leaves the house. I have to drag him and when I do manage to get him to go somewhere other than school," she sighed. "Well, it's not pretty." I didn't know why but my conversation about Bronze Cullen with Pixie haunted me after Photography. I had no clue as to why I should be interested in any of it. But it was interesting getting the sister point of view on him. Still, she must have realized why he lived in his head. No one seemed to care enough or have enough patience to have an actual conversation with him and those who did were probably pushed away by him, simply because he didn't like having to stumble around so much, verbally anyway. But maybe there was more to it. Nothing extraordinary happened the rest of the day. Lunch, getting high, Bio, P.E. Woohoo, bring on the Forks Friday Night Fuck Up Club. I had called Charlie and told him I had gotten a ride to the Fuck Up Club, but refused tell him from whom. Obviously, since we were going to the same place anyway, Jacob drove me to the Cullens, but not before stopping at a random spot in the woods to get blown out before hand. We didn't have enough time for an all-out bend over the tree stump so we placated ourselves with a hand job and a finger fuck. Dusted and sexed, we walked into the mansion together, ready to get the shit over with. Unfortunately, the moment I stepped through the door, I had to go upstairs to see Dr. Bitch Hale. She sat there staring at me for a long time and I felt like I was in a bad movie. Didn't we do this little dance last week? I had no idea why shrinks actually just sat there staring at their patients, as if to wear them down. I had no intentions of giving in first. I could sit here all night, entertaining myself with my thoughts. Obviously, she thought I needed more interpersonal interaction than I actually did. She broke first and my first instinct was to smile, but what came out of her mouth after that had me pissed beyond the telling. "So, Bella, are you sexually active?" What the motherfuck? Was that her business? I mean, really? I didn't even have that conversation

with my mother, not that Renee would care or anything, but Jesus H. Christ. So I opened my mouth and asked the first thing that came to my mind. "Do you suck Dr. Cullen's cock?" The bitch in me cheered as she blushed, all wide eyed and shocked. "I'm the psychiatrist, Bella. I'll ask the questions, but if you'd prefer I call your father and explain to him how much you'd rather see the inside of a Juvenile Detention Center, I can live with that too." I folded my arms over my chest, scowling at her. "What does it matter if I'm having sex?" "Are you?" Fine. Play the fucking game. Right. "Yes." "When did you become sexually active?" It took everything I had not to throw something at her. My hands fisted together. I was supposed to trust this bitch? "What do you want to know, specifically? The first time I fucked, the first time I gave head, or the first time my legs were spread and I was finger banged?" I watched as she managed to keep her cool. "Any." "Consensually?" Ha. I had her there. Bitch's eyebrows were nearly disappearing in her hair, her mouth forming a little 'o' before returning to her normal welcoming frown. "The first time I had a sexual experience was when I was eleven, but the first time I chose to have a sexual experience was when I was fourteen." My teeth clenched for a moment as I glared at her. "Do you need details for your sick little notebook there?" Dr. Bitch had stopped her nearly constant scratching of the pen against the yellow legal pad. "Is that something you'd like to talk about?" "No." "Who was it that" "I said I didn't want to talk about." I sunk lower in my chair. "Can we talk about your mother?" "No." She sighed and I felt a small bit of satisfaction at denying her any more insight into the mind of Bella. It served her right and I was sure it would nag at her. "Okay, so how is school going?" "It's going how school usually goes." "Is there a reason you're so confrontational?" "I don't like you." She wrote something on her stupid little note pad. "I don't like that you feel you have the fucking right to know things about people. I don't like how you assume that I'm fucked up. I don't like how you just made me sit here for a half an hour for no reason. I don't like your face. I can't fucking stand your voice. And I'd rather be anywhere but here right now." And then the bitch smiled at me. I wanted to kick her teeth out. "Well, it is almost time for group, Bella, so we'll call our session over for the week. But I would like you to think about what it is that has you so angry. I bear the brunt of most people's anger, but very seldom is it about me." She leaned towards me, her hands clasping together as her elbows rested on her thighs. "Everything you say in here, stays with me, unless you're going to hurt yourself or others." Dr. Bitch paused. She licked her lips and her eyes softened. "The bad things that happen in children's lives are not their fault. I'm not here to punish you, Bella. I'm here to help." Standing up, I couldn't help but shake my head at her. "I'm not fucking seven. Stop talking to me like I'm a fucking child. It's super awesome that you and Cullen have put together this little Fuck Up Club, but you don't have anything I want and you can't help me with shit." "Bella."

"You think because you have a degree or whatever that automatically you're suited to help me with shit you have no fucking clue about?" I turned to move towards the door, but then stopped and turned back around. "Don't fucking ask me about my sex life again. Go watch some internet porn or get spanked by the good doctor, but don't think I'm going to give you any information about what I do and who I do it with." I stomped downstairs and ignored everybody. Even when Jacob came to stand next to me, I didn't even turn to look at him. "For fuck's sake, Bells, what the hell happened? You're radiating hate." I didn't say anything to him. I just gave him a pointed look instead. It was great that he was an excellent sex partner and could give me the mad hook up and all, but I wasn't about to get all touchy feely with my emotions with Jake. Leaving him standing there, I moved across the room and sat down on the couch. Instinctively, my legs came up to my chest and I wrapped my arms around them. Stupid bitch. Was I sexually active? What the motherfuck? She was fucking twisted and for whatever reason I was now mixed up in her twisted shit. Why did it make a difference if I have sex or when I have sex if I'm here because I stole a stupid car? And I didn't steal it. I was going to give it back. I just needed it for My thoughts were interrupted as Angela sat down next to me. Looking around, everyone was grabbing a seat. Pixie Cullen threw me a little wave, but I was too pissed to acknowledge it. And then Bitch Hale came in and it took all of my effort to remain seated. I caught her eyes on me more than once and I bit the inside of my cheek to stop myself from having what was sure to be considered an "emotional outburst." But I didn't pay attention. Jacob's partner, Leah, spoke for a little bit, her voice sounding just as angry as I felt, and then her little brother spoke. I had no idea what it was that they were dribbling on about. I was so fucking furious that I would be subjected to this every Friday night until I graduated. Suddenly, a detention center didn't sound so bad. At least there they wouldn't care when my first sexual experience happened. Stupid Bitch Hale. And stupid me. Fucking saying shit to her. I shouldn't have said a damn thing. Stupid, stupid, fucked up Bella. And now the fucking thoughts were there, stuck in my head again. I doubted that I would be able to sleep tonight, barricade on my door or not. Stupid fucking Renee and her stupid fucking lifestyle. Stupid fucking Charlie, letting his stupid fucking wife take me away. I had no real way of qualifying if my life would be different had Renee left me here when she took off, but it was the biggest what if in my life and I had nothing else to dwell on sometimes. When I was a kid and hurting from one of Renee's fly-off-the handle reactions to something stupid, or when one of her boyfriends decided to look at me a little too closely, I would dream about my life with Charlie. I could have grown up the stupid little Police Chief's daughter in this godforsaken town. I could have been overly protected. Charlie could have brandished a shot gun every time a boy came around in Junior High. He could have threatened me with military school if I misbehaved or got a shitty grade. But that fantasy always faded fast in the harsh light of the reality. And now, at seventeen years old, I was stuck with what the past gave me; with what other people, my parents, had decided for me. And now I was stuck with the Fuck Up Club, desperately trying not to listen to their shit because I had enough of my own. "Bella?" I tore my eyes off of the carpet and looked up at Bitch Hale. "What?" My voice was hard and I wanted her to hear every ounce of hate I felt for her and her stupid fucking games. "I just asked if there was anything you'd like to share tonight." I licked my lips and pasted the nastiest smile I could onto them, cocking my head to the side. "Yes. I want to share how stupid I think this whole thing is. Likewise, I would love to know what it is that you think is going to come out of sticking a bunch of high school kids together every Friday night to talk about shit that doesn't need to be talked about. Do you honestly think that this is fucking meaningful in any way to me?"

Oh, how I wanted to punch the shit out of her when she gave me that smile again. "Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Next week you and I can go over our goals again and perhaps that would make it easier to understand what the point of all of this is. I would ask before you share thoughts with the group in the future, that you think of your peers and their feelings." I rolled my eyes, but Bitch Hale and turned her head to look at the others. "So now we can pair off."

Chapter 8: Art and Music Bella After Bitch Hale told us to pair off, I wasted no time, jumping off the couch and finding Bronze Cullen sitting on a love seat next to Pixie Cullen and Blond Boy Hale. His eyes seemed to widen as I stomped towards him. Ignoring everyone else in the room, I reached down and grabbed his wrist, pulling him up with all of the strength I had and dragging him across the large room. I didn't stop until I was up the steps and outside of his bedroom. Looking at him expectantly, I dropped his wrist. His eyes moved from me to the door and then back to me. He really couldn't be confused, could he? Obviously, I wanted to go into his room. Obviously, I was not happy with being here tonight and wanted a little bit of time away from the prying eyes of Bitch Hale. I sighed and let my lips settle into a line. Finally, he opened the door and I moved inside of his room quickly. Immediately I went to the leather couch and let myself flop down on it. I had no idea of how long I laid there in silence and I had no idea what Bronze Cullen was doing. I was trying just to push past the lingering thoughts and memories in my mind, when Bronze Cullen spoke. "D-d-d-do yooou w-w-wa-waaant to llllisten to m-m-music?" I sat up and looked at him. Just like last week, he sat carefully on the edge of his bed, looking like he had just run laps at the gym. He looked incredibly uncomfortable and suddenly I was struck by the feeling that I had to do something to help him. It seemed fairly evident that I was the one making him uncomfortable, so I took in a deep breath and nodded. "Sure. Music is fine." In all honesty, music would be a good distraction from what was going on in my head. "W-wh-what d-d-do you l-l-like?" For whatever reason, the question made me smile and even better than that, it made me laugh just a little. I shook my head, stood up and moved to the bookcase. "Whatever you want to listen to is fine. I don't really listen to music all that much." As I trailed my hands over the spines of his books, I heard his very expensive stereo click on and a CD change. Pulling a large book from the shelf, I smiled to myself as some kind of Classical music filled the room. I should have known that Bronze Cullen was cultured enough to listen to Classical music by choice, instead of only when someone made him like most kids our age. I sat back down on the couch with the book on my lap and looked up at him. He seemed a little more laid back as he sat on the bed, eyeing the book. "Classical?" He smiled. He really should do that more. "It-it-it's relaaaxing." He swallowed as his eyes moved from mine down to the book and then back up. "D-do you l-l-liiike ar-art?" I shrugged. "Don't know. I was never good at art time in kindergarten, but I like Photography." I

glanced at the book and then opened it up. It was a compilation of famous pieces throughout history. Some of them I recognized, some of them I didn't. Looking back up at Bronze Cullen, I asked, "Do you like art?" "I'mI'm n-not g-g-good at it, b-b-but I l-l-like llllooking at it." "Which ones do you like?" "I-in th-thaat book?" I shrugged, then held out the book for him. He moved closer to take it. I had wondered if he would. Even though we sat less than a foot from each other in Biology, it seemed like at all other times, he kept his distance from me if he could. I watched as he flipped through the book quickly and then held it back to me. Flaming June by Lord Frederic Leighton. It was painted back in 1895. "You like this one?" He nodded. "It's very pretty." It was of a lady in a chair or something, sleeping. She had on this vibrant orange dress. I wondered why he liked it. I mean, it was pretty, but I had no clue why he would pick it out from the thousands of pictures in the book. "What else?" I held the book back to him. After flipping again, he smiled at me. This one he must have really liked if he smiled at it. "Th-this one." A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat. It looked stiff and formal and like something my dead Gramma Marie would've liked. I quirked an eyebrow at him. His smiled held. "It-it's in Ch-Chi-Chicago. I t-t-took a fffield trip to s-s-see it w-when I was little." Interesting. That was quite possibly the longest sentence I'd heard from Bronze Cullen. And it was about a piece of boring art. So not only did he read difficult literature, Russian no less, he also liked music and art that most people our age wouldn't even care about. "Are you from Chicago?" The smiled faded, but he nodded in answer. So he was from the Midwest. It was amazing that they made Greek Gods in Middle America. I knew he was adopted by Dr. Cullen, so obviously he moved here with him, but I wondered what circumstances led him to the adoption. Had he been an orphan from birth? Did his mother drop him on Dr. Cullen's doorstep as an infant? Was there a scandal? It was totally not my fucking business and I had just gotten done telling Bitch Hale that I didn't care about any of the other kids' stories, but with Bronze Cullen, I found myself interested in how he came to be the person before me. He was absolutely gorgeous and should have been the most popular guy in our grade, but instead, he got picked on by a miniature poodle named Mike fucking Newton. How the hell does that happen? "Where are your real parents?" Jesus, he looked like I punched him in the gut. Okay, obviously it wasn't my business and he didn't really want it to be my business, so I did my best to remove the tortured look on his face. "Do you like Dr. Cullen?" He shrugged while nodding his head at the same time. I supposed that meant, kinda, sorta. "I hate Dr. Hale," I offered. The smile returned. "S-sh-she's hard to liiiike." He rolled his eyes. "Sh-she's an-annoying." I laughed as I began to flip through the book again. "No, sand in your bathing suit is annoying. The neighbor's yipping dog is annoying. Bitch Hale isshe's evil." "Sh-she's just d-doing her j-job." I rolled my eyes at him now. "I didn't hire her." Closing the book, I set it down next to me. "Is she over here all the time?"

"A lot." "That sucks for you." Bronze Cullen's smile widened just for a moment and he nodded. "So, your sister Alice is in my Photography class." He nodded. "She's pretty cool." He nodded again. "Can I ask you why she's involved in all this?" I motioned around the room, hoping to convey that 'all this' meant the Forks Friday Night Fuck Up Club. Bronze Cullen seemed to think for a moment. I had no idea if he'd tell me, as it was clearly not my business. But after a few moments, he opened his mouth, his eyes catching with mine. "Aliiice's m-mind w-works d-different th-th-than m-m-most people's." He stopped, running a hand through his messy hair. "Sh-she's fr-from Ch-Chicago too." "Did you know her before you both were adopted by Cullen?" He nodded and smiled. It was more of a tight lipped smiled than the crooked smile he'd given me before. "I-I-I w-w-wouldn't g-g-go wwwithout her." I wanted more information in spite of myself, but wondered how long it would take to get it. It wasn't like Bronze Cullen could just tell me quickly what the deal was. I hated that I felt like I didn't have the patience to sit around a listen to him fumble for words. I felt just as bad as Jake or Mike Newton. I didn't want to be frustrated. It wasn't fair to him. "So Dr. Cullen adopted both you and Alice at the same time? Were you both at the same I mean, he found you both at the same place?" I felt stupid. How the hell was I supposed to know how the whole adoption thing worked? He looked away. "Y-yeah, we-we were with the s-s-saaame f-f-foster fa-fa-family." The songs that were filling the room had changed several times, but this particular one, I decided I didn't like. "What's this?" I nodded to the stereo. "The song." "Pa-Pa-Pachelbel's Canon." "I don't like it." "N-n-no?" "No, it's sad." "R-really? I-I've n-never thought it w-w-was ssssad." I shrugged. I supposed music was open to interpretation. "It reminds me of my mother." "A-and ttthhat's n-not a good th-thing?" I shook my head and watched as he grabbed the remote, hitting a button and then turning back to me. "This is De-Debussy. Cl-Cl-Cl" his words trailed off and he shook his head, his face conveying his frustration. "T-t-tell me if yyyyou d-d-don't li-li-like it." I gave him a smile. "No, no this is fine. It's pretty." Glancing at his wall of music, I asked, "Do you only listen to Classical?" Bronze Cullen shook his head emphatically. "N-no, b-bu-but my sp-speech," at this point he started to use his hands, motioning to his mouth and throat, "therapist" He sighed after finally getting the word out and took a deep breath, closing his eyes for a moment. "It h-helps me relax." "So what else do you have up there?"

He looked at his music collection and then moved to his bedside table. Tossing me something, he said, "Look." I caught the object and realized it was an iPod. I had never had one, which I didn't mind, as I never had much use for it. I must have been looking at it weird because Bronze Cullen said, "P-push tttthe bottom bu-button." I did as instructed and it lit up, showing me various pictures and words. "N-now sc-scroll." I messed around with it for a while before rolling my eyes and looking back up at him. "I wouldn't have pegged you for a country fan." He looked at me like he had no idea what I was talking about. "Johnny Cash?" Again, he shook his head, this time one side of his mouth curving up. "C-Cash isn't c-c-country, B-B-Bella. C-Cash transcends genre." "Oh, I see." "Y-you've not l-listened to much Johnny Cash?" "Nary a song." "Y-you've never h-heard Ring of F-Fire? Never h-heard A Boy N-Named SSSue?" I smiled as I heard how much the idea of my Johnny Cash ignorance offended him. "Sorry. You'll have to educate me in the car tomorrow. Speaking of which, do you know where I live?" He nodded. Perhaps everyone knew where the Police Chief lived. It was probably a popular place to TP or egg on Halloween. "So the first movie starts at ten tomorrow." "It-it's three hours t-to drive." "So you picking me up at like six thirty?" "I-if th-that's what you waaant." He looked like there was something bothering him, although he normally looked like that. I went back flipping through the art book until he said, "B-Bella." Looking back up, I could tell that something was really bothering him, like more than usual. "C-C-Carlisle ssssaid I h-have to tell y-you ab-about m-m-my at-at-at" He stopped, looking even more frustrated. It was painful to watch, but I tried to keep my face neutral as I waited patiently. I didn't know if me looking at him in the eyes helped or hindered his speaking process. "I-I sometimes," he started again, "I h-have p-p-p-panic at-at-at-at" his eyes closed as he tried to say the word. I had no idea if I should or not, but I went ahead and finished for him. "Attacks?" His eyes opened and he swallowed hard while nodding. "If-if it ha-happens to-to-tomorrow, y-y-you sh-sh-should c-c-call" I had thought that the music was supposed to help his stuttering, but perhaps it was the subject matter that was making it worse. I waved my hand dismissively at him. If I stuttered or had anxiety attacks, I wouldn't want anyone to dwell too much on it. "Yeah, I'll call the EMTs or whatever and call Cullen. But you're not going to have an attack of any kind tomorrow." He narrowed his eyes at me. "You'll be with me. I'm super non-threatening and if anything makes you anxious, I'll punch it for you." That earned me a little crooked smile. "You sure you don't want any money for gas?" He shook his head. Standing up, I replaced the art book on the shelf and glanced at his alarm clock. "It's time to go. Charlie will be here to pick me up soon." I crossed the room and looked over my shoulder before leaving. "I'll see you tomorrow."

I went downstairs and found Jacob sitting on the couch, next to Leah. I plopped down beside them, not caring if I'd interrupted them. "What's up?" "Waiting to be released from hell." Jake scowled. "Don't you have your own car? Can't you just leave?" He nodded to the large clock on the wall. "There's five minutes left, Bella. God knows I don't need Billy and Charlie getting a call about how I failed to stay the entire fucking time." He turned completely to me now, ignoring that Leah was even on the other side of him. "So do you want to do something tomorrow?" "I'm going to Olympia." "Really?" He seemed overly interested. I nodded. "It'd be a good trip for smoking out. If you want, Billy and Charlie are going fishing again and I" "Yeah, actually, I'm going with Edward to see a couple foreign films and I don't think he smokes." It was strange the way his face fell. "With Edward Cullen?" "Do you know any other Edwards?" "It's going to take the entire trip for him to even tell you good morning." I sighed. "I don't like it when you're a prick, Jake. Stop it. We can do something on Sunday, okay?" Jacob held up his hands. "Oh no, I'm not down for Edward's sloppy seconds." I punched him in the shoulder and finally his smile was back. "Ouch, jackass, it was just a joke. No need to get violent. I've got a book by the Dalai Lama that might help you with your violent tendencies." "Shut the fuck up, dick. Do you want to do something on Sunday or not?" "What will you tell the Chief? He won't want you going out with me." "It's not going to be a date, Jake. I'll just tell him that I'm going out to explore the great town of Forks." "Do you like the beach?" I shrugged. I neither liked nor disliked the beach. He leaned in close, his voice dropping low in my ear. "There's this cave at the bottom of one of the cliffs that I'm just dying to fuck you in." Although I smiled, I said, "Dirty boy." Turning my head to his ear now, I whispered, "You could always drop by later tonight and climb the tree to my window. Tell me it wouldn't be a rush to fuck the police chief's daughter in her own room when he's sleeping a few feet down the hall." "Bella, your dad's here!" I looked up at Pixie Cullen and smiled before looking back down at Jacob. I figured I'd be seeing him later tonight. I'd have to remember ro leave my window open. Typically, I made sure everything was locked up tight. "Bye, Jake." Charlie was waiting in the driver's seat of the cruiser. He gave me a tentative smile when I slid in. "How'd it go, kiddo?"

"Like therapy, Charlie." "Do you think sometime you might be able to call me 'dad' again?" Had I ever called him dad? I kept looking forward, refusing to look at him. I didn't want to see any Daddy puppy eyes from him. I wasn't required by any legal agreement to call him dad. "I've seen you for a total of maybe five hundred days in the past fifteen years, Charlie." "You know if I could have changed things, Bells, I would have. If I would have known what was going on in Phoenix" I turned my head to glare at him. Obviously he was still working through the conversation Dr. Cullen had with him after my physical. "What? What would you have done, Charlie? And if you wanted me so bad, you could'veyou could've fucking fought for me." "There was no judge in the U.S. that would have given you to me when you were a baby, Bella. A single father raising a daughter on a policeman's salary? They would've said that my line of work was too dangerous and would have taken me away from you too much too" "But you didn't try, did you? Did you have any idea what type of person Renee" I was getting tired and my heart was pounding. It was hot in the car, so I rolled down the window, hoping the air would stop the mental fuzz in my brain. "Fuck," I whispered as I remembered. "What? Bella?" Reaching down, I fumbled with my bag until I found my glucose meter. "Calm down, Charlie, I just forgot to check my blood sugar and I didn't eat dinner." "Bella! It's nearly nine thirty!" Thank you, Mr. Clock. Even though my haze I rolled my eyes. Quickly, I pricked my finger with the lancet and got a decent sized drop of blood onto the strip. My head was hurting now and the five seconds it took for the meter to analyze the blood seemed incredibly long. Shit. Shit, shit, shit. It was 50. Pretty damn low. At this point, I realized that Charlie had pulled the car over. "Could you get into the front pouch of my bag and get me one of those sugar packets?" They weren't as convenient as the diabetic glucose tabs, but they were more efficient and tasted better. Plus Renee never seemed to want to buy the tabs for me. I could steal the sugar packets off of any restaurant table. Charlie placed a packet in my hand and I ripped it open, wasting no time and pouring the sugar into my mouth. "What can I do, Bella?" "Shhh." I wasn't trying to be rude at the moment, but I just needed him to leave me alone. "One more?" He handed me another one and I poured it into my mouth, starting to feel just a little bit better. It was another few minutes before I started to feel normal. "We can go home now." The car didn't start again, so I looked at Charlie. He pointed out of the window. Oh. We were home. Slowly, I opened the door and got out of the car, holding onto my book bag, still a little shaky. Charlie was around the car and grasped my elbow with his hand. Although it was a gentle offer

of help, I flinched away, yanking my arm away from him. "I'm fine. I just need dinner." He was silent until we were inside. He watched me as I started grabbing things to fix myself something to eat. "What?" "What exactly just happened, Bella?" "I told you, my blood sugar dropped too low and so I got it back up." "What happens when it gets too low?" I wanted to tell him to be a father and do the fucking research to find out, but my energy level was still low. My hands still shook slightly. "My brain sucks up all of my energy and starts shutting down some non-essential functions. Because I have to inject insulin, I then have too much in my blood stream and not enough sugar, hence the sugar packets. They dissolve in my mouth and go directly into the blood stream, counter acting the insulin." Shit, I should be a doctor. "What happens when you don't get sugar?" I shrugged, trying to spread the Mayo on the bread. "I go into shock and possibly a coma." "Jesus." After I ate, I felt a hell of a lot better, but it still took another hour to get Charlie off of my ass. I wished I had some kind of educational pamphlet to give him instead of having to explain it all to him. I just wanted to get upstairs and away from him. I had barricaded the door after having brushed my teeth. I had just gotten into my pajamas when a soft knock sounded from my window. I jumped and my heart rate accelerated. Shit. I'd invited Jacob over. Breathing deeply, I calmed myself. It was only Jacob. Moving to the window, I slid it open. "I can't believe you actually came." He hopped from the tree to the window with ease. "Fucking the Police Chief's daughter in his house is too good to pass up. Even if we get caught, I'll remember that shit for the rest of my life!" Immediately his hands moved to my body and I found myself stumbling backwards until I was pressed against my low dresser. The force of my body pushed it against the wall with a thump. "Be good, Jacob, the possibility of getting caught is the turn on, not actually getting caught." "Be good?" he whispered. "Be good when you're wearing what I can only describe as the worst pajamas I've ever seen in my entire fucking life? Those clothes deserve to be ripped to shreds and you need punished for even putting them on. These do nothing to show off your tight little rockin' body." Fucking perv. I rolled my eyes. I had my reasons for wearing sweat pants and an old shirt to bed. It would hardly be appropriate to wear a thong and half shirt to bed when I lived alone with my father, would it? I mean, what if I had to get up in the middle of the night to pee? What if I bumped into him, physically? A shudder ran through me. "Sorry, Jacob," I said, all sweet and nonchalant, "but I forgot that you were even coming over tonight." He growled. The fucker actually growled at me as his hands moved to the stretched collar of my shirt.

My hands moved to cover his. "Don't actually rip it. It's my favorite shirt in the universe."

Chapter 9: Involvement EPOV Bella had just left my bedroom and I was left alone to reflect. It was the most talking we'd ever done. Whatever she and Esme talked about in her session this afternoon had left Bella extremely agitated. I had to shut my eyes when she started to speak during group because it was too painful to watch. Most everyone in the room had gone through those emotions at one time or another and many of them had expressed it in the same way she had. But it was still painful. She had been so angry. And then she'd grabbed my wrist and started yanking me out of the living room. I didn't know what to do and when she stopped at my bedroom, it was obvious that she wanted to go in. My heart had started racing, even though she'd been in it the week before, but I still panicked just a little. We'd talked about art and music, which were fairly safe topics and topics that I enjoyed. But she asked about my parents and I hadn't been able to get my mind to supply anything to say in return. She quickly asked me something else. And she had said something about her mother. And seemed like she had no inclination to talk about her mother, so again we talked about something else. I was thinking about what songs to play for her in the car tomorrow when a knock sounded on my door. Looking over, I saw that the door was still open and Esme stood outside of it. I couldn't help but sigh. Apparently it was my turn for individual sessions. This was the part about Friday nights that I hated. But as there was nothing I could do about it, I moved off my bed and into the hallway, making sure my door was closed behind me. Once situated in Carlisle's study, Esme gave me her soft smile. "Edward." I let a small smile appear on my face, but in reality, I still remembered last week and was fearful of a repeat. "So I wanted to apologize for last time. I didn't mean to upset you like that. I just thought it might be time to finally talk about some of the things you refuse to share." "Th-th-they're nnnot for y-you t-to know, Esme." "Do you think that walking around with these secrets buried inside of you does you any good?" My eyes slipped closed. I didn't think that having everyone else know about these things was going to help me at all. I didn't know everything about everyone, so why would it be okay that other people know so much about me. Besides, she has the files. "B-b-but y-y-you already kn-kn-know." "Yes, I do, Edward. But me knowing what happened is not the point. The object is that you finally let some of it go and allow someone else to help you with it." She sighed and I opened my eyes to watch as she shook her head. "It doesn't have to be me, Edward. I'm not oblivious to the fact that you're not entirely comfortable around me, but you should tell someone. You should let someone help you." I was about to protest; to tell her that I didn't need help and that these things inside of me were going to stay inside of me until I died. It didn't matter how many people I told or how many people were wanting to help. But before I could even open my mouth, Esme continued, "I know Carlisle and Emmett are out. I understand that, but you have Alice."

"Sh-she's g-got her own th-things to-to-to deal with." And that was true. Alice knew some of it, but that was only because she'd born witness to some of my more vivid nightmares when we were in foster care, not because I had told her about anything. But Alice had enough on her plate just dealing with her own memories, lost or not, and her losing time like she did. Plus she had Jasper to deal with. "Okay." I looked up in surprise. That was it? Esme was going to let it go? "So, Carlisle tells me you're going to Olympia tomorrow?" I nodded, happy with the change of topic. "Foreign films with Bella?" Again, I nodded. "That should be fun. So I take it you and she have hit it off, so to speak?" Shrugging, I answered, "I d-don't know." I knew I wasn't going to get an answer, but I asked anyway. "W-why's sh-she here?" Esme smiled at me again, this time a bit condescendingly. "You know I can't tell you that. I hope that she'll tell you herself." "B-b-but it's s-s-s-similar to me?" Esme leaned forward. "You and Bella have a lot in common, Edward." She sighed and cocked her head to the side, looking at me with narrowed eyes. Esme was studying me the way Carlisle sometimes did. "Olympia is a long ways away. What do you think you and she will talk about in the car?" I shrugged. I actually had no idea, but I wanted to talk to her about something, even if my stuttering would make it painful. "S-sh-she likes aaaart. Sh-she d-doesn't kn-know Johnny C-Cash." Leaning back now, Esme's smile was natural this time. "So you'll share your musical expertise with her?" I shrugged and watched the smile fade from her lips. "Edward," she started, her voice oddly careful and even. "As I said, you and Bella have a lot of things in common. I don't know her complete history, but there's I want you to be careful. I don't think it's a good idea for you to be involved with her." This woman baffled me. She was the one that paired me with Bella in the first place. She was the one that said interacting with her would be good for me, but now she's warning me against being involved with her. Esme made no sense. "W-w-w-what d-d-ddddo you m-m-mean?" "I know that Alice and Emmett are involved with my children and it's perfectly normal for you to want something similar, however, Edward, your situation is quite different than all of theirs. You need to be careful." I struggled, trying to figure out what she was talking about. Alice and Jasper, Emmett and Rosalie. They were together, as in together together. And Esme was telling that I shouldn't betogether with Bella. And that I needed to be careful. What was so different from me and the others that I couldn't be together or involved with someone when they were perfectly able to? "I-I-I d-d-don't un-un-undersssstand, Esme." My frustration was definitely affecting my speech. Esme was quiet for a minute, inhaling deeply, probably trying to figure out how best to say something to an idiot like me. "Yourlife experiences are unique to you, Edward. The other four don't have those same experiences." I felt like acting thirteen and saying 'duh' to her but I held it in. "The things in your past can haunt you much more than the things in their pasts. The things in Bella's past can haunt her in ways that the others would have no idea about." Esme licked her lips. "I am just suggesting that if you find yourselfattracted to Bella, you need to think before you act upon it." I shook my head as I let out a frustrated breath. I knew my unique history would make me different than the others. I understood that. I thought that went without saying. But if I was hearing Esme right, she was telling me that I couldn't or shouldn't have a romantic relationship with Bella, which seemed

stupid. First, I doubted that Bella would want to be romantically involved with someone like me. Second, she seemed to be involved with Jacob Black at the moment and third, we weren't even friends, really. At least I didn't know if we were. "Th-th-that sssseeeeems unf-f-fair, Esme." She folded her hands in her lap and gave me a pointed look as if what she was going to say should have been obvious to me. "You remember your freshman year, don't you, Edward?" My breathing sped up. "That was with someone who didn't haveissues." Oh. Now I got what she was truly talking about. I wished that I hadn't had to work so hard to get it, but now I did. She wasn't talking about a romantic relationship with Bella. She was talking about a sexual relationship with Bella. My head hung low as I ran both hands through my hair. I wished that the memories of that night on the beach would just be erased from my head. But they were always there and leave it to Esme to make me think of them tonight. I didn't know how long I'd sat there looking at her feet, but when I looked up at her, Esme was simply studying me. Again, I was the lab rat. "I h-h-hadn't p-p-p-p" the word wouldn't come out, so I shifted what I was going to say. "Th-th-that w-w-wasn't m-my in-in-intention w-w-with, B-B-Bella." Now Esme was full of sympathy. It oozed off of her, from her motherly voice to her creased brow and sad lips. "Edward, it wasn't your intention back then either, but it happened. It's okay that it happened, but I don't want you to go through the same thing again. There is so much more therapy that you need before you get involved like that." I couldn't help but bury my head in my hands. She was basically telling me that of all the freaks, I was the king. I was the Freak King who would need years and years of intensive therapy just to be close to someone. I was the King of the Freaks and I couldn't form a normal, healthy relationship with someone of the opposite sex without some psychiatrist prescribing me a multitude of pills and getting me to 'work through my past.' When I looked up, I felt tired and annoyed. "W-w-well, y-y-you d-d-d-don't nnnnneed t-t-to worry. Sh-she d-d-d-doesn't liiiiike m-m-me liiiiike th-th-that." "Edward, please don't be upset." "I-I'm t-tired. C-c-can I g-gooo now?" ... Since it was Saturday, I did not get woken up by Emmett yelling at Alice to get out of the bathroom, instead my alarm clock went off. I groaned as I looked at the time, wondering for a brief moment why I was getting up so early. But then I remembered. I was going to Olympia with Bella today. It wasn't a date. I knew it wasn't a date, but I was excited none the less. I practically shot out of bed and flew out of my room and into the bathroom. I showered quickly and dressed just as quickly, happy that I had picked out my clothes the night before. My iPod had finished syncing as I slept and was completely charged. I hoped that Bella would like the music I'd chosen. It'd taken me quite sometime to pick out the best songs from my library. I was nervous and Esme's discussion with me from last night wasn't helping. Carlisle was downstairs as I went to get some quick food for breakfast. I let him say his piece and remind me that I was to check in every two hours and then confirmed that I had told Bella about my attacks. I poured two cups of coffee into travel mugs, said goodbye and got into my Volvo.

I had no idea why Emmett got a Jeep, Alice got a Porche and I got stuck with the soccer mom Volvo, but that's how it happened. Not that I really minded. The Volvo was fast enough and I liked it. I headed over to Bella's house and made good enough time to be just a few minutes early. As I exited the car and moved up the stairs to knock on the door, Chief Swan stepped out of the house. "H-h-hello, ssssir." With narrowed eyes, he looked me up and down. He was an incredibly intimidating man, even dressed in a tackle vest, holding a fishing rod. "Edward." He stopped in front of me. "Bring her back in one piece and if you put your hands on her in any inappropriate way, I'll make sure you spend a some time inside of our cozy little jail cell. Got it?" I gulped at the automatic assumption that I would do anything to hurt his daughter. "Y-y-yes, sssssir." Finally, the man smiled at me. "Have fun and drive safe." I stood frozen until he was in his cruiser, pulling out of the driveway slowly. Before I could make it the rest of the way to the door, Bella was in front of me, locking the door behind her. "Hey, Edward." "H-h-hi." "Did Charlie put the fear of God into you?" I couldn't help but smile as she rolled her eyes. "H-he m-made sssure I kn-knew to t-t-take care of y-you." She shook her head and started off the steps. I followed behind. "It's humorous. Charlie wants to go all over-protective Daddy on me now." She stopped at the car and looked back at me. "Just a couple of years too late." I watched as she got in and then I rounded the car and slid in too. "I b-b-brought y-you c-c-c-coffee." I shrugged as she looked at the travel mug. "I-I d-d-didn't kn-know if you d-dr-drank it or not." "Thanks." She grabbed the coffee and started drinking it. I wished I had brought cream and sugar for her because I didn't know how she took it. But as I pulled away from her house, she seemed as though black coffee was good enough. "So, you going to school me or what?" I glanced at her and she nodded towards my iPod. A smile formed on my face as I reached out and turned it on, pushing it down into the dock. "I-I-I d-d-didn't know w-what you l-liiiiked, so I j-just p-p-put a b-b-bunch of ssssongs on here." She looked at me expectantly. "Y-you c-can f-flip th-through it and f-find something you liiiike." Bella smiled at me but sighed. "The point isn't for me to find something on there that I like; the point is for you to pick the songs and expose me to new things to see if I like them, right?" "Th-then just p-p-push play." She pushed the button and Camille Saint-Saens' Danse Macabre started playing. I'd put it as song one, first because it was a sort of light hearted piece and typically put me at ease and second because I thought she'd enjoy the story behind it. From the corner of my eye, I watched as her eyes narrowed. She took a sip of her coffee and then turned to me. "It's not all going to be Classical, is it?" "N-no." "Okay, so spill it, Edward. What's the song and why should I like it?"

The way she said it made me smile. "I-it's D-danse M-m-macabre and y-you'll liiiike it when y-you know w-what it's a-about." I turned my head for a moment, just to gage her reaction. She was looking at me, expecting me to continue. "I-it's th-the d-dance of d-death." Bella let out a soft laugh and instantly the tightness in my chest lessened. "B-basically, D-death p-plays the f-f-fiddle ev-every Halloween in a gr-graveyard and th-the skeletons r-rise up and d-dance w-with him. And usually th-there isss a k-k-king and a p-peasant and a p-p-p-pretty girl and D-d-death basically t-tells them thaaat n-no m-matter wh-who you were in l-life, ev-everyone ends up the ssssame in the end." The road was quite empty this early in the morning, so I risked another look at her, wondering if she was thinking that I was an idiot or stupid. She said nothing, her face forward and she listened. A smile crept into her features and she turned to me. "So, right now, there're skeletons dancing with Death?" I nodded, then moved my eyes back to the road. "I like it." Good. I was relieved. I had been incredibly nervous about the whole trip, but the music I'd chosen had caused me a bit of grief. I wanted her to like it because if she liked it, then by extension, she liked at least a piece of me. "Most people should understand that, you know?" I glanced at her. She had returned to looking at the road. "People get so caught up with the pseudo-reality of right now that they forget death will come to us all one way or another." The song ended and I felt the need to prepare her for the shift. "N-now it'll be a f-few C-C-Cash songs sssssince y-you obviously n-need s-some education in the f-fundamentals of music." Ring of Fire came on. "Th-this is p-p-probably one of his m-most well kn-known ssssongsbut n-n-not my f-f-favorite." After that Long Black Veil played and I told her that the Dave Matthews Band did a live version of it that was just stunning and then The Man Comes Around played. And while I loved the song, as it was one of Johnny Cash's best in my opinion, the Biblical references always put me slightly on edge. There was some small dialogue about each song and the songs that came after, ranging from Neil Young to JayZ and from Tool to the Mamas and the Papas. Some songs she knew and some she didn't. We were about half way to Olympia when Bella wanted to stop at a gas station to use the restroom. While she got out, I filled up the car and called Carlisle, letting him know that I was still breathing and cognitive. When she got back into the car, it wasn't hard to tell that she'd gotten high in her few moments away from me. We took off again and I tried not to focus on the light funky smell that rolled off of her or the way her eyes were glassy and slightly bloodshot. We drove silently for a while as she leaned her head back, eyes closed and listened to the music, I tried to figure out whether she got high to be able to tolerate being with me or if she just normally got high in the mornings. But as Tom Petty started singing about wildflowers, I figured that I should just say something or let it go. Knowing that she was stuck with me until we got back to Forks, I figured I should just say something. It wasn't as if she wasn't candid about asking me questions about my parents or anything else. So I took a deep breath and tried to relax. "B-Bella?" She turned her head to me, a slight smile playing on her perfectly pink lips. "Y-y-you d-d-don't have to hide th-that you're h-h-high from me." Bella was silent for a moment before shrugging. "I didn't know if you'd care or not." Suddenly, she sat up a little straighter in her seat. "Did you want to smoke? I wasn't trying to be rude." I shook my head. "Are you sure? I would think a little pot would help with some of that anxiety." Again I shook my head. "It m-makes it w-w-worse." She shrugged. "I j-just d-d-didn't want you to th-think th-that I w-w-would j-judge y-you for th-that." But that wasn't entirely true. I didn't like that she got high. I actively wished that she didn't get high but that was less about her and more about me and my mother. "I'm sorry, Edward. I wasn't trying to beI mean, I just figured with your dad being a doctor and all that you wouldn't be okay with me"

I had to laugh at that. "Y-you-your d-d-dad's the P-p-police Ch-chief, B-Bella." Her smiled widened as she nodded. "B-but c-can I ask w-why y-you liiiike d-d-dg-getting high?" While her smile remained, she let it slip into a lazy grin as she laid her head back again. "Everything's much fuzzier and I can focus on my thoughts instead of just getting lost in them." She paused for a moment. "I mean, it's like this music. Not high, I would hear it and maybe I would like it or not, but being high, it's like it's clear; I can focus on it. I can really listen to it and absorb it and find meaning in it." Again, we were silent for a while before she asked, "Do you like Forks?" I shrugged. It was okay. I had people who cared about me here but as far as if I could be anywhere in the world, I probably wouldn't chose Forks. "You know the nicest thing about Forks? There is so much good pot here. In Arizona it was like a surplus of Mexican ditch weed, bags with nothing but shake and one or two little dried out nuggets of bud, but here you can get the fucking A grade without searching it out." "D-do you miss an-anything a-a-about Arizona?" She took a breath. "I miss how many people there were. Not everyone knew everyone. It was a lot easier to blend in anddisappear." I thought about it for a moment. It seemed strange for Bella to move here to live with her father. Even if he was the chief of police, it seemed like an odd fit; a teen aged girl living with her father instead of her mother. The only reason Carlisle was allowed to adopt Alice was because at the time Carlisle was still married and when they got divorced, Kate didn't want any of us, so the court had no other choice but to leave us with Carlisle. "D-do you liiiike l-living with your d-dad?" I watched as Bella's face fell just a little. "Charlie's okay. He drinks a lot but he's not much for interaction, so it's not like I'm subjected to anything. And of my two parents, he is far better than Renee." She sighed. "I just wish Charlie would realize that it's a little too late for him to play the father figure. I mean, I barely know the dude." The song changed and I was about to tell her who it was when she smiled widely at me. "This is Otis Redding." I returned her smile, happy that she knew Mr. Redding. "My grandmother used to listen to him. Dude's awesome." "I-I kn-know." Good. Another Bella approved musical choice. It was amazing how happy it made me that she not only knew who this was, but that she liked him. I wanted to ask her a million questions but as I had never been really good at conversations, I didn't know how many questions would be appropriate. Luckily, Bella spoke before I could. "Why do you like music so much?" I licked my lips involuntary, hoping that I could get the words out and not sound like a moron. "I-I'm-I'm g-g-good at it." I shrugged. "And l-listening t-t-t-to it h-h-h-as b-been the only th-th-thing th-that ever m-made me feel n-nooormal." There it was out, but I was pretty sure I sounded like an idiot saying it. Not just the stuttering, every word I said was stupid. After a moment of silence, Bella ran her hands through her hair and pulled it across to one side. She looked absolutely excellent doing that. "Have you always stuttered?" I swallowed and licked my lips again. I shook my head. "N-no. M-my m-m-m-m," I sighed in frustration at the block. I wished I could close my eyes but seeing as though I was driving, I figured it would be

best to keep them open. Taking a deep breath and thinking of one of the compositions I'd written years ago, I tried again. "M-my m-m-m-mom s-s-said tttthhhat it st-started w-when I was f-f-five." "Wow. Do they know why?" I shook my head. "N-n-nobody kn-knows w-w-why p-people start st-stuttering. N-neurological, physiological dis-disruption, m-maybe?" Again, she was quiet and I thought she was just listening as Otis Redding gave way to Blues Traveler. Honestly I was happy for the break in conversation. It would have been fine if we were talking about her, but she was asking about me now and that was difficult. "Where's your mom now, Edward?" My heart clenched and my breathing quickened. My hands tightened on the steering wheel involuntarily and I could feel the onset of the panic. I desperately willed it away. If I panicked, Carlisle would've been right. Esme would have been right about me. They couldn't be right about me. So I took deep breaths. "Edward? Are you okay? You don't have to" Blowing out a steady stream of air, I figured I should tell her. This was what I wanted with Bella Swan, wasn't it? I wanted her to know me, right? I wanted to know her. "Sh-sh-she's d-d-dead." "Oh. I'm sorry." The pity in her voice made my body tense even more. Everyone always pitied me. And she didn't know the whole story. But I plunged forward, hoping that by giving her some kind of detail about me that perhaps she'd think of me as something other than a freak, like the rest of the high school did. "Sh-she k-k-killed herself." "Oh." I risked a glance over to her and then turned hastily back. I might as well tell her the rest. It wasn't how I wanted the drive to Olympia to go, but it was too late to change that now. "Sh-she liiiiked d-drugs." I felt nervous energy replacing the panic within my body, making my knees bounces slightly. "Sh-she w-w-was a heroin ad-ad-addict. One d-day sh-she c-came into m-my room and st-started t-t-to ssssay a-all this w-w-w-weird stuff and sh-sh-she had a g-g-g-gun in her hand and" I shook my head, wishing that I could bang it against something. Not only was the story horrible and came with visuals, but it took my mouth so long to tell it that it made it that much more painful. "Sh-she j-j-just p-put it to her h-head and p-p-p-p, sh-shot herself." "What the fuck?" Bella sounded angry. I looked at her from the corner of my eye. She was staring at me with such a strange expression; a mix of disgust, anger, confusion, and hurt. "Why the fuck would she do that in front of you? How fucking old were you?" I shouldn't have told Bella. That was a mistake. Of course she would have more questions. But now I felt like a bigger freak than ever before. "I-I w-w-w-was seven." "Jesus fucking Christ!" "I-I think it w-w-was ssssupposed t-to be m-m-me and h-her." "What?" "I-I think sh-she w-w-was going t-to t-t-take m-me w-w-with her."

"Are you fucking serious?" I flinched. "D-don't y-yell, B-B-Bella. I'm-I'm-I'm ssssorry." How was I supposed to correct this now? I was such an idiot. "What the hell are you sorry for, Edward? What your mom did was fucked up. I'm sorry for getting loud, but Jesus!" "M-m-my m-mom loved me, B-Bella," I said quietly. I knew my mother loved me. I had never questioned that, ever. "B-b-but sh-she loved heroin m-m-more." And even that wasn't the full story, but I had shared enough and no longer wanted to talk about my family. My mother hadn't wanted to kill me and in the end, that's why she didn't. Although there had been many, many nights that I had wished that she had. "I'm sorry, Edward, I didn't mean to" Bella's voice was softer than I'd ever heard it before. It took me a while to be able to force air through my voice box, making a sound, but when I did, my voice was nearly as quiet as hers. "It's o-okay, B-Bella." I wasn't upset with her, but I felt tired after having told her all that; after having it replayed in my head for what had to have been the millionth time. I scrolled the music on the iPod until I came to Billie Holiday. There was only one song of Billie's and then it moved into Nina Simone. It was to the quieter tones of Nina's slower songs that I let myself relax again. We were silent for nearly the rest of the ride to Olympia and I felt stupid for having said anything at all. It was ridiculous of me to think that Bella would want to know something like that about me. It wasn't until we entered the city that Bella spoke to me again. "Edward, I'm sorry I asked about your mom. I don't want anyone asking about my mom, so" "It's o-okay, B-Bella." She turned away from me to look out the window. "So do you know where you're going? The movie should be starting soon." I had to smile. She obviously didn't know what an over thinker I was. I had Googled the film festival, Googled the theater, and Mapquested it three different ways. "W-w-we're about f-five m-miles away." ...

Chapter 10: Human Bondage E POV We watched the first movie, Prisoner of the Caucasus, which I had no real feelings about. I was sure it was a perfectly fine movie, but I was preoccupied, mostly because I'd been sitting next to Bella the whole time. I was much more interested in her than the movie. I'd read the story before but she was entirely new to me. I tried to pay attention to the movie. I really, really did. But we were sharing an arm rest, and every once in a while we'd move to put our arms there at the same time and there was somethingelectric about her. It wasn't like a shock you get from static; there wasn't the sharp whip of pain. It was more like a constant flow of energy traveling through unseen conduits.

When the movie was over, we had about two hours until the next one started. "Do you mind if we go get something to eat?" Bella asked me. It was lunch time and I was hungry too. I was about to tell her that it was fine and ask her what kind of food she liked when she continued . "It's just that I can'tI have to eat on a semi-regular schedule or my blood sugar goes all wonky." She looked almost nervous when she said it. "T-th-that's f-f-f-fine, B-Bella. Ther-there's f-f-food all u-up and d-down this r-r-road." Bella smiled at me, and to my complete and utter amazement, she grabbed my hand and started pulling me towards the exit. I barely had time to rid myself of the shock when I found myself out on the side walk, still being yanked behind Bella. She pulled me into a small pizzeria. "I hope you don't mind. Pizza's quick, cheap, and kinda easy." Bella let go of my hand as she slid into a booth near the front window. I sat down across from her. There were a million things I wanted to say, but stutter or not, I wasn't sure that I would be able to say any of them. I wanted to know why she looked nervous when she told me she had to eat. I wanted to know if she felt electric currents between us too. I wanted to ask how she got the little scar on the top of her forehead that was mostly disguised by her hair line. I wanted to ask why out of everyone, she asked me to go to the movies with her. But I didn't. I didn't ask any of those things. Instead, I just watched as she pulled a small black pouch out of her bag and unzipped it. She sanitized her hands and looked up at me, giving me a little shrug. "Sorry, I have to." I had no clue as to what she was apologizing for or what she had to do, but I sat, watching her. The pouch held a little plastic container, a digital thing, and some flat thing with a button. Finally, I realized what she was doing. She was going to test her blood sugar. I watched as she put the lancet in the little stabbing device and pushed a test strip into the monitor. I winced with her as she pushed the button on the device and pricked her finger. A small drop of blood formed and she held it to the testing strip. It beeped five times as she took her napkin and pressed it to her bleeding finger. A number appeared and I watched as she shrugged. "Good thing pizza's full of carbs." "I-i-is it o-okay?" Again, she shrugged as she removed the lancet from the device and started closing up the pouch. She sanitized her hands again. "It's okay. A little low, but" "D-do you h-haaaave t-to take in-insulin?" She nodded. "Yeah. I should have had popcorn at the theater but it seemed too early." The waitress arrived and Bella and I decided on a pizza. When the server left, I continued to ask questions, but not the ones I really wanted to know. "S-ssssso, w-w-w-what's the w-w-worst thing a-about h-h-having di-di-diabetes?" She took a sip of the water the waitress had left and thought for a moment. "Knowing that it won't just go away. Not being able to eat everything I want to eat. Making myself bleed at least four times a day. Jabbing needles into myself. Yeah, basically everything." She was quiet for a moment before adding, "I hate needles and blood."

I just nodded. I wouldn't like any of that either. I didn't have a blood phobia or anything, but I'd seen enough of it gushing from various parts of my body that I wouldn't want to stab my finger every day. "So what's the worst part about having a stutter?" My breath caught for a moment. I hadn't been prepared for that. I should have expected some kind of reciprocal question, but for whatever reason, I hadn't given it thought. But she was looking at me now, her eyes slightly narrowed as she stirred the ice around her glass with her straw. I took several deep breaths. I wasn't going to freak out. If I wanted to be normal, I would have to talk to people, even beautiful people like Bella. "Uh," I started smoothly. There were so many things that sucked about having a stutter. "I-I-I c-can't ssssay every th-thing I w-w-want to say. N-n-no matter h-how h-h-haarrrd I t-try, I c-c-c-can't c-control it." I shrugged. "B-b-basically everything." My eyes had drifted away from her but now I brought them back. I had thought of one more. "P-p-people think I-I'm s-s-stupid." I mentally kicked myself for saying all that, even if I was proud that I'd made it through it. Bella was looking at me with what had to be pity in her eyes. I hated that pity that people seemed to want to give me. I looked down at my hands which were fiddling with the edge of my napkin. "I don't think you're stupid, Edward." I looked up at her. I was sure my expression reflected my shock. I knew she didn't think of me the way Mike Newton and the other kids thought of me, but I still operated under the assumption that she thought I was some how mentally deficient. She gave me a small smile and I returned it. "Th-thank you." Bella shrugged. "I've seen your room. I don't think stupid people read the books you read or know anything about art and I'm sure some stupid people play music, but they're probably not all that good." I allowed myself to chuckle at that. "Y-you h-haven't heard me p-play." "Doesn't matter; I already know you're awesome at it." Wow. That wasI mean, sheAnd with the compliments and "I'm sorry about earlier, Edward." I quirked a brow at her. "About asking about your mom. It wasn't" Sighing, I dropped my head and looked at my hands again. "I-it w-was a long t-time ago, B-Bella." What I said was true. It was a long time ago, but I could still see the scene before me when I closed my eyes. There weren't any words to describe the lifeless body of your heroin-addicted mother slumped on the floor before you, while her blood and brain matter left trails on your wall and door as it slid down. I could still remember the smell. She had done it in front of my door, so I couldn't get out until I stepped over her. The door knob was red with blood. The only thing I could do was back away. No one else had been home at the time. I had no idea how long it took for my father to come back, but I remember shivering as I sat in the dark corner of my closet. I had never been so happy to see him in all my life. Of course that feeling was short lived. "So ask me something." I looked up, blinking, willing myself to come back to the present. "W-what?"

"Well, it's only fair, right?" "W-why did y-you m-move to Fffffforks?" Bella rolled her eyes. "I stole a car. The judge said I had to come here and have therapy." I could tell my eyes were wide. "W-w-why d-did you steal a c-c-car?" I had never met someone other than Jacob Black that did something soillegal. She smiled for a moment but then it faded quickly. "Um, I had to go some place." "W-was it y-your m-m-mom's c-c-car?" "No. Renee's piece of shit isn't worth stealing. It was our neighbor's." She rubbed her hand over her face like she was tired. "But it wasn't like I was out joy-riding, you know." "W-where d-did you h-have t-to go?" She took in a deep breath and shifted her eyes away from me. A bell dinged behind her and she turned around to look. When she turned back to me, she was smiling again. "Look, it's our pizza." We ate very quietly and I was amazed at how I had thought asking her a few questions would clear things up, because in reality, all it did was add more questions to the list. But if she was anything like me, then she wouldn't be looking for a question and answer session with someone she just met. Once we were finished eating, I paid for the pizza. Bella took out money and gave it to me. I didn't want it. I had tried to give it back to her but she wouldn't take it back, telling me once again that it wasn't a date and so she could and should pay for half the pizza. I felt bad. It was fine that it wasn't a date, but Carlisle had been giving me money since he first took me in and I rarely ever spent any of it. Bella's dad was a civil servant and couldn't make that much money. But I didn't want to offend her, so I folded up the bills and stuck them in my pocket. When we were back outside, I turned to head back to the theater as it was nearing time for the next movie, but Bella's hand on my arm stopped me. "Do you want to skip Anna Karenina?" She tilted her head to the side as she looked up at me, her big brown eyes locked with mine. "I mean, we both already know the story or whatever and there's a cool ass looking bookstore over there," she said, jabbing her thumb up the road. "S-sure." A smile spread across her face and I was extremely happy that my agreeing with her made her smile. "Great." Her smile faded as her brow creased in the middle. "So, um, would you mind if I smoked?" It took me a moment to process her question. It wasn't every day that someone asked me if I cared if she used an illegal substance. "Umn-n-no." She let out a relieved breath before smiling again. Once more she took my wrist and started tugging me towards the bookstore. Before we got there, she ducked into a small alley way. It was filthy looking and made me feel quite uncomfortable. "You stay here," she said as she let go of me. "I'll only be a second. Justjust cough really loud if you s ee someone coming." And now I was a look out for Bella. And that made me uncomfortable. But to be perfectly honest, Bella could probably talk me into robbing a bank, so I stood there, facing the street, watching for any signs of someone headed this way.

It wasn't long before she emerged from the darkened alley. I could smell the pot smoke on her. It clung to her and probably just like Jacob Black, she didn't think anyone would be able to smell it. It was faint, but I still noticed it. Her eyes were a bit glassier than at lunch and she had a certain kind of lazy smile playing on her lips. "Ready for the bookstore?" I just nodded and she turned, taking off up the street. Of course, I followed, my long legs making it too easy to catch up with hers. The bookstore was old and dusty nothing like the new chain bookstores. There was a small caf attached to it and plush arm-chairs scattered throughout. It was easy to see how much Bella liked it from the moment she opened the door. She even turned around to look at the tinkling bells on the door as it closed behind us. For a moment, she seemed to channel Alice after one of her shopping trips and looked for all the world like a little girl at Christmas. Personally, I didn't care what kind of books were in this little shop as long as they continued to make Bella bounce. I followed her through the weaving stacks of books until she found a section that interested her. Her hand was running lightly over the spines of Jane Austen's most popular books in hardback. I couldn't help but smile at her. She was lost inside her head and from the look on her face, she was enjoying it. "I love this place. They should get one just like it in Forks." I silently agreed with her; then I could take her to it every day and see her this happy all the time. Watching her closely as she began to pull books half way off the shelf and study their covers, I suddenly wished that I owned more books that Bella seemed to like. Although I'd read Austen, I didn't own any. "I couldn't bring all my books from Phoenix." She turned to me, her cheeks reddening for some reason. "Not that I had many anyway, but I could only bring a few paperbacks." She started grabbing a couple and then moved towards an armchair before stopping and looking back at me. "I promise, I'm not going to make you stay here until I read all of these. I'm just going to skim through them and remember the best parts." I smiled at her again. "I-it's okay, B-Bella. W-we can ssstay as l-long as you w-w-want." My body felt weak when she smiled at me again, excitement shining in her eyes. I followed her, thinking she was going to go sit down, but instead she moved to a different section. After moments of scanning, her hand reached out and grabbed a book, shoving it towards me. "You don't have this, but you'd like it." I read the title: Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham. I felt my eyes go wide and she laughed. "It's not crazy kinky or anything like that. It's all dark and tortured." With that, she turned and I found myself following her to the armchairs. We sat in adjacent chairs and I couldn't help but steal peeks and glances at her out of the corner of my eye. She was soenthralled by the Austen books. It was interesting the way her face shifted expressions as she read different excerpts and how her lips moved as she read each word. It was hard to believe that she'd read them before. I wondered how many times she'd read each one. I had read the introduction to the book she had handed me and found that I probably would enjoy it. But my mind was made up the minute she had said that I would like it. I was going to buy it. I was also going to buy those books for her. I was sure that she would refuse or try to keep me from doing it, but I was going to find a way. My cell phone rang, startling me out of my plotting. I dug it hastily out of my pocket and checked the

caller ID. Damn. It was Carlisle. I'd forgotten to check in with him. Without even saying hello, I told him, "I-I'm s-sssorry. I-I f-f-forgot. I-I'm f-f-fine." "How are the movies? Are you in one now?" "Uh." I didn't know how to respond. Did I tell him we skipped the last one and opted for a bookstore instead? Was that okay? I was a horrible liar, even over the phone, so I told the truth. "We-we're in a b-b-bookstore n-now." "Oh. Did you and Bella get something to eat?" "Y-yes." "Do you know when you'll be heading back?" "N-no, b-but p-p-probably sssssometime ssoon." "And you're having fun?" "Y-yes, C-Carlisle." I rolled my eyes as Bella smiled at me. "Then I won't keep you. Just make sure you call me after a bit." After I told him that I would call him again soon, I looked at Bella. She was still engrossed in one of her books. It wasn't until I snapped the phone closed that she looked up at me. "He always keep such close tabs on you?" I nodded, not feeling the need to tell her that typically I never did anything but go to school and come home, so there wasn't much of a need for him to keep tabs on me. "That's got to suck." I just shrugged. I hated to suggest it, but if we waited any longer, I feared her father would send out a search party for us. Carlisle would be his second-in-command. "W-w-we should p-probably go now." She looked at her wrist, as if there was a watch on it, which there wasn't, and sighed. "Wouldn't want Charlie to think I ran off." Bella stood and I did the same, taking the books from her hands. Turning towards the front of the shop, I began to walk away until I felt her electric little hand on my arm. "Edward, those books go back there." I turned to find her pointing towards the stacks. "I-I-I know. B-b-but I'm b-buying them." Her eyes widened a little. "Not for me, I hope." I shrugged. "You can't buy them for me, Edward." "W-why not?" "I'm not a charity case, that's why. If I really wanted them, I could buy them myself." I frowned. It was just as I had anticipated, but I shook my head at her. "N-no. I-I'm buying them f-for you. Ch-Ch-Christmas p-presents." Rolling her eyes, she let her pouty lips turn up into a smile. "Christmas is months away and I'm not getting you anything, so I can't accept the presents." At least she was honest. I sighed. "F-fine. I'm b-buying them f-f-for mmmmme." "'Cause you look like the Austen type. Do you prefer Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightley?"

I smiled. She obviously mistook my not owning any Austen books for having never read any. "N-neither, although I p-p-prefer Elizabeth B-Bennet to Emma W-W-Woodhouse." My smile grew as her eyes widened. When she rolled her eyes, I knew I had triumphed. "A-and you can b-b-borrow them an-an-any, w-whenever you'd like." She narrowed her eyes at me and I could tell she was trying to figure out a way to talk me out of buying the books again. But how could she do that when I had made it clear that I was buying them for myself? Finally, she let out a breath. "Has anyone told you that you can be quite annoying?" I laughed, thinking of the many times Emmett or Alice had told me that. Without anything further, I proceeded to the register. ...

Chapter 11: Stupid School Girl B POV The ride back to Forks was pretty chill. I'd smoked a little before we left and Edward's choice in music amused me. I'd liked just about everything I'd heard on the ride to Olympia, but the music for the ride home was just so perfectly suited for a nice toasty buzz. If I didn't know any better, I would have thought he planned it that way. Edward was an incredibly nice guy. Not just a nice guy, but a nice guy. Like a real gentleman or whatever. He hadn't looked at my tits once. And he didn't smack my ass or make raunchy comments. Yes, Edward was a nice guy, and that was a new thing for me. Basically that meant he made me really nervous. I mean, he'd even brought me coffee this morning. I knew it wasn't a big deal or anything, but it was thoughtful and considerate and Jesus Christ, who fucking knew that Greek Gods from the Mid-fucking-West were also kind, nice and thoughtful? Maybe the myth really did exist after all. And he called me on smoking pot. And I loved that he did. He didn't make me feel bad for it either, he just told me that I didn't have to hide from him. Now that was a notion that made me nearly piss in my pants with fear. Not hide? Jesus. What the fuck would that be like? I realized that smoking pot in front of him wasn't exactly sensitive. Even if he said it was fine, I knew that he probably hated it. But weed wasn't smack and I wasn't his mother. And if he really wasn't okay with it, he should say so instead of waiting for me to read between the lines. But what if he did say he didn't want me to be stoned around him? What would I do? Would I hide it then? Would I respect his wishes or would I simply not go around him? But I hoped he wouldn't give me that scenario because I'd truly enjoyed my time with him. He wasn't pressuring and things feltnatural. His stutter kept him from saying all the shit that other people felt compelled to say and it was all so unnecessary. And the shit we did talk about? That was fuckingwell, it was intense, but crazy cool too. I'd never met anyone who could go on about why Johnny Cash was brilliant and then tell me some fucked up story about his mother all in the same day. And he didn't get weird either. I mean, I got weird. If his mother wasn't fucking dead already, I'd kick her in her stupid teeth for doing that to Edward.

The movie was okay. Movies that were made from books I'd read were almost always just okay. He seemed to be fine with skipping the last one. And the fucker knew Austen. I didn't even have to say the titles of the books, just one character from each and he knew their respective love interests. That was pretty awesome. And the way his body made mine tingle just by sheer proximity? That felt awesome, but also completely scary. As we pulled up to Charlie's tiny little house, I felt the urge to kiss him. It was strange because I didn't want to, like, kiss and grope himalthough the Bronze-God-name- Edward was totally gropeworthy. I wanted to be all sweet with him, maybe even have a real end-of-first-date kiss or some shit. And that was when I kicked myself. I was not that girl and he was not my stupid, fucking boyfriend. This wasn't a date and I wasn't sweet. Fucking kissing Bronze Cullen? What was next, holding his hand and stroking his cheek? I was such a moron. But as he asked me which Austen book I wanted to borrow first with that crooked, sexy, unassuming smile of his, I couldn't help myself. It was fucked up. I felt fucked up as I leaned over the center console and pressed my lips quite chastely against his. My heart started beating faster as my head told me that it was wrong; that faux act of affection or fifth grade antics were just fake and wrong. So then I brought my hand to his thigh. It rested there for only a minute until I moved it up, closer to where the bulge was growing. He was hard and that made me happy because it meant that I didn't make as big of a fool of myself as I had thought with that stupid school girl kissing shit. But then his chest heaved up and down as his hands moved to my shoulder and he pushed me back. As my lips lost contact with his, I withdrew my hand. I was about to get pissed until I saw his face. His eyes were steadfastly glued to the ceiling of the car and he was panting as his chest continued to move up and down rapidly. He wanted me. I could tell that he wanted me. Maybe he was a virgin. But that couldn't be, since Jessica Stanley had already said he'd fucked her. Maybe he just liked taking things slowly, or perhaps he played hard to get. Either way, he didn't shove me back because of me. I licked my lips and let out a breath. "Sorry." I shouldn't have touched him. While I was normally impulsive, I should have controlled this one better. I should've known that a small, innocent kiss was something I could never do. I should have seen that I would fuck it up in some way and I shouldn't have even tried it in the first place. Now I had probably emotionally scarred him for life because here he was, just dropping off some fucked up girl and minding his own businessand then I Fuck. Shaking my head, I whispered, "Sorry," again. Edward turned to me, eyes wide, lips pressed together. He shook his head almost violently as if needing me to know something important. Finally he spoke, or rather, tried to speak. "N-n-n-n-nooooo, B-B-Be-Bel-Bella." That was the worst I'd ever heard him butcher my two syllable name. "P-p-p-p" Without thinking, I ran a hand through his hair and watched as his eyes closed for a minute. I had no idea where that action came from. It was as if I was comforting him. I'd never comforted another living soul in my life, but somehow I knew it was the right thing to do to calm him just a little. I removed my

hand and looked away. "I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable." Turning around, I dug around in the bag on the back seat and pulled out a book. "I'll take Pride and Prejudice first." He nodded to me, his lips pressed tightly together again. "Thanks, Edward," I said casually as I pulled the door handle and popped open the door. Once standing outside, I leaned down. "I'll see you, Monday." His eyes found mine and his mouth opened as if to speak, but I quickly looked away. Shit. I felt like a moron as I shoved the car door closed and walked up to Charlie's house. The porch light was on and I didn't even have to unlock the door, Charlie pulled it open himself. "Spying, Chief?" Although his eyes narrowed, Charlie gave me a smirk. "Just making sure the delinquent didn't manhandle you." Rolling my eyes as Charlie shut the door behind me, I asked, "Manhandle? Edward Cullen? Obviously you don't know him." "He's as adopted kid in therapy, Bells, how well do I need to know him?" I shook my head. "You're an ass just like everyone else in this stupid town." Before I could get reprimanded for my use of unladylike language, I held up my book. "He bought me a book. Three, actually, and when I wouldn't accept them he told me that he'd buy them for his collection and let me borrow them. Not much worry about manhandling from a dude that buys Jane Austen chick books, Charlie." He gave me a small, apologetic smile. "I'm not trying to be over-protective, Bells, I just" "Good, because you're a little late for that." I watched as his smile faded when I cut him off. "I'm going to bed." "Did you eat?" I sighed. Stupid concerned parental figure. "Like I said, Charlie. A little late." ... "What's that smile for?" I looked over at Jake as he buttoned up his jeans, his smirk telling me that he already knew what my smile was about. "I was just thinking about how much I enjoy multiple orgasms. God is definitely a chick." "Glad to be of service." I stood up, tugging down my top and looking around the cave. It was moist and fairly cold, but for some reason, it seemed like a natural place to be. "So how many girls have you deflowered here?" "Deflowered?" Jake asked, the laugh apparent in his voice. "I've never deflowered anyone, Bella." "What?" I was honestly shocked. A dude like Jake would be a great first time. "You're full of shit. Come on, I'm not your girlfriend. I swear I won't be offended when you tell me the truth." Jacob lit a cigarette and then sat down on the rock that jutted out from the side. "I've never fucked a virgin, Bella. That's the truth."

I smiled, licking my lips as I moved to sit down next to him. "Well let me go out and find you one, 'cause, Jesus, Jake, it'll be that girl's lucky fucking day." He shook his head. "No, thanks." I quirked my brow at him. "Too much responsibility. There'll have to be hearts and flowers and lots of foreplay." "You're good at foreplay." And he was. Holy mother of God, was Jacob good at foreplay. I watched as he shrugged. "Doesn't really interest me, Bella. I don't really think it's a turn on to have to do all the work while the girl just lies there acting like she doesn't know how to do shit." He gave me a look. It was the first time since we started the conversation that he actually looked at me. It made me slightly uncomfortable. I didn't know why, I just knew that it did. "A girl like you is perfect for me, Bells. Experienced." I wrinkled my nose up at him. "Not like, slutty experienced. You know what I mean. You know what you like and you don't wait around for me to make you come; you make it happen. I don't need some sappy virgin that's going to want to take me to meet her parents afterwards." A girl like you is perfect for me. I knew he didn't mean it in any kind of way that would change the dynamic of our relationship, but it still made me cringe all the same. I stood up quickly, running my hands through my hair. "So can you score acid? I haven't tripped in a long time." It was true that I was changing the subject, quite abruptly, but I totally didn't want to get into being perfect for Jacob. I was perfect for no one. "The last time I tripped, no one was guiding me and there were tree people and they started out like the Ents in The Lord of the Rings but ended up like the tree from one of the Poltergeist movies, trying to eat me and all that shit. So, it'd be nice to" "What the fuck are Ents?" I sighed. Jacob was not cultured and I wondered if he even owned a book. "Haven't you seen Lord of the Rings?" "That shit's gay, Bella. Fucking hairy footed little people and elves and shit?" Rolling my eyes, I let it go. Lord knew if there wasn't a car chase or something that exploded, a guy like Jacob wouldn't be interested in a movie. "So. Acid, Jake. Can you get any?" "I sell weed, Bella." "So that's a 'no' to the acid? What about painkillers? I'm sure Billy has a script, right?" "Yeah, but he uses those pills." He rolled his eyes at me. "He fucking counts them three times a day and would probably throw knives at me if any were missing." ... I woke up on Monday feeling stupidly excited to see Edward. It made no sense for me to feel that way about a boy like him. I mean, yeah, he was incredibly good looking and I could completely see myself fucking the living shit out of him, but he was nice too. Too fucking nice. What the hell would I seriously

do with a nice guy like Bronze fucking Cullen? And why the fuck was I excited to see him like this? We watched one fucking movie together and ate pizza and listened to music and now I was ready toto what? Go steady with him? Be lovey-dovey with him? The thought just made my stomach turn. Not because of Edward, but because it totally wasn't me to be all puppy dog with boys. And when the fuck had he become Edward and not Bronze Cullen? Jacob was early as usual and we clam-baked on the way to school. I was entirely too happy to smoke too much of his pot. I was incredibly thankful not to be paying for it. And it was in this mindset of being thankful and happy that I gave him a quick hand job before getting out of the car and heading into school. The pot and the concentration it took to bring Jacob off with my hand helped take my thoughts away from Edward. I totally didn't need to crush on Edward fucking Cullen of all people. I would just hurt him. I saw him in the hallway before first period. His hair was shorter. I wasn't sure if I liked it. It was no less unruly, but for whatever reason, that small half inch of hair that was gone made me a little sad. It wasn't long enough anymore to fall over his eyes when he looked down. I wondered if he liked it short like that. I watched him like I normally did, but like usual, he never looked up. It was better that way. If I saw his green eyes, I was sure that I would swoon like a stupid southern belle. It was amazing how much I hated myself for having these feelings. I needed something to numb them, to snuff them out. I didn't want to feel this shit. I didn't deserve to feel this shit. Jacob had told me that if I wanted something other than pot, Tyler Crowley was the person to see. I knew of him. He was nice looking, not a dirty hippie like Jacob and not quite a jock like Newton. Apparently Tyler had been in a car accident several months back and had a plethora of pain pills at his disposal. And apart from that, he was Forks' resident hard drug dealer. He was the son of the mayor, which only made it better. There was no way that Charlie would be busting the mayor's son for dealing. So I knew where to get some pills and acid and told myself that by the weekend I'd be trippin' balls. Hopefully that would be all it took to get back to my regularly scheduled life and forget about my fawning over Edward episode. The day sucked. The only class before lunch that was remotely interesting was Photography. Pixie Cullen and I developed our film in the dark room together. She talked almost constantly about some new outfit she bought and how her boyfriend, Boy Hale, reacted when she wore it for him. It was mind numbing, but nice. I liked Pixie, despite her babbling. She's wasn't all deep and she smiled at me like we are already old friends. Lunch was fine, but the post lunch smoke out in the woods with Jacob was better. The pot helped me in Biology not turn into a gooey mess. I was confronted by Edward's amazing green eyes, but managed just to give him a small smile instead of throwing myself at him. He looked tired. I wanted to talk to him but it was incredibly awkward. There was no privacy at school and what the hell would I have said anyway? Most of the class I just daydreamed about being somewhere else. I did my best to ignore the fact that some how I had managed to let Bronze Cullen in. It was so messed up. I was so messed up. Pretty much Bella's number one rule was to not let them in, especially stupid high school boys.

But he wasn't stupid. Fuck, I needed to pull my fucking head out of my ass. Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster the bell rang and I could leave this den of torture and go towell another den of torture, P.E. But at least in P.E. I could take out my aggression by being blatantly clumsy. It was on Wednesday that I found the opportunity to talk with Tyler. I skipped Photography when I saw him in the hallway. For whatever reason, all he did was smirk at me when I asked to talk to him privately. We went out to his brand new Escalade to talk. The windows were tinted and I suspected that they were too dark to be legal, but as the mayor's son, he could probably get away with just about anything. "So, what's up, Bella Swan?" I smiled at him, leaning back against the door as I angled my body towards him. His dark skin off set the brightness of his eyes. "Jacob doesn't sell acid and I want some." There was no need to dance around the topic. He had something I wanted. His smile grew. "Are you a narc, Bella?" Rolling my eyes, I sighed. "Of course not. Would Jacob sell to me if I was?" He shrugged and I sighed again. "Of course I'm not a narc." "Because your dad's the Police Chief." Duh. "And your dad is the fucking mayor. Does stating the obvious help this process along or what?" "Nah. I've talked to Jake. I know you're cool." "Then sell me some fucking acid already." Tyler gave me another smirk. It was beginning to annoy me. This whole thing should have been pretty simple, just like going to Wal-mart. Dude had something I wanted. I give Dude money; he gives me what I want. Simple. But there he was smirking at me like he couldn't care less about the money I wanted to give him. "What?" I asked. "Are you Black's girlfriend or what?" I couldn't help but laugh. I was no one's girlfriend, that was for sure. "No. Why? Do you have something against selling to girlfriends of Jacob Black?" He shook his head. "Like Jake has enough game to get a girlfriend." Boys were stupid. "Jacob fucks likes a porn star, Tyler, but I'm not his girlfriend." "If he fucks so great, why aren't you his girlfriend?" Taking in a deep breath, I licked my lips and moved closer to him. "Why buy the cow when I get the milk for free?" I'd heard a million people say that about my mother and her boyfriends. I paused for only a moment before continuing, "I don't want a boyfriend." "Do you only fuck Jake?" I narrowed my eyes. "Why are you offering?"

It was nearly time for lunch when I walked back into the school, incredibly sexually satisfied, but still feeling a bit empty with a hit of acid hidden inside the pocket of my jeans. I looked at no one, especially not Ed-Bronze Cullen, as I waited for Jacob to finish his lunch so that we could go smoke. ...

Chapter 12: Challenging the Realities B POV Thursday morning was the start of a annoying day. Stupid Jacob Black never picked me up for school, so I had to take the public bus. Plus, I was late, resulting in a lunchtime detention. It wasn't like Jacob was sick and didn't go to school. No, the asshole was there and accounted for, he just hadn't bothered to come get me, apparently. But due to my detention, I didn't get the chance to talk to him. Instead, I found myself in the last few moments between lunch and Biology listening to Angela Weber puke up her lunch. I just watched her as she came out of the bathroom stall, pulling her hair back and looking at herself in the mirror. She turned sideways, her eyes studying her profile. I could tell she wasn't happy with what she saw. She looked fine to me, even a little too skinny, but I wouldn't tell her that. Angela wouldn't believe me. I had known enough girls with eating issues in Phoenix to know that telling a bulimic girl that she was too thin would just send her into hysterics. Angela bent down and turned on the tap, scooping water into her mouth before swishing and spitting it out. Standing up straight again, she turned off the tap and looked at me through the mirror. "Don't tell anyone, okay, Bella?" I shrugged. "Who am I going to tell?" I didn't think Jessica or Mike would really give a damn if Angela puked herself into an early grave. Angela's friends didn't seem like the type to be overly compassionate. Hell, a bitch like Lauren probably knew and shoved her thousand calorie slice of pizza under Angela's nose every day. "You'd be surprised." "Surprised at what?" Sighing, Angela studied herself again, tugging her shirt down. "At how many people here would rat you out if they knew something like that. If Dr. Hale or my mother found out" "Fuck Dr. Hale." I huffed. "And fuck your mom too." I was in a horrible mood. Usually by this time I was nice and high but thanks to Mr. No-Show Black, I was sober and there were still hours left in my school day. "I would never say shit to Hale, Angela." Angela turned around and gave me a smile. "Thanks, Bella." As we headed out of the bathroom, I decided I didn't care if she went into hysterics and asked, "Why do you do it, though? Do you really think that you're too fat? I mean, I know you're smart and shit, I just don't understand why" "It's a control thing, Bella," she admitted quietly. I turned to look at her. She looked incredibly

nervous, as if she were completely exposing herself. "It's the only thing I have." I wanted to ask more, but it would have been incredibly inappropriate and totally not my business. Plus, the more I knew about Angela, the more she'd start prying into my life and I already had too many people interested in the life and times of Bella Swan. We entered the Biology classroom and immediately my eyes were drawn to my desk partner, Edw-Bronze Cullen. I had done my best over the course of the week to keep a good and healthy distance from him, only really talking to him when absolutely necessary and he seemed to be doing the same. I was sure he was mortified that I had practically jumped him in his car last Saturday. Hell, I was fucking mortified. I was the one doing the jumping and I felt incredibly stupid for doing it. What was I supposed to say? I'd apologized for it. If I said sorry again, he'd think that I felt like it was something with him and it wasn't him. Before I could get to my desk, Mike Newton jumped up and blocked my path, rolling his eyes at Angela and practically forcing her to get out of his way. "Bella!" I sighed. "Mike," I answered, very unenthused. "So you know, there's a dance coming up in two weeks." I raised my eyebrow, just waiting for the asshole to ask. He just stood there, looking at me as if I was supposed to throw myself at him at the mere mention of a school dance. "And?" "Do you want to go with me?" "Seriously?" "Yeah, seriously," he replied, his tone turning a bit indignant. "No, I don't." I heard Angela laugh and watched as Mike's eyes darkened. I'd seen that look before on other boys, other men. As much as I disliked Mike and didn't really care about his feelings, I certainly didn't want to make an enemy. Up until this point I'd been able to spike a volleyball in his face and then manipulate him into thinking it was pure accident. I didn't want to piss him off. I barely knew him, or what he was capable of. "I don't really dance, Mike, and my father is" "Are you going with Jacob Black?" I smiled as I pictured Jake and I stoned at a high school dance. "No. I doubt he's the semi-formal-in-the-gym kind of guy, Mike." "Are you dating him?" What the hell was it with these stupid ass Forks boys? "He's a friend, Mike." I turned around quickly to see that Mr. Banner had taken his place at the front of the class. "Class is starting." Mike's glare didn't let up. "You should ask Jessica. I know she wants to go with you." He let out a heated breath and rolled his eyes. "Of course she wants to go with me, Bella, I'm not stupid." He could have fooled me. I nearly said that to him but he continued. "I've already tapped that." Mike Newton was a fucking ass. Jessica wasn't my favorite person in the world but he didn't have to be so crass about it. "Then don't ask her, but I'm not going with you."

I pushed past him, annoyed that I actually had to shove him out of the way in order to get to my seat. Edward's eyes were fixed on his notebook, but I knew he'd seen and heard the entire exchange. I hope dhe got a little bit of joy out of watching me shut Newton down. If I was the type to go to school dances, I would take Bronze Cullen and ask him in front of Mike. But then, who knew if Bronze Cullen would accept and why was I thinking about that anyway? Stupid high school dances with stupid high school boys. ... "What the fuck, Jake?" He shook his head as he lit the joint, not looking at me. "What's your deal, Bella?" He sounded as if he was bored. "Why'd you ditch me yesterday? Why're you acting like you're avoiding me today?" "Jesus, Bella," he sighed. "We're out in the fucking woods together, right? How is that avoiding?" I grabbed the joint and inhaled. Thank the FSM for this at least. Jacob had yet again failed to pick me up for school this morning. Yesterday I had to get a ride home with Angela. "What the fuck?" I repeated as I held the smoke in. His face was so tense. He looked absolutely pissed and I had no idea why. Everything was cool on Wednesday. Although, now that I thought about it, he was very quiet on the ride home Wednesday after school. I wished he would just tell me what the fuck was wrong with him and stop being such a needy girl. "Jake," I said loudly as I exhaled. "You didn't have to fuck him." "What?" What the hell was he talking about? "Tyler, Bella. He would have sold you that tab without you fucking him in his SUV." Jesus Christ. That was what this was about? The fact that I fucked Tyler? "I didn't fuck Tyler for the acid, Jacob." What an ass. "I'm not a fucking whore. And just in case you're fucking wondering, I don't fuck you for your fucking pot either. I give you money the same as the rest of your customers." He rolled his eyes at me and I wanted to smack him. "Whatever." "First off, fuckstain, I can fuck who I want to fuck. Second, I fucked Tyler because he has a big fucking dick and I wanted to sit on it, not because I wanted acid. Third, what the fuck's your problem? I told you from the beginning that I'm not your girlfriend, which means that I can fuck other people." Grabbing the joint from him, I smacked him in the chest with my other hand. "You don't own me." I inhaled deeply, hoping that the pot would wash away what was transpiring. "Thank God for that," he mumbled. "Don't be a douche, Jacob. Just because you were the first boy to pull my hair in Forks, doesn't mean you pissed on me and made me yours." I hated possession. I hated boys thinking that the minute you touch their dick made you theirs. What a cruel fucking world. Males could go out and stick it

anywhere without need to explain but a female does it and automatically she's a fucking whore. I shoved the joint back towards him and watched as he took it, shrugging his shoulders. "Tyler Crowley is a fucking dick, Bells. You didn't have to fuck him." He took a hit and as he held it in, he continued, his voice distorting. "And don't you even want to know how I know about your Escalade rocking?" He paused for the briefest of moments. "Because the fuckstain told anyone who would listen, Bella." I sighed, wishing he was lying, but knowing he probably wasn't. "Yeah, that mole about an inch under your left ass cheek? Not so much a secret anymore." Finally sitting down next to him, I let out a deep breath before plucking the weed from his fingers. "So this outburst of yours is less about anger over the fact that I fucked someone other than you and more about who that someone was?" For a moment, Jake was silent as he lit a cigarette, apparently finished with the smoldering roach between my fingers. He ran a hand though his hair and for the first time locked his eyes with mine. "He's a fucking cock smoker, Bella, and you'll be lucky if he doesn't have the whole thing on YouTube by the weekend." I blew out the hit I'd been holding and then flicked the joint down, listening to it sizzle as it hit the dampened leaves. "He fucks really good though." Jacob practically growled and I couldn't help but smile. "That's because he's fucked just about every girl above the age of 14 in Forks." He crinkled his nose and shook his head. "Seriously, Bella, you should get tested now." "Whatever." I could tell by his voice he wasn't seriously concerned for the health of my vagina. "Well if your naughty parts start itchin', don't say I didn't warn you." ... "Where are you going?" I asked Jacob as he headed towards the Cullen's stairs. I wasn't happy that I was here again on a Friday night, but I felt better knowing that Jacob and I had more or less made up. I didn't really care, really, he wasn't my fucking boyfriend or anything, but I didn't want to keep dealing with his drama. He shrugged. "My turn with Esme." I made a face, indicating my disgust. "Yuck." I watched as he turned and ascended up the stairs. I'd be left alone with the rest of the Fuck Up Club until he returned, and then I'd probably have to be subjected to Bitch Hale myself. Briefly I looked around. Everyone was sort of milling around, except the Cullens and the Hales. They were all sitting together on the couch. Well, Edward was sort of sitting with them. It was obvious that he was a part of their group, but equally obvious that he was a fifth wheel in said group. I turned around quickly, not wanting to engage Pixie Cullen or her brother before absolutely necessary. Moving through the hall, I found Angela Weber next to a table filled with food. She looked absolutely miserable. "The food table is probably the least comfortable place for an anorexic bulimic girl, you know." She looked up at me. "Yeah, but Dr. Cullen's watching. I have to at least look like I'm contemplating eating."

I turned, my eyes finding the handsome doctor easily. He was in relatively casual looking clothes, leaning against the archway that led to the kitchen. Although his eyes weren't on Angela as she looked at the food that probably made her want to stick her fingers down her throat, he wasn't not looking either. Dr. Cullen's perfect blue eyes took in all of the kids in the room in turn. He was the spy for Dr. Bitch. The sexy spy. "Damn, he's fine." Angela just snorted. "What? You don't think he's sexy as fuck?" Angela turned to regard him, her eyes traveling from his feet up to the perfectly shaped hair on his head. "No, he's sexy but every soccer mom in Forks has tried to get with him." "Well I'm not a soccer mom, Ang." "Ew, Bella. Please do not throw yourself at Dr. Cullen." Rolling my eyes and sighing, I turned my eyes from him to her. "Who says I'd throw myself at him. Perhaps I would seduce him until he threw himself at me." Angela laughed. "Did your dad put you in therapy because you live in a delusional fantasy world or what?" I cracked a smile. "Shut up." Her smile widened at me. "I'll make you a deal. The day you get Cullen, and by Cullen, I mean Dr. 'I-can-make-you-come-by-just-smiling-at-you' Cullen, to beg you to sleep with him, I'll eat an entire meal, with dessert, mind you, without tossing it five minutes afterwards." "Well now you've ruined it. How could I call myself your friend if my happiness cost you those calories?" Angela rolled her eyes. She looked like she was going to say something else, but didn't get the chance. Dr. Cullen made his way over to us and gave me a dazzling smile. Part of me swooned and the other part of me was annoyed at my new found ability to swoon over all things Cullen. "Bella," he said smoothly. "Your father is concerned that perhaps you're not eating enough." Angela's eyes widened. And I rolled mine. "What?" "He's concerned that" And then I remembered last Friday night. "I missed one meal." Thankfully at that very moment, Jacob found me and told me that it was my turn with Dr. Hale. Let the fun that was therapy begin. Of course, Hale was waiting for me, stupid little notebook on her lap. "Hello, Bella." I wondered if they taught shrinks how to speak like that in school. All calming and soothing. "Hi." I plopped down in the chair and let my eyes lock onto hers. I wondered if we were going to play the staring game today. I didn't have to wait long for the answer. "How was your trip to Olympia, Bella?" "Good." Did she ask Edward that question? What was his answer? Did he tell her that I practically assaulted him before getting out of the car?

She smiled. "That's great. I think Edward enjoyed it too." After a moment of silence, she spoke again. "Just to be clear, we do have goals for you here, Bella." I quirked a brow at her. "First, I would like to preface this conversation but telling you that it doesn't take a lot of effort to recognize some of the trauma you've undergone as you've grown up." My teeth clenched. "It is also very clear that you are reluctant to talk about it, any of it. I'm not asking you to talk to me because I'm a psychiatrist, Bella. I'd like you to talk to me because in the long run it would be far better for you to work some of these things out with a trained professional." I shook my head. She didn't know shit. What she had were assumptions. "What things are you talking about?" I really wasn't in the mood for this. I was tired. I didn't care what goals she had for me. I didn't really care what she knew about me or my past and I didn't want to hash out issues that were nothing more than history now. "I'd like to talk about some of the broken bones and contusions that are very clearly visible on some of your x-rays." "I'm clumsy." Hale shook her head. "I don't believe you." "I don't care if you do." "Why are you protecting your mother? Your father has custody now. She can't hurt you here." I looked down at my hands as they picked at the worn fabric of the jeans covering my knee. "I don't know what you're talking about." "Bella." I looked up. I hated her. I just wanted her to drop it. I didn't understand why she wanted me to talk about my mother. If she and Dr. Cullen had figured out where my broken bones had come from, then why the hell did I need to talk about it? I rolled my eyes when she just sat there looking at me. "Can't you at least start with an easy topic? Maybe just pretend that trust is something that needs to be built." "Do you have a hard time trusting people?" Narrowing my eyes at her, I shook my head. How the fuck did this lady get through school with those asinine questions? "What do you think?" Dr. Bitch's lips pursed together and she acted as though she was truly studying me. "I think you only trust yourself. I think your trust is very hard to win but once someone has it, you give it to them freely." She was so damn wordy. "I don't know about all that, but if you think that I'm just going to trust you because you've got some medical degree or something, you're an idiot." I hated that smile. Did she give everyone that smile or what? Did she really think that I was fooled by her lame attempt at friendliness? "You're right, Bella." Of course I was right. I didn't need her to validate it. "If you're uncomfortable about jumping right into the hard stuff, let's talk about a lighter subject."

I shrugged in an attempt to let her know she could try it. "How are you liking Forks High? I know you have Biology with Edward and Photography with Alice, but how are you transitioning?" That was what she wanted to talk about now? I was beginning to wonder if Hale was a trained psychiatrist at all. "School's fine." "I think it's great that you take Photography. I've always thought that having a creative outlet is vital. Perhaps some day you'll show me your work." The rest of the session went the same way. Hale kept asking me small questions, unrelated to my past, my mother or what she perceived as my issues. Group was boring as fuck. Jake's partner, Leah, spoke a little bit about something. I didn't know what exactly, maybe something about being picked last for dodge ball as a kid or something ridiculously stupid like that. Honestly, I didn't want Group to end. The end of Group meant that I would be alone with Edward and I didn't want that. I was already entirely too wrapped up in him. He should've just been Bronze Cullen and not Edward who liked Russian novels and music and lived in Chicago with a heroin addict mother who shot herself in the head. I sighed deeply. It was no use. I was already attached to the good looking social outcast who stuttered and didn't smile enough. I knew it. I knew there wasn't any stopping how I felt about him. Or that I felt any way about him at all. The only thing I could do was stop myself from acting like a fucking fool. So when Group was over, I looked over at Edward and saw him sitting there as usual as everyone else got up and headed to various parts of the house. I waited. I waited until his head finally lifted and his green eyes found mine. Still, I didn't move, even my face was frozen in place. His brow creased and his tongue flicked out over his lower lip quickly, his hands rubbing up and down on his thighs. I was making him nervous. Edward's mouth opened slightly before closing again. He let out a breath. Still, I waited. It wasn't until he tilted his head to the side and nodded towards the stairs that I let myself move. I felt my lips curl up, satisfied that I didn't break first. Briefly, I caught sight of his uneven smile as he stood. Silently, I followed him up the staircase and down the hall to the only comfortable room in the Cullen house. It wasn't until we were in Edward's room that I spoke. My eyes were fixed on the wall, but I knew he was looking at me. With a short nod towards the instruments on the wall, I said, my voice all soft and girly, "Play something for me." ...

Chapter 13: Left to Lie E POV I don't think my brain started working again until Bella had disappeared into her house. I was such an idiot! She'd kissed me and I hadn't been prepared for it. I was equally unprepared for her roaming hand on my leg. I was in shock for a moment because the possibility of her initiating something like that with me had never crossed my mind.

I sat at the curb outside Bella's house for far longer than was appropriate, and had to force myself to pull away before her father came out to arrest me for loitering or stalking or something. But even at my house, I sat in the car for nearly a half hour before getting out. It would have been extremely embarrassing to answer questions about how my day in Olympia went while sporting a relatively painful erection. But even after a good thirty minutes of trying to will it away in the car, it continued, so I had no other choice but to go inside and hope that no one noticed. I had the bag from the book store to keep in front of me, but thankfully, I didn't need it. The house was quiet when I walked in. I had expected Carlisle to be waiting at the door for me, checking me out for any outward signs of anxiety or stress. Dear God, he would have found one! Or if not Carlisle, I thought perhaps Alice would be waiting at the foot of the steps to interrogate me about how pretty I thought Bella was. Again, the evidence would have spoken for itself. Thankful for the non-ambush, I rushed up to my room, letting the bag of books drop to the floor as I locked my door. I was such a freak. A normal teenager could have thought about baseball, grandmothers or dead puppies or some other clichd thing to get his dick under control. No, not me. Of course, as usual, once it sprung, it had no intentions of leaving willingly. It had happened before, most notably after the thing with Jessica Stanley. But this was different. This time it wouldn't go away, no matter what I did. There were no real words in the English language for how painful something like a hard-on could be after hours and hours. I did what I could to relieve the situation, but it had never been natural for me to masturbate. It wasn't something I was prone to do and while I knew that normal males enjoyed the practice, some of them probably too much, I'd never considered myself normal at all. I was feeling so desperate after a hot shower and multiple attempts at making it go away, that I was beginning to consider getting someone else involved. Well, not involved or anything, but finding someone I could ask for help. Although I was sure that Emmett knew everything there was to know about sex and its associated topics, he was definitely out. There was no way I would ever talk about something like this with him., much less solicit his advice. But there was always Carlisle. I hated even thinking about talking to him about the depth of my dysfunction. But no matter how much fear I felt at even the thought of exposing my situation, he probably had some kind of drug stashed away that could help me. While I knew that it had been Bella, her lips and her hand that had caused the response, I had no idea why it was that it would last this long and not dissipate. I had thought of Bella in every inappropriate way while fisting my erection, but as the hours drifted by it became too painful for me to even touch. I had to go talk to Carlisle. I had to hope that he had something that could alleviate the situation. It took everything I had to force myself to stand up and walk to his room. It was late and Carlisle had been working so many hours at the hospital. I felt bad for having to disturb his sleep and to be honest, I didn't want to. But the issue in my pants had yet to fade, so I knocked gently. My jaw clenched as I waited. I heard a thump and a rustle. My heart started to accelerate. This was a horrible idea. But I had no one else to turn to. Behind the closed doors, there was a murmur and I wondered if Carlisle was talking to himself. Had I not been pre-occupied with the pain I was experiencing, I would have realized sooner that Carlisle might not have been alone. I shouldn't have knocked. I should have just dealt with the situation on my own. How stupid could I

be? But before I could pivot and return to my room, the door creaked open. "Edward?" Carlisle whispered. The door was just barely open as he stuck his head out. There was a slight rustling of covers behind him. His robe showed signs of being hastily tugged on and his face showed no signs of having been asleep just moments ago. This was excruciatingly embarrassing. Thankfully he didn't look anywhere but at my face. "What's wrong?" My eyes drifted behind him where I could see through the small space between his hunched shoulder and the doorjamb. There was foot visible, sticking out from his bed. A female foot and suddenly I felt even more inept, even more stupid and even more embarrassed than ever before. "N-n-n-n-nothing." I tried to say it quickly, but nothing I ever said came quickly. "Ssssssorry." Carlisle peaked behind him and I turned to go. His hand on my shoulder made me jump. I definitely did not want to be touched in this state. "Edward? What's" "N-n-n-nothing," I said again, this time louder. "I-I'm f-f-fiiine." I didn't bother to turn around, I just moved very, very quickly back to my bedroom. With the door shut and locked behind me, I realized that I was back to where I started. I very carefully sank down onto my bed and thought about everything I possibly could that wasn't related to sex. It took another half an hour before my mind settled on something that could possibly work. It was already on my mind and now was the perfect time to relive it. As I thought about the image of my blood-and-brain-splattered door back in Chicago, the physical pain I felt lessened. ... I awoke on Sunday to knocking on my door. Glancing at the clock, I couldn't be upset. It was past noon and whoever it was that was waking me had given me the opportunity to get up on my own. It had been a long day and even longer night. It had been the wee hours of the morning before my erection subsided enough to allow me to sleep. "Edward, I'm not going to stand out here forever, you know. I don't care what Dad says, I'll open this door and drag you out." I sighed deeply, shoving the covers off of my legs as I rolled out of bed. I had to put up with Emmett waking me up five days a week and now on Sunday too? Before I moved to the door, I looked down, double checking that my hard-on hadn't returned in my sleep. Thankful that it hadn't, I moved to the door, unlocking and opening it. "W-w-what?" Emmett smiled his large, dopey smile and pointed to his head. "Alice is giving haircuts today and if you don't hurry, she'll decide to give you a bowl cut." I rolled my eyes, but nodded to him. "R-R-Rosalie's going t-t-to be p-p-p, upset." I nodded to his hair. Rosalie was fairly vocal about her enjoyment of Emmett's hair. Not that I wanted to know, but apparently it felt good when she ran her hands through it. He shrugged. "She'll get over it. Besides, I like it when she's pissed."

I held up a hand before he started to explain to me once again the wonders of make up sex with Rosalie. I'd heard it too many times. I really didn't want to go down that road today. "I-I-I'll be d-d-d-down in a m-m-m-mmmm" "Minute, got it. I'll tell Alice to choose something other than a mullet or bowl cut." I watched as he turned and retreated down the hall before I shut the door and locked it. Looking down, I saw that the bag of books was still down by the door where I had dropped it last night. I bent down and retrieved it and as I moved to the bookcase to create a space for the new Austen books, I very carefully trained my thoughts on something other than Bella. There was no need to accidentally excite myself. Not after last night. ... Monday was the beginning of a strange and confusing week at school. Bella didn't speak to me at all on Monday, nor did she look at me more than once. The smile she gave me wasn't a real smile. I didn't understand it. I thought our trip to Olympia had gone well. And she had kissed me at the end of it, not the other way around. And then on Tuesday we had to complete an assignment together and again, she barely acknowledged my presence. Maybe my inability to be normal had cost me her respect. Maybe she realized after Saturday that I had absolutely nothing to offer her. Maybe she regretted even asking me to Olympia with her. It could have been any number of things that had instigated her regret. It could have been my failure to return her kiss at the end. It could have been my inept speaking. Perhaps it had been the fact that I had stupidly told her all that stuff about my mother. I was a social leper and Bella Swan had finally figured it out. When I had entered Ms. Rice's office that day, I was in no mood to read children's books. The word 'depressed' didn't even begin to cover the depths of my current emotion. I hated my stuttering. I hate my family history. I hated Carlisle and Esme for forcing me to talk to Bella. I hated just about everything. So when Ms. Rice asked me if I'd like to pick the book today, I crossed my arms over my chest and refused to speak. She tried and I felt bad. I hated that Ms. Rice took my silence as her failure, but I had nothing to say. I didn't speak to anyone that day. The worried looks on Carlisle's and Alice's faces didn't escape me, but there was nothing to talk about. I didn't want to hear my own stuttering, stammering voice. I didn't want to hear or acknowledge the verbal ineptitude that I was sure had pushed Bella away. It was on Wednesday that Carlisle decided that he was concerned enough to call Esme. Once again, I found myself in Carlisle's study pinned to the overstuffed chair by the weight of her eyes. "Edward, what has you silent again?" Everything, I mentally answered her. "Did something happen last weekend? Did something happen on your trip to Olympia? Was Bella?" I fought against my urge to speak, but I lost the battle. If I didn't say something, Esme would come up

with something all on her own. She would decide that something horrible had happened in Olympia and that Bella had somehow caused me to regress. She would tell Carlisle and then I'd never be allowed out of the house or allowed to be alone in the house again. "N-n-no. I-I'm ffffffine, Es-Esme." Clasping her hands in her lap, she leaned forward, piercing me with her shrink stare. "I'm not stupid." I sighed, exaggerating the breath of air. "I-I'm ffffine." One day when I said that, she'd believe me. But not today. "No, Edward, you're not." For a moment, she was silent and I watched as her expression changed. It was as if she were deciding something. Finally, her face shifted back into a neutral look. "Why did you go to Carlisle's room last Saturday night?" My eyes widened. He told her about that? Why would he mention something sooh! And the n I realized that it could have very well been her foot I saw sticking out of the sheets that night. I didn't have an issue with Esme and Carlisle being together. It made sense to a certain degree, but just the thought about what I had interrupted And now I was sitting across from her. "Edward?" I was tired. I was tired of being different. Even if I had a horrible childhood, why couldn't I have at least passed as normal, like Emmett? Why did I have to be the one with no friends? Why did I have to be the person Mike Newton made fun of? "I-I w-w-want t-t-to be n-normal." I winced as the words drew involuntarily from my mouth. They were out there now and Esme was all too ready to pounce on them. "What's normal, Edward?" I shook my head at her, rolling my eyes up towards the ceiling. She knew what normal was. It was everything that I wasn't. I wished that I could have taken my bumbled words back, but I couldn't. I had to sit there while Esme scrutinized me, probably making mental notes about my posture or how the fingers of my right hand picked absently at the skin on my left. "Edward, this notion you have about what is 'normal' is keeping you from seeing that normal isn't the same for everyone. It's a very subjective concept. You are as normal as you'll ever be." Great. That was just perfect. Basically I was screwed beyond belief and there was no way that I would be able to be anything other than what I was right now. Again I shook my head. I'd already said too much to her. I couldn't do much more harm. "N-n-n-no. I-I-I" I looked at her. Her appearance radiated nothing but patience, so I tried to articulate what I truly wanted out of life. "I-I w-w-want t-t-to ttttalk liiiiike n-normal p-p-people d-do." Running both hands down my face, I let them fall to my lap as I closed my eyes. "I-I w-want to have f-f-friends." I heard her sigh but I couldn't bring myself to look at her again. I didn't want to see her face as she processed what I had said. I didn't want to talk to her. Why I had said anything at all was beyond me. "You have friends, Edward." I shook my head in response. "I know for a fact that Jasper and Rosalie consider you a friend. And what about Emmett and Alice?" "Th-they h-ha-have to p-p-p-put up w-w-with me. Th-they h-have to liiiike me." I opened my eyes and fixed them on picture behind Esme's head, enabling me to look past her but still see her.

She smiled as a mother would smile. If she had been sitting closer, perhaps she would have ruffled my hair. "People don't do what they don't want to do. We all like you because we want to like you. And what about Bella?" I shook my head, lowering my eyes once more to my lap. I didn't want to talk about Bella. She wasn't my friend and I couldn't expect her to be. She'd given it a shot on Saturday and whatever it was, I had failed. ... Thursday I watched as Mike Newton asked Bella to the Homecoming dance in front of me. It would be a complete and total lie if I said that I wasn't extremely happy that she turned him down flat. When she finally made it to our table, I kept my eyes down. It wasn't until Friday when I finally felt some hope. She was confusing and I had no clue as to what went on inside her head, but as the Group session with Esme ended, Bella was frozen, like a rock. It took forever for her to finally look at me and when she did, she didn't say anything. I had no idea what she was doing or why she was doing it. I nearly panicked. Was she trying to tell me that she had no intentions of keeping up the pretense of being my friend? Was she just being defiant? She was making me insanely nervous. I already felt like a complete idiot and fool around her. But then in a last ditch effort, I nodded towards the stairs and she finally let her lips form a smile. I felt like I could breathe again. My nerves were still getting the better of me as she followed me to my room. We were always good in my room and as I entered it, I hoped with everything I had that we could just be like before and forget the strangeness of the week. It took her a minute, but finally she spoke. "Play something for me." I had never heard her voice like that before. It wasn't confident like usual. Her voice sounded as though it held such sadness or was it resignation? It was soft and it made it seem like she actually thought that I might have said no to request. I followed her eyes to my guitars and for some reason, my nerves settled down immediately. Taking her usual seat on the couch, she watched me as I pulled down my favorite Gibson and sat down at the desk chair. Although I kept my eyes cast down towards the floor, I took a few glances up at her through my eyelashes as I played. She just sat there watching me, her knees pulled up to her chest, arms wrapped around her legs. I couldn't read her face, so I had no real indication of if she thought I was good or if she liked what I was playing. I played someone else's song. It was too soon. Too soon to expose any more of myself by playing something for her that I had written. After I finished, I set my guitar down. I would hang it back up after she had gone. "That was nice," she said before turning her head to my book case. "I forgot Pride and Prejudice. Thanks for letting me borrow it." My eyes fixed on her hands. Her fingers were constantly moving. She rubbed the pads of her thumbs over the nails of her other fingers and then she clenched her hands into fists before uncurling them. She was justodd.

It wasn't as if I had a load of experience with her, but she seemed different, not as relaxed as she normally was. "A-are you o-okay?" I asked before I thought better of it. Finally her eyes found mine and she smiled. "Yeah," she answered, her voice airy. "Why?" I shook my head, but watched her closely. "I'm justyou know, it's Fridayand I'm here." Oh. I could see where that wouldn't be enjoyable for her. She was vibrant and fun and here she was, stuck with me. I looked down, feeling like once again there was no hope for me. But when she spoke again, I forced myself to look at her and her whole demeanor had changed. "Not that I'm upset about being here, you know, with you. That's not what I meant at all. It's just this fucking therapy shit. I mean, really. Between Leah's anger and Angela's vomit, I don't know what I'm supposed to do." She gave me a tentative smile that widened when I returned it. "I mean, I know this shit can't be fun for you either, right?" I shook my head in response and she continued. "I mean, you've got be around all this shit constantly." Bella shifted on the couch, bending her legs to sit cross-legged. She leaned towards me. "So give me the scoop. I'm sure it was all covered in Group before I got here, so there's no harm in you telling me. I'd find out anyway." I didn't follow what she was asking. "Th-the sc-scoop?" Rolling her eyes, she said, "Yeah, the scoop about the other Fuck Ups in our Group. What's up with them? Why are they here?" When I didn't respond, creasing my brow instead, she continued. "Like your brother or Hale's kids." While I didn't feel exactly comfortable telling other people's stories, she was right. Nothing I would tell her hadn't been covered openly before. There would really be no harm in it. "E-Emmett was en-en-engineered b-by his r-reeeal parents." "What?" she asked with a little half smile on her face as if she didn't believe me. I nodded. "Th-they m-made him in a l-lab t-to b-b-be a m-match for his older b-b-b-brother." "A match?" "A d-donor." I watched Bella's face as she wrapped her mind around the word. "His b-brother w-was sick. H-he n-needed all sssssorts of t-t-transplants and s-s-so they m-m-made Em-Emmett." Her eyes widened. "B-but w-when the t-transplants f-f-f-faaaa, were unsuccessful, h-his p-parents w-weren't h-h-happy with him." "Are you fucking serious?" Her face conveyed her shock. I nodded. "His parents fucking grew him in a lab and then harvested organs from him?" "W-well that w-was the p-plan. Th-they took p-part of his liver and sssssome marrow, but w-when it d-didn't w-work" There was no need to finish off the sentence, I was sure she got the idea and I really didn't want to talk about what his parents put him through after that. "B-but h-he wasn't gr-grown in a l-lab, Be-Bella. He w-was" "Yeah, I get it." Her eyes were narrowed as she slowly shook her head. "They spliced a fertilized egg

with some super DNA or something and then stuck him in his mom's uterus. No wonder he's like Superman." I smiled. Emmett was like Superman. He was big and strong and great at everything. And typically no one saw his pain and hurt but every once in a while, when it got too much, Emmett couldn't reel it in. Carlisle invested in a punching bag for the basement gym when he came home to a demolished wall and five broken bones in Emmett's right hand. Not wanting to answer her question about why Jasper and Rosalie were involved in therapy as they weren't my adopted siblings, I thought of what I had been wanting to ask her all week. "Be-Bella?" "Hmm?" "Ar-are w-we f-f-fr-friends?" ...

Chapter 14: Friends E POV Bella just stared at me blankly, her eyes blinking a few times, after I asked her if we were friends. For a moment, I felt a flash of panic rise up within me. Maybe I shouldn't have asked. Maybe she was going to say no. Maybe she was going to laugh at me. But my panic subsided just as the edges of her mouth curled up. She shrugged, but said, "Of course we're friends." While her words gave me some comfort, they also stirred up a plethora of follow up questions. "W-w-why d-d-don't y-y-you lllllll" I sighed deeply. It seemed as though I wouldn't be able to get anything out, but I had to keep trying. "Why don't I what?" "T-talk t-to me at sc-school?" The crease in her brow instantly faded as she shook her head. Running her hands through her hair, Bella let out a low breath before biting her bottom lip. "This week was just It wasn't you, Edward. I wasn't trying to be rude." What she said wasn't a reason or an explanation. It was avoidance and it was clear to me what the problem was. Obviously she thought we could be friends outside of school. I didn't blame her for that. I was sure she didn't want to be tied to a social pariah like me. "I-is it b-because of h-h-h-how I t-t-t-taaaaalk?" Bella sighed and looked extremely annoyed. I felt incredibly small and wished for the millionth time that I could be like Emmett and Alice and just be comfortable and fit in. "You're not listening, Edward. It's not you, okay?" Shaking her head again, she pointed to herself. "I'm not Look, we're friends, okay? And I don't care about your stutter. I'd much rather listen to you talk than that idiot Newton. But I'm not like all the other kids at school, okay? I don't" She huffed and it almost sounded like a growl.

"I don't talk to friends at school, Edward. I mean, really, who have you seen me talk to? Mike? I think you can already figure out that he's not even close to being my friend. And everyone else is justfiller." While it was true that typically I only really saw her talk to Newton and it was never in a friendly way, what she was saying didn't quite fit. "W-what about J-J-Jacob?" Bella ran her hands through her hair again and then pulled it to the side, leaving one side of her neck exposed. I tried not to look. I tried not to focus on how smooth her skin was. I tried not to see that I could pick up the rhythm of her heart by watching the vein in her neck thump. I tried not to see the four small indentations that looked like the tines of a fork. "You want to come out to the woods with us and smoke pot at lunch, Edward? 'Cause you're invited. Jacob's Well, he's a family friend. I used to shove him in the mud when I was a kid." Bella stood up, turning her back to me as she began looking at my books again. I watched as her slender hand glided along the spines. Her fingernails were short, unlike Alice or Rosalie's and she had little nicks and scars on her fingers and hands. "I never took you for someone who wanted to talk at school. Every time you do and a dick like Newton says something, you go all quiet and look like you can't breathe. But if you really want to have public conversations, we can" "N-no." That was not what I wanted. She was right about Newton and right about me. "I-I-I just w-w-wanted to know if w-w-we were f-friends." Bella turned around and leveled her eyes at me. "Well, why wouldn't we be?" Because she was so much better than me. Because she was normal and I wasn't. Because she could be friends with anyone and I pretty much had nothing to offer. I shrugged. But if I was going to take her words at face value, then I could assume that we were in fact friends. Asking her to do something with me as friends should be no big deal. After all, she did ask me to go see movies with her last weekend. So why did my chest feel like it was about to explode? If she already confirmed we were friends, why was I dreading rejection like this? "B-Be-Bella?" Her eyebrows rose. "D-d-do y-y-you w-w-w-want t-t-to g-go" "Edward, don't." Bella winced and then her eyes went wide. "Please don't." Any and all hope I had that I could just be a normal person and have a normal friendship with someone fell at her words. I hadn't even been able to properly ask her. I had only managed to get out half of the question. "Please don't ask me to that stupid dance. I don't They really aren't my thing." And hope swelled again. "I-I w-w-wasn't g-g-going to ask a-a-ab-bbout the dance," I finished quickly. Instantly she looked relieved. "Good," she breathed. "Because they're kind of lame, don't you think?" I just gave her a hesitant smile in answer. What I had in mind didn't require any dancing or streamers in the high school gym. I'd never gone to a dance. They very well could have been lame, but I highly doubted that going to a dance with Bella would be lame at all. Although I couldn't really picture her in the dresses Alice or Rosalie usually wore, I could, in fact,

imagine her in something that was not only appropriate for a high school dance, but that would actually befit her personality. "What were you going to ask then?" I drew my thoughts away from Bella in a casual black dress and back to the matter at hand. "W-w-would y-you g-g-go sssssomewhere w-with me?" Bella gave a little chuckle and before I could misinterpret it, she answered. "Somewhere? That's a little vague, Edward. Somewhere could be Mexico or somewhere could be the library. Both of which I would say yes to." I felt my lips curl up into a smile. She'd go to another country with me! I felt triumphant, as if I had actually asked her to cross the boarder with me. "I-I-I d-don't know w-where. Just ssssomewhere. Just to h-h-h-h-hang out." I took a few deep breaths after getting out my words. The word 'hang' was nearly blocked and I thanked God that I was able to push it out. "Yeah, sure." "D-do you w-w-want to g-g-go to-tomorrow?" The crease returned to her forehead. "Oh, shit, I can't." I must have involuntarily made a face because she smiled at me. "I'm not just blowing you off, Edward. Unless you want to drop some acid with me tomorrow, I'm going to be going solo." That wasn't the response I had anticipated. I had expected the normal girl let down responses I'd heard on TV. 'I have to wash my hair.' 'My dog's sick.' 'You smell like cheese.' "W-w-w-why a-ar-are you g-g-g-going to d-dr" "Because Forks is a boring-ass town and I haven't tripped in a while." "Do y-y-you lllllllike i-it?" I sighed and rolled my eyes. Obviously she liked it. I was such an idiot. "I-I m-mean, w-w-why d-d-do y-you lllllike it?" Bella's expression changed and when she spoke, she was defensive. "Why don't you tell Newton to fuck off?" "I-I-I w-w-wasn't j-j-judging you, B-B-Bella. J-just asking." Flopping down onto my couch, Bella raised one hand up into the air, her eyes watching as she made her fingers dance. "You obviously don't like that I enjoy drugs." I wanted to protest, to let her know again that I wasn't judging her, but she wouldn't let me speak. "I partake in pharmaceutical and psychotropic drugs because I like that version of reality better. Have you ever done any drugs?" "Wa-wa-wa," was all I could get out, so I shook my head in answer. "No painkillers, no nitrous oxide at the dentist?" "W-w-well, yeah, I-I've h-had p-painkillers b-befffffore." And sedatives more times than I could count. And there was that night on the beach when I had tried smoking marijuana. "Didn't you feel numb, I mean, not just whatever was aching or in pain, but like, mentally numb?" I

nodded. "I like that. It makes everything a little fuzzy around the edges. Acid's awesome because reality shifts for just a moment and the impossible happens. This reality," she said, waving her hand around the air as if to indicate my room, my house, this town, this world, "is just an illusion, Edward. Even something as simple as smoking a little weed taps you into somethingmore, something better." I shook my head, not wanting to judge her but needing her to know that I completely disagreed. "M-m-my mmm-mm-m-mom" Bella sat up and trained her eyes on me. "Your mom was a heroin addict. It's not the same thing. I don't do anything that's addictive or that will permanently distort reality." I failed to see the difference, but I kept my mouth shut. "Look, I've done coke a handful of times and I wouldn't touch smack for anything. But, Jesus, Edward, you wouldn't know, but rolling on ecstasy changes everything. I've never felt so loved andloving." Bella's face shifted into something longing before she looked down. "II don't expect you to understand it and if it's not your thing, that's cool, but I like it." She looked back up, her expression once again neutral before her lips curled up into a smile. "So tomorrow I'm dropping acid and going on a little spirit walk in the woods." My heart began to race as I felt my eyes go wide. My breathing changed and all the sudden I felt panic. "In th-th-the w-w-w-woods? B-B-B-Bella, y-y-y-y, wwwwwhat if y-y-you g-g-g-get l-l-l" Her brow creased once again. "Calm down, Edward," she said, her voice soft but full of concern. She was worried about me. "Seriously, slow your breathing down. You're going to pass out." It wouldn't have been the first time. I did my best to focus on my breathing, slowing dragging air in and letting it out even slower, but I still felt shaking. My lungs were tight. Bella was going to go into the woods alone while hallucinating. People got lost in the woods all the time, without acid to further hinder their progress. She couldn't do that. I didn't want to hear about her going missing, and I didn't want to see the search party form. "B-B-B-Bella." Bella stood and crossed the room to me and before I realized that she was even coming over to me, I felt her hand in my hair. Instantly, my eyes closed and my body relaxed just a little. My breathing slowed, as did my heart rate. How did she know how to do that? "Edward, I'll be fine. I promise. There's woods right outside my house. I swear that I won't go far." ... Once again, I sat in front of Esme, waiting for her to get to what she really wanted to talk about. We had topic danced for the past twenty minutes. Finally, she said, "It was a difficult week." Even though it was a statement, I knew she was asking me to validate it. "Y-y-yes." "Because you don't feel normal? You feel different than the other kids?" I looked down at the carpet but nodded. "Do you only feel different because of your speech issue?" I shook my head. I didn't want to tell Esme anything. I wanted to be in my room. It didn't matter what I

wanted because my mouth opened, as if on its own, and I heard my voice. "I t-t-told B-B-Bella a-a-ab-b-b-b," I paused, but I couldn't take back the words. Esme would make me finish the sentence, so I continued. "A-a-about m-my mmmmmm-mm-mom." Looking up, I saw the shock and surprise written on Esme's face. "Oh?" I nodded. "And how do you feel about that?" she asked. I shrugged, not really knowing how I felt. "Bella is obviously someone you feel you can trust." Her brow was furrowed as she studied me. "That was a big topic for you to discuss with her." "Y-yeah." I shouldn't have told Esme about telling Bella. Now we would have to talk about it. "How did she react?" I thought about her loud voice and the scowl on her face. "Sh-she w-w-was m-mad." "At you or at your mother?" "A-at my mm-mm-mom." "And how did that make you feel?" I let my eyes slip closed. It was always easier to answer Esme's incessant questions when I wasn't looking at her. "B-B-Bella d-doesn't kn-know." "What doesn't she know?" "M-my mmm-mm-mom. Sh-she th-thinks my mmmmmom w-was b-bad." "Did she tell you that?" Opening my eyes, I shook my head. "B-but m-my mmm-mm-mmom w-w-wasn't b-bad." The corners of Esme's lips curled up just slightly as she shook her head. "No. Your mother wasn't bad. She was sick." "I-I d-don't think B-Bella understands th-that." "Addiction and depression are illnesses. Your mother didn't make a choice to be sick." I realized at that moment that my breathing had sped up and my fingers ached. I looked down at my right hand and saw that my fingers were digging into the arm of the chair. The knuckles were white. "I-I kn-know." "Breathe deeply, Edward." I closed my eyes again and tried to do as she asked. "Did you talk to Bella about your father?" Every muscle in my body seemed to tighten at her question. My lungs seized and I gasped for breath. "N-n-n-n-no. P-p-p-pleeeeease d-d-don't, Esme."

"Okay, Edward." Her voice was soft and soothing, the way a mother's voice should be. I forced my thoughts away from my parents and wondered if this was what Esme sounded like when Jasper and Rosalie were young and had a bad dream. "Focus on breathing, Edward. Relax and try to calm down." She was silent for a while as I did my best to regulate my breathing. It wasn't until I opened my eyes again that she spoke. "Have you written anything new?" I knew she was asking about music compositions. I hadn't felt into coming up with anything new lately, so I shook my head. "A-Aliiiice s-says J-Jasper hhhas a n-new m-m-m-motorcycle." I hoped my attempt at getting Esme to talk instead of me worked. Esme smiled. "He does. I don't understand the draw, but it seems to make him happy and he's eighteen, so I don't have a lot of say in what he spends his money on. Does Bella mention her mother?" I sighed and then shook my head. "N-no." Besides drugs, Bella didn't really mention a lot about anything. ... Most of Saturday was spent lying on my bed, worrying about Bella. I had never dropped acid before, but I didn't think I needed to in order to know that it was an incredibly stupid idea to do it alone and somewhere you could get lost. When I wasn't actively worrying about Bella hallucinating in the forest, I was thinking about her hands in my hair. No one but Alice knew how just that simple act could calm me down. How had she known about that? I knew Bella and Alice shared Photography class, but there was no way Alice would tell her something like that. And why would Bella have wanted to know something like that anyway? But however she knew, her fingers sliding through my hair felt utterly fantastic. I wondered how I could get her to do that again. And then I felt like a creep. Like a creepy creep planning out various ways to get a girl to touch him. And then I felt stupid. Thinking about Bella and touching wasn't going to lead to anything productive and I knew from the past that it would just prove to be painful and send me into a fit of depression. I didn't need to spend another night hoping to all that was holy that my erection would fade. On Sunday I waited until eleven in the morning to call Bella. Carlisle had Chief Swan's number written down in the address book in his study. I thought eleven was enough time for someone to recover from tripping on acid. I dialed the numbers, going over what I was planning on saying. Although I thought about music in an attempt to calm myself, when I heard Bella's father answer the phone, I froze. "Hello?" There was pause and I tried to force words out of my mouth but I only seemed to be able to make a clicking sound. "Hello?" he asked again, this time in a more irritated voice. Chief Swan sighed heavily before he hung up. I couldn't even use the phone like a normal human being. I hated being me. Trying again, I redialed the number. "Hello?" His voice was booming and more than just a little scary. "H-h-h-h"

"Who is this?" he demanded. Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes and let Schubert's Opus 90 Number 3 fill my head for just a moment before I opened my mouth to speak. "Ch-chief Swan? Th-th-this is E-E-Edw-w-ward C-C-Cullen." I hated my own name coming from my mouth. "C-c-c-c-can I t-t-talk t-t-to B-B-B-B" I choked on her name. "You want to talk to Bella?" "Y-y-yes, sir." "Hold on." There was a rustling sound and I heard footsteps and then a few knocks. I could hear Bella's father saying something about sleeping all day and then nothing for nearly a minute. "Mmmm?" "B-B-Bella?" There was a deep intake of air on the other side. "Edward?" Her voice was rough and slightly scratchy. "'Sup?" "I-I-I j-just w-w-wanted to make sure y-y-you w-were okay." A breathy chuckle answered me. "Of course I'm okay. I told you I would be." There wasn't much more for me to say. Perhaps if I had courage I'd ask her to do something with me today. If I was really forward, I would ask her to run her hands through my hair again. And if I could speak like a normal person, I would say anything just to keep her on the line. But since I wasn't courageous, or forward, or normal, I settled for, "O-o-okay. Sssssee y-you t-t-tomorrow." I hung up without waiting for her to say goodbye. I was just as awkward on the phone as I was in person and she shouldn't have to be subjected to that. The rest of my day was spent listening to music and thinking of her. ...

Chapter 15: Hi Good B POV I opened the door to put the phone back after Edward hung up and found Charlie standing right outside the door. "What?" My voice was rough and raw even to my own ears. It had been cold and damp in the woods, and after tripping all day yesterday out there, I'd probably come down with a cold. That, or I'd been yelling and screaming the whole day, but I had no recollection of that. "Your boyfriend has a pretty awful case of stuttering."

I sighed and pushed the phone out in his direction. "Way to state the obvious, Charlie." Shaking my head, I shivered just slightly as his hand brushed mine as he took the phone. "And he's not my boyfriend." "You've been here a few weeks now and you haven't had one phone call and then all of the sudden, out of the blue, this delinquent of yours calls. The same delinquent you went to Olympia with, mind you, and you're going to tell me he's not your boyfriend?" "Whatever, Charlie." I moved to close the door in his face, but then opened it again. "He's my lab partner in Biology, okay? He's the one your esteemed doctors Hale and Cullen paired me with for therapy, got it?" "So he's not your boyfriend?" I just stared at him for a moment, giving him my best 'duh' look. "Yep, you can keep your shotgun on its rack for a little while longer." "It's okay if you do have a boyfriend though, Bella." He looked flustered and he shifted uncomfortably. "I mean it's okay if you have friends." "Whatever," I said again, not wanting a conversation with my normally laconic father. "Do you?" he asked quickly. "Do I what?" "Have friends, Bella." I rolled my eyes. "I mean, you don't bring anyone over and you never talk about" "We," I said, pointing to him and then back to myself, "don't talk, Charlie. It's not our thing. And it doesn't matter if I have friends. I don't need friends and if I had any you'd just call them delinquents." "Bella, you know I don't" I cut him off, already tired of his voice. He had about as much right to know shit about me as Dr. Bitch did. "I'm going back to bed." I stepped backwards and pushed the door closed, making sure to barricade it once more. I couldn't really get back to sleep. I kept thinking about Edward. I'd been trying to call him Bronze Cullen again in my head, but to no avail. I had been doing just fine ignoring him and more importantly my growing feelings for him until the end of group therapy on Friday. I'd made him work for it that time, not just going up to his room or engaging him first. And he did it. With just a light nod of his head towards the stairs, he had managed to make me come undone. And then he played guitar for me and it was exactly what I thought it would be. Perfect. I'd never been one to go all mushy over musicians or, hell, anyone for that matter, but when he played guitar for me, looking all nervous and shy, I melted. I, Bella fucking Swan, melted like ten year old girl at a Jonas Brothers concert. It wasdisgusting. And embarrassing. And fucking wrong. And if that hadn't been bad enough, he asked me if we were friends. And what was I supposed to say to that. 'No, we're not friends because I'd like to see your naughty bits and suck you off?' But the worst part of it all was that I didn't just want to fuck him. I wanted to hold his hand and shit. I wanted to

touch his face just to feel it on my finger tips. I was so fucking stupid with this boy. So when he asked me if we were friends, of course I said yes. Edward walked around every day with this look upon his face like he'd just had to put his puppy to sleep or someone had just insulted his dead grandmother. And for whatever reason, I didn't want to be the cause of that look. I wanted him to be happy, to smile. I felt so stupid. I couldn't believe that I was having urges to hold someone's hand. It wasn't right. It wasn't natural. I hated all that. Monday came ridiculously fast and I did my best to muddle through. I smiled at Edward in the hall and tried to keep my thoughts platonic. When that didn't work, I tried just thinking him as a purely sexual being, but that seemed off. Why couldn't I just see him as just another high school boy? Why the fuck did I have these impulses to be sweet and romantic with him? It was wrong, so fucking wrong. Despite the conflict within me, I promised myself that I would talk to him more than last week. He seemed to want that. Hell, maybe he needed that. Thankfully I wouldn't have to worry about talking to him until Biology. At lunch, I met Jacob in the woods as usual. He was sitting on our fallen tree, puffing on a blunt. I was surprised. It was the first blunt I'd seen him use. "What's up with that?" I asked as I sat down next to him. "No papers?" Jacob shrugged. "Someone owed me. Paid me with this." He took a hit and I laughed when his face twisted up. "Shut up," he said, his voice strained as he held the hit in. I took it from his outstretched hand. I hadn't hit a blunt in a long-ass time. They were usually party favors and not for everyday smokes. "How was your weekend?" "Fucked." "Why?" Jacob shook his head. "Fuckin' Billy." I passed the blunt back to him. "What happened?" "Fuckin' got tanked fishing with your dad Saturday and carried it through to Sunday." I hadn't known that Charlie had been drinking, but as I was out of it myself, it was no wonder. "Didn't you say he drinks a lot?" "Yeah, but" When he trailed off, I looked up at him. Jake looked sad. "But what?" He let out a harsh breath of air, his eyes just fixed on the glowing end of the blunt. "Nothing." I sighed. Was I supposed to pry? Could I just let it go without being a shitty person? Was I Jacob's friend? And if I was, wasn't it my duty to pull all the shit that was bothering him out? Before I could

even think about answering my own questions, he continued. "Sometimes he drinks too much, like even more than too much." "Doesn't he just pass out?" I wanted to tell Jake to hurry up and take a hit so that I could take another one too, but I thought it'd be rude. Shaking his head, he finally pulled another drag off the cigar and passed it to me. "No. He passes out normally, but when he drinks like thathe gets mean." I nearly choked on my hit. Why the hell was Jacob confiding in me? What? Did I have the words "trusted confidant" tattooed across my forehead? Did I radiate friendship? "Mean? What do you mean, like, he hits you?" He rolled his eyes. "Right, Bella, my father lifts himself out of his wheelchair and hits me. I'm about twice his size." "Well don't get fucking snarky, fuckstick, I just asked." "No, he gets mean, like, nasty mean. He starts calling my mom a whore and" "Your mom's dead." "No shit, Captain Obvious." "Again with the fucking snark." When his head hung down low, I mumbled, "Aw, shit, Jake." I nudged him with my shoulder. "Fuck him, Jake." He looked up, this time with a small smile. "Can I fuck you instead?" I beamed at him, happy that his mood had turned around. "Hell yeah, but you'll have to be quick. I have Biology." Jacob made no move to make with the sexing, so I took another hit. "Bella?" "Hmm?" "Do you want to go to Homecoming with me?" I couldn't help but laugh, coughing on the smoke as it released from my lungs. "Hell, no I won't go to the dance with you." His face fell and it was then that I realized he hadn't been joking. "Seriously? You're asking me to that lame-ass dance? Why?" He shrugged. "I'm a guy. You're a girl. Guys and girls go to dances." I felt my brow crease. "I don't." "Are you going with Cullen?" Holy Shit. Newton thought I was going with Jake and Jake thought I was going with Edward. Could it be any more like a romantic teen comedy? "Jesus, you don't fucking listen, do you? I just said that I don't go to dances, alright?" "Fine." He sulked.

"What's your deal?" Jacob shook his head. "Never mind. It was fucking stupid. Forget" He paused. "You gonna pass that blunt or what?" ... I made sure to smile at Edward when I saw him at our lab table. I didn't want him to think that we weren't friends. It wasn't his fault that my whole operating belief was being challenged. Again, I did my best to think of him as a purely platonic friend, but I'd never had many of those, so it was easier for me to imagine myself slowly working him over. His hair practically screamed sex-freak anyway. But by the end of the hour, I still was left just wanting to hold his hand. I wanted to run my hand through his hair again. I'd done it twice now and both times it seemed to calm him down or give him some kind of comfort or something. I wanted to see him smile. Rolling my eyes at my thoughts as the bell rang, I stood up and gathered my books. I remembered that friends usually parted ways with some form of verbal goodbye, so I turned back to him and found that he had stood too. Fuck, he looked nervous again. The dude clearly needed to relax. It was no wonder he had attacks. His eyes were fixed on Prick Newton's retreating form, but when he finally retrained them on me, he flashed me that sexy little crooked smile. I had to stop myself from keeling over. He had a tiny little scar above his top lip and I wanted to know how it felt under the pad of my index finger. Wait, did friends trace each other's scars? Before I could drool or attack him again, I smiled and quickly said, "See you." "Be-Be-Bella?" he called before I could do more than turn around. I faced him again. "Yeah?" "D-d-do you w-w-waaaant t-to d-do sssssomething th-this w-w-w-w-w, on Saturday?" I realized that I'd never given him the chance last Friday to ask me to hang out another day. We'd gotten too deep into a conversation about drugs. "Um, yeah, sure." Relief seemed to flood his features and the rise and fall of his chest slowed to a normal pace. "What do you want to do?" Again, his lopsided smile appeared. "I-I w-w-want to-to take you sssssomewhere." I looked around as the classroom started to fill up with kids from Mr. Banner's next class. "Where?" He was noticing the arrival of the other kids as well. "I-it's a p-place I-I-I f-f-found." "Hi, Bella!" I turned around and found myself face to face with Jessica. I nodded in greeting and watched as her eyes slid over to take Edward in. My eyes found him too and I watched as his eyes moved to look at his shoes. At some point, I was going to ask him about the great Stanley/Bronze Cullen Fuck, but this was not the time.

"I have to go. I need to be physically educated." I wondered if Edward needed in physical education and if he'd let me play teacher. I sighed softly and rolled my eyes at myself. I needed to get over this shit with Edward quick. "Later." I tried to move away, but Jessica grabbed my arm. "Angela, Lauren, and I are going to Port Angeles tomorrow to shop for dresses. You want to come?" I really, really didn't. But when Angela asked me on Tuesday to go with her, I couldn't say no. I was going soft. She begged and pleaded with me to go with her. She said that if she had to be in a car alone with Jessica and Lauren for an hour each way, her brain would melt. I joked and told her that it would at least make her a few pounds lighter. She rolled her eyes and then begged again. And that was how I found myself in the back of Jessica's crappy car, listening to how Lauren gave Thomas Wozniak a fucking rim job at some party last weekend. I mean, really, was that really necessary to share? We weren't even friends. I didn't know Thomas Wozniak, but if I ever met him, I swore I would ask him how he managed to get a stuck up bitch like Lauren to literally lick his ass. "I now have a new mental picture to use when I want to make myself throw up," Angela whispered to me as we walked behind Jessica and Lauren into the dress shop. I smiled. Angela was kind of awesome. "Um, why aren't you going to the dance again, Bella?" Jessica asked as she pushed up the strap for the third time. The blue dress she was in currently was for a much bustier girl, but Jessica seemed to think that a simple padded bra would fix it. "Because it sounds fucking stupid." "Aw," Lauren said as she turned away from the mirror for the first time in ten minutes. "Did no one ask you?" Rolling my eyes, I gave her a smirk. "Dances just aren't my thing." She frowned, her eyes narrowed. "Exactly what is your thing, Isabella?" I shook my head. "You couldn't handle it if I told you." Before Lauren could say anything else, Jessica turned to Angela. "That dress is so cute." Angela looked at herself in the mirror. She had been avoiding it since putting on the tight black garment. Turning to the side, she sighed. Angela turned towards me, but kept looking at the mirror. "Bella?" "It's nice, Ang." I could tell by her face that she wasn't happy with her body. I watched as her thin fingers picked at the fabric covering her abdomen. "I think you should get it." She finally looked at me, her eyes silently pleaded for something. "But" I shook my head. "You look really good in it." I stood up quickly, somewhat annoyed at myself for even caring about Angela and her stupid body image. "I'm going to the bookstore I saw up the road. I'll meet you guys in an hour."

Not waiting for their response, I left the boutique and wandered the streets of Port Angeles. I could have gone to the bookstore, but once the cool fresh air hit my face, I changed my mind and decided to take advantage of the opportunity to be alone. There was a park nearby, overlooking the water, so I found a nice secluded wooded area and packed up my one-hitter. I wouldn't have lasted another second with Jessica or Lauren unless I got my buzz on. They talked constantly and the topics of conversation were less than appealing. I was all about getting your sexual freak on or whatever, but I surely didn't need to hear about Lauren and Thomas and I would've died a moderately happy woman if I hadn't gotten the scoop about Mike Newton's curved cock and his nipple rot. But I was happy not to be stuck at home. My new fascination with Edward had taken over most of my moments of mental freedom. Sitting at home thinking about the line of Edward Cullen's lips would certainly not help me with anything. I was nice and high by the time I slipped the dugout back into my pocket and went walking on the boardwalk. I probably could have stopped with just two small hits, but I'd done six or so, which left me more than just slightly buzzed. My eyes were having trouble focusing I stumbled along. Usually pot didn't fuck me up this badly, but the boards on the ground were uneven and for being a cold evening, there were a surprising amount of people I had to dodge. "You okay there?" I looked up to find blue eyes staring directly into mine. I stumbled back slightly and took in the man before me and his hand shot out to steady me. He was clearly older, but not too old, with long blond hair. He was untraditional in his good looks. Both ears were pierced with hoops running through them and he had his labret pierced too. His arms looked strong and were covered in full sleeve tattoos. "I'm good," I finally said, my voice much softer than normal. "Hi Good, I'm James." ...

Chapter 16: Brown and Gray B POV It was getting late and I knew that I had to meet the girls soon, but I was enjoying the time I was getting to spend with this new friend. James and I had found a bench to sit down on and fell into easy conversation. His hands were clean but the fingernails were black underneath. When I asked about them, he confirmed my suspicion. He was an auto mechanic. Looking at his hands gave me another insight to who this man was: James wore a gold band on his left hand. There was no mistaking that he was married. It figures. As much as it should have, the fact that this man was married didn't deter me in the slightest from making subtle sexual innuendos. And it sure as hell didn't stop him from returning them, or from putting his hand on my leg.

When he asked, I said that I was from Sequim and that I was nineteen. He didn't ask much else and it wasn't difficult for me to recognize that he wasn't exactly interested in discerning the truth. Nor was he interested in anything much beyond what most men were interested in. But in all honesty, I didn't mind. It wasn't long before I was pressed up against the side of a building with his hands moving all over my body. I was still clothed and there was no flesh on flesh action except for the way his mouth attacked my neck. We were like that for a good long while until his cell phone rang. He muttered, "Fuck," before easing me down so that I could stand. While he lied to his wife on the phone, I straightened out my clothing and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. "What time is it?" I asked when he hung up. "A quarter to eight." "Fuck. I have to go." He pressed me up against the wall again and whispered against my neck, "Me too." His hands moved to my tits as he ground his semi-hard cock into my stomach. "Give me your phone number." I shook my head. "Give me yours." He made a noise that sounded like a growl before nibbling on my earlobe. "I'll call you. I promise, but I have to go." It was only after another couple of minutes of dry humping that he finally let me go, writing his number down on an old receipt. After saying goodbye to the guy I'd just met, I moved quickly back to the dress boutique. Jessica and Lauren looked annoyed to see me, while Angela seemed genuinely relieved. "What the hell, Bella?" Lauren snapped. "Sorry." I shrugged at Lauren. "I lost track of time." "We were worried," Jessica added. "I mean, it's a safe town and all, but when we couldn't find you at the bookstore and" "Sorry," I said again, making sure they knew I was annoyed right back at them. "Whatever," Lauren sighed. "Let's just go." ... The rest of my week quickly fell into the same vicious cycle as always. School, home, sleep. At school, I got high, smiled at Edward, trying to talk to him as casually as possible, and only paid enough attention in class to not fail. Once I got home, it was all cleaning and cooking to stave off boredom and talking to Charlie only enough to keep him moderately satisfied and off my back. And sleep consisted of me barricading my bedroom door and letting myself get so exhausted that I finally couldn't keep myself from slipping into unconsciousness. Friday, the only exception was that before I could go home, I had to do the Fuck Up Club thing again. I couldn't wait until I didn't have to sit down with Dr. Bitch every week, but just like last week, I found myself facing her again.

After having asked again about school, she asked, "Did you have fun in Port Angeles?" I sighed. "Why do you have to keep talking to Charlie? Isn't that, like, against the rules?" She smiled and I cringed at it. "It's against the rules for me to tell him what you say, but he's free to tell me anything that is troubling him. He's concerned that you don't have friends, but he was happy when you went out with those girls on Tuesday." "They're not really friends. I just went for something to do." I didn't want to have another conversation with anyone about friends, so I tried to change the subject. "I'm concerned that Charlie doesn't have a girlfriend. Why don't you talk to him about that?" "What concerns you about it?" I rolled my eyes and tried to come up with something. "Don't you think it's strange for a man to live his life without, you know, a woman or women around?" "How do you know that he doesn't have a girlfriend?" I shrugged. "He hasn't introduced me to anyone and there's no evidence in his house of having someone like that. I mean, tube socks on the living room floor doesn't impress the ladies, so clearly he has no" "Did your mother have boyfriends?" Instantly, I felt tense and angry. "I don't want to talk about my mother or her boyfriends." "Why? You seemed okay to talk about your father and his lack of girlfriends. What's the difference?" "The difference is, I don't want to talk about my mother and her boyfriends," I repeated, this time louder. "I heard you." Dr. Bitch took in a deep breath. "I just didn't know if there was some reason why you didn't want to." I looked down and lied. "No." "Have you spoken to your mother since you've been here?" "No." "How does that make you feel?" I sighed, hating these questions and the fact that I felt like I had to answer them. "I'm happy not to talk to her. I have nothing to say and I don't think she'd have much to say either. I'm sure her life is a whole lot better now that I'm not there." "What makes you say that?" "Because she doesn't like me," I answered quickly. "Can we talk about something else, please?" Stupid fucking bitch. Why couldn't she understand that I had no interest in talking about my mother? Dr. Bitch paused for a moment and then asked, "There's a dance at school coming up, are you planning on going?"

For fuck's sake these Forks people were all about some stupid dance, weren't they? "No." "Don't like to dance?" I gave her a tight lipped smile. "Don't like stupid shit." She just looked at me for a moment, a gentle smile resting on her lips. This time it almost seemed genuine. "What's your earliest memory, Bella?" "What?" "The first thing you can remember." "Why?" "I find them interesting," she answered. Sitting back, she folded her hands over the notebook that sat in her lap. "My first memory is of my father opening the front door. I couldn't have been very old because I remember how big he was, silhouetted against the setting sun. I remember moving to him and hugging his leg." I let myself relax just a little, resting back against the over-stuffed chair. "I don't remember anything like that." Again, she smiled at me. "But you do have a memory of something. What is it?" Tilting my head to one side and then the other, I cracked my neck before dragging a hand down my face. "If I tell you, will you not call on me during Group?" "It's a deal." "I don't know how old I was, but I can remember a very long car ride. I remember crying and I remember my mother in the front seat." "Was it day or night?" I shrugged. "I don't know. It was dark inside the car but lighter outside." "Do you remember anything else?" I thought, letting the memory play in my head again. It was hazy and warped as I watched my mother's hair billow in the wind. "Renee's hair was long." Taking a deep breath, I shook my head. "Why's this important? Why do you give a shit about some fucking car ride?" "I don't know if I give a shit about it, Bella." My eyes widened at her use of the word shit. "I just wanted to hear about it." She leaned forward. "What's your best memory?" I swallowed. Even if I didn't want to comply, my mind was already scanning the past. There were very few good memories and of those it was difficult to discern the best. "I don't have one." "Do you have a worst memory?" "There're too many to choose from." ...

Letting my index finger run along the ridge of the now worn spine, I smiled at Edward's copy of Of Human Bondage. He had read it. "Did you like it?" I asked, turning to him. His eyes found the book and he gave me his quiet smile. "Y-y-yes." "I thought you would." I turned and then flopped down onto Edward's couch, staring up at his ceiling. "I like your room." I had told him once before, but it was worth repeating. His room was calm and peaceful. There was nothing soothing in Charlie's whole house, much less my room. I glanced up at Edward. Like most Friday nights, he sat on the edge of his bed, looking incredibly uncomfortable. I didn't quite understand why he didn't just sit on his bed like he owned it. I wanted to push him back, not so that I could straddle him and run my hands over his chest (although that was a tempting thought), but so that he could at least look like a normal guy hanging out in his room. Everything about his posture screamed that Edward was anything but relaxed. I wondered if it was me that made him like that. Perhaps he typically sat on that bed cross-legged and looked all kinds of comfy. I wouldn't know and had no way of ever finding out. I couldn't just ask him if I made him uneasy. Turning my eyes back up towards the ceiling, I figured I might as well talk about something. "Dr. Hale asked me about my earliest memory. Does she ask you about your memories too?" "Y-y-yes." "Do you tell her about them?" I turned again to look at him. He shook his head. "She wanted to know my best memory and my worst memory. Why would she want to know that shit?" Edward shrugged. "Sh-she p-p-p-probably w-w-wants to get to kn-know y-you." "Maybe she should start just by asking what my favorite color is." "B-b-brown." His brow creased as he looked at me. "Y-y-you w-w-wear b-brown a lot." What the hell? I sat up and looked at him closer. He wasn't looking at me anymore; he was busy looking at his fingers which were fiddling with the hem of his shirt. My stomach fluttered as I realized that he'd been paying attention to what I wore everyday. It worried me that I was so excited about that fact, but I pushed the worry back and smiled at him. Edward had figured out my favorite color by simple observation. "You wear gray a lot." Nearly everyday. It probably helped him to blend in, to not be noticed as much. Maybe that was why I liked brown so much. Brown and gray tended to blend in easily. Looking at me again, Edward nodded slightly, his lopsided smile returning. "I l-liiiiiike g-gray." "But it's not your favorite." I looked around his room again and it confirmed my suspicions. "Your favorite color is blue." He had a blue book bag, a blue iPod, a blue computer, a blue bedspread. He nodded. "I-It's sssssoothing." ...

Edward picked me up on Saturday at nine in the morning. Charlie had already left for his day of drinking and fishing with Billy Black, so thankfully, Edward and I didn't have to put up with Charlie's fatherly antics. We hadn't spoken much. We'd both said good morning and Edward told me that I should wear boots. He brought me coffee again. He drove me a half an hour north on the 101 and then we got out and started walking through the woods. I hadn't figured on going hiking, but at least I had my boots. It wasn't raining for once, although it was still fairly cold out. We had been hiking for at least fifteen minutes before I finally asked. "So, we're hiking?" It was stupid. Obviously we were hiking. Duh. Edward turned his head and looked at me. I could tell he could have gone faster, but he was intentionally staying right by my side. "J-j-just for a l-l-little b-bit." "I didn't take you for a nature kind of a guy." "C-C-Carlisle and Em-Emmett l-like c-camping." While that was interesting, I hadn't asked about Dr. Sexy or Big Cullen. "Do you?" He shrugged. "But you go anyway?" Nodding, Edward stepped over a fallen branch and then looked back to watch me do the same. "W-we all g-go. Aliiiiice, Jasper, and R-Rosalie t-too." "Soundscrowded. Does their mom go too?" I could have called her Dr. Hale or Esme, but I really wanted to call her Dr. Bitch, so I left it at 'their mom' in case Edward had some kind of fuzzy feelings for her. "Y-y-yes." "Do you all sing Kumbaya, eat s'mores and do a little group therapy session?" He smiled at me and I swear my heart stopped beating for just a moment. "S-s-sometimes, ex-except n-no ssssinging. R-R-Rosalie h-has a terrible v-voice." I smiled back at him, thankful that he wasn't offended by me making fun of his family and friends. "So are they cool?" Edward quirked an eyebrow at me and I answered his silent question. "Rosalie and Jasper." "Th-they're o-okay." I rolled my eyes and kicked some damp leaves out of my way. "She's a cheerleader." "Y-yes." "Does she act like one?" Again he shrugged. "Sh-she's o-okay."

"Stop thrilling me with your use of adjectives to describe the Hales. You make me want to run out and befriend them. What with them being so 'okay' and all." "S-s-sorry." "It was a joke, Edward." "I-I know." I looked up at him and saw that his lips were upturned. "So give me something else. They both can't just be 'okay.' You have to know more about them and have an opinion." "R-Rose p-p-pretty much h-has one e-e-emotion th-that she l-lets an-anyone sssssee." I smiled. "Does that correlate with the stink face she's always wearing?" "Sh-she's nnnot l-like that w-w-w-with p-p-people she t-trusts." "And tall Blondie Boy Hale?" He shook his head. "I-I-I l-lllllike J-Jasper. H-he's g-good with Aliiiice. H-he c-can b-br-bring her b-back w-when she g-goes sssssomewhere else." Okay, that made no sense. "What? Where does she go?" Edward sighed. His shoulders seemed to slump forward. "A-Aliiiice d-doesn't remember an-anything b-before sh-she w-was t-ten. A-and s-sometimes s-she zones out." I remembered him telling me that her mind worked different but what the hell is this going somewhere shit and zoning out? "What? She's like not there or something?" He nodded, but he was facing forward, his eyes fixed ahead of him. Turning to look where I was going, I saw a clearing up ahead and figured that was our destination. "Did you find this place on a camping trip?" Edward smiled at me as I nodded on ahead of us. "Y-yes. N-no one else sssssaw it. Sssso it's j-just m-mine." And it would be mine too. There was something exciting about going to someplace with Edward that no one else knew about. There was something absolutely mind blowing that he would share something like this with me. As we stepped out from the trees and I caught sight of the little meadow, the feeling of wonder increased. It was a rare sunny day today and the bright beams of light seemed to illuminate every small feature of the field. "I can't believe there are still flowers blooming!" I couldn't stop my feet as they moved me quickly into the sunlight and towards the purple and white flowers. Sitting down, I touched the delicate petals of one flower, careful not to pull or press too hard. "Y-you like f-fl-flowers?" Looking up at Edward, I shrugged. "Apparently." In truth, I'd never cared much for flowers. Sure, they were pretty to look at but all the ones my mother ever planted withered and died.

"I think I'm just amazed that they're still blooming." I tilted my head up towards the sky, letting my eyes slip closed. "And I love the sun." ...

Chapter 17: Faramir's Wildflower E POV I knew that I wanted to bring Bella to this little meadow. I had thought that she would like it, but I had never dreamed that she would like it this much. Her eyes lit up and her face brightened, not from the sun but from excitement over something so small as a little purple wildflower. I was suddenly struck with the urge to sing Tom Petty. It was amazing how well Wildflowers fit in this moment. I hadn't known her for long at all but already I wanted nothing but good things for her. She deserved good things. You belong among the wildflowers You belong in a boat out at sea Sail away, kill off the hours You belong somewhere you feel free Run away, find you a lover Go away somewhere all bright and new I have seen no other Who compares with you Despite her drug use, despite her seemingly careless behavior, Bella seemed like a good person. Other than a few people who had to be nice to me, she was the only person at school who didn't look at me like a complete waste of space. As much as I hadn't wanted her to, she had defended me several times and I couldn't fault her for some of her less attractive qualities. She was no more in control of her drug use than my mother was and she held no more peace about whatever past haunted her than I did. I had heard about her and Tyler. No one told me directly, but I'd have to be deaf not to hear the guys in class. I hadn't wanted to believe it and I still didn't want to. I didn't want her to be like that. I didn't want her to be with Jacob or Tyler or anyone else for that matter. But she wasn't mine. And I couldn't tell her what to do or who to be. Or who to be with. But even though the gossip at school was that she was loose with her affections, I couldn't help but think that she wasn't really like that. People at school exaggerated and lied all the time. I had no proof or evidence that she was anything but who she was when she was with me. And what she was with me was a nice person who treated me as if I were normal. I looked down at her. Bella's face was still tilted up and then sunlight made it seem like her skin sparkled. Her eyes were still closed and I could only imagine what she was thinking of in that moment. I wished it was summertime, so that she didn't have to wear her coat. I wondered if the rest of her skin would sparkle in the sun too. But I had to stop myself from thinking about the rest of her skin because that led my mind to thoughts it didn't need to have. It was well documented that I had very little control over my body and I didn't think I could even go on breathing if I embarrassed myself in front of Bella like that. Sitting down, I continued to watch her until her eyes opened and she looked back at me. I lowered my

eyes to the flower, her fingers still delicately touching it. "This is nice," she said, her voice nearly too soft for me to hear. "I should've brought my camera. We're supposed to be taking pictures of nature for class." "Ssssorry. I-I-I sh-should have t-t-told you" Bella cut me off, her eyes narrowed as she waved a dismissive hand at me. "Cut it out, Edward. It would have ruined the surprise and besides, we can always come back another time for pictures." A smile spread on my face as I realized that she had just said she'd willingly come back here with me. Her fingers moved away from the flower and I watched them as she moved to brush a stray lock of hair off of her forehead. Bella lay back, pillowing her head on her folded arms. "When you were little, did you ever look up at the clouds and make pictures out of them?" Looking up, I saw large puffy clouds and wondered how long it would be until one of them opened up on us, pelting us with large drops of rain. I thought back to when I had first met Alice. She had always made a game out of everything. I could remember lying on our backs, looking up at the sky at our foster parents' house. The grass had tickled my ears and for whatever reason, I had busied my hands by pulling up clumps of it. "I-I-I never sssssee an-anything other than c-c-clouds." Bella shifted, her head turning towards me. "That's bullshit." Her fingers wrapped around my wrist and she started tugging me down towards her. There wasn't much I could do besides lay down next to her. Her fingers let go and I watched as she pointed up. "See that one? Tell me what it looks like." "A c-c-cloud." Bella rolled onto her side to face me, propping her head up with her hand. "You're a musician, Edward. Music is creative, which means you have a creative mind. How can you like art if you don't let your mind make something out of nothing?" She lay back down again and pointed. " That is abstract art. So what do you see?" I sighed. "I-I-I don't kn-know." But that was a lie. I could see pictures in the clouds but I had learned while playing the game with Alice that I didn't see what everyone else saw. Alice had seen bunnies and dragons, boats and trees. I hadn't seen any of those things. Every cloud looked like something I didn't want to see. Every cloud was interpreted in my mind as something painful. I felt inadequate, but that was normal. I would have given anything to be able to tell Bella that I saw a horse or cat, but I couldn't. I heard her take in a deep breath and I hoped it wasn't in preparation of telling me how truly defunct I was. I already knew. "See that cloud?" She pointed again. "That's a guitar. And that one? That's Mike Newton getting smacked in the head by a volleyball." I squinted. "I don't see either of those." Bella chuckled and I looked over at her. "That's because I'm fucking with you." She paused. "They're just clouds." I shook my head. I didn't want her to not see pictures in the clouds. I wanted her to see horses and bunnies and guitars. We were silent after that for a while and although I wanted to keep looking at her, I forced myself to stare up at the sky. "So," she started, drawing out the word. "We established yesterday that you like gray but your favorite color is blue and that mine is brown." The grass rustled next to my ear. I looked and she was on her side now, looking at me. "So what's your favorite fruit?" I couldn't help but smile. "A-apple. Y-yours?"

"Red grapes. Favorite beverage?" "I-I lllike c-coffee, b-but C-C-Carlisle w-won't let me drink it a-all d-day." "I like Pom Juice, but it's expensive." Her finger touched a purple flower again. "Favorite Lord of the Rings character." "Th-that's e-easy. B-Boromir." Bella's smile widened and she was all sparkly skin and twinkling eyes. "Why Boromir?" "B-b-because h-he w-was the only one of the f-f-fellowship th-that d-didn't b-believe in th-the q-q-qu-qu, mission." God, how I hated how I spoke! "B-but he w-w-went anyway. And I-I-I lllliiiike th-the image of h-him on th-the mountain." "Carrying two hobbits while making a path though the snow with his sword?" I nodded at her, smiling at the fact that she knew exactly what image I meant. "Yeah, that's pretty bad-ass." "Y-y-yours?" Bella looked up at the sky for a moment, like she was thinking, before answering. "I like Faramir, and I like Gollum." I narrowed my eyes at her a little. I would have thought Bella would have chosen someone like Aragorn, who was incredibly strong and confident, over someone like Faramir, who was insecure. And how could Gollum be anyone's favorite character? "Th-that's llliiiike good and e-evil, B-B-Bella. H-h-how c-can you lllliiiike b-both?" She laughed and I was taken in by the sound. "Faramir, in the books, was the only one in to never be swayed by the nearness of the ring. He never wanted it. He never once has a random thought about how the ring should be his. And Gollum was completely taken with the ring. It had corrupted him so completely that he was unrecognizable from the man he had been before." Bella sighed and turned her face back up to the sky. "That wasn't his fault. He didn't ask for the ring." I wanted to ask her more, to question her in order to figure her out. While I was nothing like Boromir, I wanted to be. Was it Faramir or it Gollum she wished to be? But before I could ask another thing, she continued with her explanation, her face serious. "Most people are both Faramir and Gollum. Both reside within them. Some people never let Gollum out and some people are totally unaware that there's a Faramir in there. And then they're people who are a mix of both at any given moment. Should we call them Faralum or Gollamir?" "G-G-Gollamir, definitely. So, wh-who are you?" I asked quickly. With a small smile, she answered, "I don't know, but you're Faramir." I couldn't help but just look at her for a moment. I was Faramir? I was not nearly as good as Faramir. No, I was Boromir, even if I couldn't lift two hobbits and save Merry and Pippin. Boromir was flawed. He did covet the ring, but all his life he tried to make himself what he thought he should be, for his father, for his brother, for his country. But if she thought I was Faramir, I wouldn't argue. Faramir was honorable and kind. She shivered, so I asked, "A-a-are you c-cold? W-w-we c-can ggggo, if you w-want." Bella's eyes narrowed, as if she were studying me like Carlisle liked to do, and she shook her head. "I'm good. What's your middle name?" For a moment, I wondered why she would want to know my middle name or anything that I liked, but I supposed that friends knew things about each other. Perhaps she was just being nice and asking so that I felt like we truly were friends. Or maybe, she was my friend and really did want to know. "A-An-Anthony." "Are you named after somebody?" When I shrugged my answer, she offered, "My middle name is

Marie, after my grandmother." She was silent and then I realized that it was my turn to ask a question. There was so much that I wanted to know about her, but I didn't think it was appropriate to ask everything I wanted to know. I could ask her about Phoenix, but we'd talked about it before. She missed the pot. We'd had a conversation about diabetes. I wanted to ask something deep and meaningful but I settled on, "W-w-what's y-your ffffavorite class?" "Photography," she answered immediately. "You?" "B-Biology." Bella's face screwed up into a grimace. "Yuck. Why?" "I-it's in-interesting and I d-don't hhhhave t-to t-talk." And now I sat next to her and it was rapidly becoming the best part of my day. But I couldn't say that to her. "What do you want to do after high school?" "C-college." "And after that?" "I w-w-wanted t-to be a doctor, lllliiiiike C-Carlisle, b-but I c-c-c-can't t-talk r-right, ssssso that w-wouldn't in-inspire much c-c-c-confidence from the p-p-p-p" I had to close my eyes to block out Bella's face as she waited for me to spit out such a simple word like 'patients.' It wouldn't come. My hands curled into fists and pressed against my body as they normally did when I tried to force out a word. I probably looked so stupid and I hated myself even more than normal. Our conversation had been going so well. Something warm and small slipped over my hands. My eyes popped open as my face relaxed. I looked down at my hands, which were now covered by Bella's. and then back up at her. "Just relax, Edward." She smiled at me. It was like a sedative to my body. All the tension I had felt melted away at the sound of my name dripped from her lips. "Patients." Her eyes were drilling into mine and although it felt like I should've been nervous, I wasn't. "Sssso I'll p-probably j-just be ssomeone who w-works in a l-lab." Bella sighed but her smile stayed. "You should be a doctor. I'm sure not every doctor has to talk all that much, right? Oh! You could be like Dr. Hale and listen to people all day long and say nothing but 'Hmmmm,' and 'I see.'" I returned her smile, but knew that I could never be a psychiatrist. Her thumbs were still rubbing gentle circles over my knuckles, drawing my eyes back down to my hands. When I returned my eyes to Bella's face, she was no longer looking at me and she was nibbling on her lower lip. It was just a fraction of a second later that she quickly removed her hands from mine. She was on her feet before I could even register the sadness I felt at the loss of her electric touch. I watched as she did a cartwheel and then back flip. Bella baffled me. When she was finished, she sat down again, but much farther away from me than before. "Pretty good, huh?" Sitting up, I nodded to her. "Renee put me in gymnastics when I was little." Her voice was sad and her eyes seemed distant and dark. "She told everyone that I was clumsy, but I was really good." She paused. "She took me out of the class when it was becoming apparent that she was lying." "W-w-why would she l-lie about y-y-you being c-c-clumsy?" Bella didn't answer; she just fiddled with something inside of her coat pocket. I thought about what

she had just told me and married it with what Esme and Carlisle had alluded to. If a parent was mean to their child and left bruises and broken bones, it would make sense to stick the kid in a physical activity and blame all the marks on that. And in that instant, I went from not having any feelings at all about her mother to hating the woman I didn't even know. "I'm going to smoke." She held up a little box. "Sure you don't want to get high, Edward?" Before I could answer, she shook her head and looked away, mumbling, "No, of course you don't." ... We had sat in the field for as long as the weather had let us. She was high, her eyes bloodshot and glassy, but she was no less of a good companion. And when the sky finally did open up and drop rain upon us, she didn't get mad, like Rosalie would have, and she didn't dance around in it like Alice, she simply looked upwards and shrugged. We were incredibly muddy by the time we got back to the car, but I had towels in the trunk, so very little of it got on the upholstery or carpet. Bella hadn't wanted to go home yet, so we drove around in the rain listening to music. We didn't really talk much beyond my telling her what the song was and her telling me if she liked it or not. When I finally did drop her off back home, she asked for my e-mail address and if I had an instant messaging account. I gave her my e-mail and told her that I could get an account easily. When I had asked why she wanted my e-mail, she laughed and rolled her eyes, responding, "So I can e-mail you, Edward." And now at home, I realized how brilliant Bella was. We could 'talk' without having to stutter. Sitting in front of my computer, I smiled with excitement as I had an e-mail waiting for me in my inbox that wasn't from a Nigerian Prince or some on-line college. I opened the email from Iamabell. So thanks for the day. I liked the meadow. I have questions for you. Send them back and then I'll send you my answers. And don't forget that Banner wants our topic for our project on Monday. I vote for Mendelian Genetics as it's got to be one of the easier things to do. 1. Favorite food 2. Favorite cartoon 3. Favorite article of clothing 4. What 4 things can you not live without? 5. Absolute all time favorite movie? Bonus: What are you listening to and why should I like it? It seemed completely wrong that I was this nervous to respond to a simple email. I realized in this moment that I was incredibly caught up in Bella. It felt destined. It felt right to want to be close to her, but it was also new and strange. I didn't have much faith that I could keep her interested in me. There was a part of me that desperately wanted her to be more than just my friend. Emmett had friends, but they weren't as important to him as Rosalie was. And Alice depended on Jasper in a way that she would never depend on anyone else. And I wanted that. I wanted Bella to be there for me when no one else would. I wanted Bella to be the most important part of my life. But, as always, there was a dominate part of me that felt that I would never be good enough for her to even be my friend, not to mention my girlfriend. It wasn't just Bella. I didn't feel worthy of Carlisle taking me in. I didn't feel worthy of Alice's unconditional love and I didn't feel like I deserved the automatic respect that Emmett gave me just for being his adopted sibling. There was a reason I didn't have any friends. There was a reason no one at school beyond the Hales wanted anything to do with me. And unfortunately, that reason would probably keep Bella from me.

So as I re-read her questions, the importance of how I answered them weighed on me. If we were starting up a correspondence through written word, I could answer completely, not leave anything out the way I would have to if we were speaking. Taking a deep breath, I started to type. Bella, Thank you for a great day too. I thought you would like the meadow and I would be more than happy to take you there again when you have your camera. As for Banner's project, we can do genetics if you want, but the easier option is doing something on organic gardening. I know it's winter, but Carlisle has a greenhouse and I'm pretty good with plants. It would be easy to do, more hands-on as opposed to academic. If you want. I'll answer your questions and send you some of my own. 1. Favorite Food: Carlisle's ex-wife, Kate, used to make some kind of curry dish. It had chicken, rice, potatoes, and onions in it. It wasn't Indian curry though, it was Thai. I have no idea how she made it but I haven't had it in too many years. 2. Favorite cartoon: I don't have one. I was never allowed to watch them when I was a kid. And I don't watch much TV now and when I do, it isn't cartoons. 3. Favorite article of clothing: This is an odd question, but I suppose I have an affinity for my green button down shirt. Alice bought it and I almost never wear it (it's too nice for school), but I still like it. 4. Four things I can't live without: 1) My Gibson 2) My iPod 3) Catcher in the Rye 4) Alice. I assume that food and water are provided though, since no one can live without those things. 5) Favorite movie: This is too hard. I can't choose one. I might be able to give you one per genre if given enough time. Sorry. One movie I can watch over and over and over again without getting bored with it is Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, but I don't know if it's my all time absolute favorite. Bonus: I'm listening to Matisyahu, Time of Your Song. You should like it for its pure style alone, but also because he's a Hassidic Jew who blends rap and reggae into something unique and while he's religious, his music is more spiritual than preachy. I'll send you the file. Now my questions. 1) What do you want to do for the rest of your life? 2) Are you a cat person or a dog person? 3) Do you believe in paranormal activity? 4) Sunrise or Sunset? 5) If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go? Bonus: What did you think of Matisyahu? Oh, and what's with Imabell? I hope you have a nice Sunday. See you Monday. -Edward ...

Chapter 18: Peppers and Sprouts E POV

I had wanted to use my five questions to ask her all of the deeper questions I wondered about her, like why she got high all the time, what she liked to do first thing in the morning, what she thought of the war, why she stole that car, what she thought of me. But those were all questions that might make her upset. And I didn't want her to be upset. I wanted her to smile like she had when she saw the flowers. If the rest of the weekend turned to crap, I'd at least have that. Bella didn't respond Saturday night, but I went to sleep excited about our new form of communication. I had always hoped that I would be able to express myself better where Bella was concerned without having to fumble over every syllable. And now I would be able to do just that, thanks to e-mail. I woke up on Sunday with a terrible headache, but a few cups of coffee alleviated it. Trying not to feel anxious, I forced myself not to turn on the computer right away. Carlisle was already at work, giving me the opportunity drink more caffeine than normal. I knew it wasn't a highly intelligent idea to drink so much coffee when I was already feeling anxious, but it gave me something to do other than check my e-mail for something from Bella. I tried to have a conversation with Alice, but her questions about what I had done with Bella yesterday made me nervous on top of feeling anxious and jittery from the coffee. While I loved Alice in a way that I would never love anyone else, she could pressure me just as anyone else when she wanted to. She understood without me ever having to explain things to her, but there were times when she'd be deliberately obtuse. This was one of those times. She didn't even know Bella, not really, but ever since Esme announced that Bella and I would be paired up, Alice was going crazy with wild scenarios of Bella and I going to Homecoming together or Bella and I being soul-mates or something. But she was ignoring the simple fact that apart from her, I wasn't able to be close to anyone. She was ignoring how clearly dysfunctional I was. I ignored Alice as she chatted with herself and thought about Bella. She knew about my mother and she still liked me. She didn't call me a freak, at least to my face and for whatever reason, Bella wasn't running in the other direction. And yesterday she had talked a little about her mother. It wasn't much but I didn't need to be a rocket scientist to read between those lines. I hated Bella's mother. As much as I wanted to go back upstairs and power up my computer after my fifth cup of coffee, I couldn't. I got roped into playing the Wii with Alice and Emmett. He had come home after practice, still smelling like sweat and grass. Although I said no at first, Alice pouted me into playing. So I spent an hour and a half playing Mario Kart, watching my avatar, some kind of small turtle, drive into walls and off of cliffs. While I never got anything out of playing video games, I was happy to bring such joy into the lives of my siblings. Emmett couldn't stop laughing at my ineptness and Alice would giggle each time her character lapped mine. Not to mention apparently I was incredibly funny to watch simulating driving with the little white wheel. "Dude, your whole body doesn't have to move when you turn, you know," Emmett reminded me. "And how is it that I'm the one who Carlisle doesn't trust driving?"

Rolling my eyes at Alice, I tossed the wheel down on the couch. "B-because w-while you can d-drive an imaginary c-car, you h-have no c-clue how to d-d-drive a r-r-r, an actual c-car." "Burn." "Shut up, Emmett," Alice demanded as she scowled at me. "Edward," she started, drawing out my name. "Don't make me take you shopping!" I narrowed my eyes. "I heard Carlisle saying the other day that he thought you needed some new shoes." Damn her. She knew that I'd say just about anything to get out of going to a mall filled with people. "F-fine. Y-you're a g-good driver." I left the room just as Emmett did his Rainman impression and headed upstairs. With each step closer to my room, I felt the tension build within my chest. Perhaps Bella hadn't written back. Maybe she came to her senses and decided that I wasn't worth all this time she was giving me. Maybe she wrote back but told me that all my questions were stupid and she wouldn't answer them. As I opened my door, I listened to my heart pound. Maybe five cups of coffee was a little too much in one sitting. I deliberately slowed my breathing and turned my computer on. A minute later I was reading an e-mail from Bella. Edward, Organic gardening it is, but I have to warn you that I possess no green appendages, and that includes thumbs. They're not even slightly green tinted. But we'll give it a try. Here are the answers to my questions: 1. Favorite food Brussel Sprouts. I know, I know, who in their right mind loves brussel sprouts. and the follow up to that question is why would they admit to it? 2. Favorite cartoon I could watch Sponge Bob for hours. Patrick kills me. 3. Favorite article of clothing - Vintage Red Hot Chili Peppers t shirt, circa 1991 4. What 4 things can you not live without?- RHCP t shirt, one of any number of Classic novels, brussel sprouts, and weed 5. Absolute all time favorite movie? Hands down Sliding Doors. Alternate universes based on choices you makecompletely intriguing. And now your questions: 1) What do you want to do for the rest of your life?- Party like a rock star. 2) Are you a cat person or a dog person? Neither. I have enough to take care of. 3) Do you believe in paranormal activity? Like ghosts and stuff? Maybe, but I hope that there are no ghosts. When I die I hope I'm not hanging around watching stupid living people living stupidly. 4) Sunrise or Sunset? Sunset. 5) If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go? I hate this question, Edward. I'm never

going anywhere, so why think about it? But if that's a cop out answer and you need an actual destination, I would pick Amsterdam for obvious reasons. Bonus: What did you think of Matisyahu? I liked the song. Where do you find all this music? And Imabell is a stupid joke Charlie used to tell. Is..a You're a bell, I'm a bell, she Is a Bell(a). Get it? Told you it was stupid. I bet your IQ lowered ten points just by reading it. I'd send more questions but Charlie's taking me to some kind of gathering. There will be fried fish and football apparently. I'm super excited to have my whole day commandeered by the Chief. So I'll see you tomorrow. Here's food for thought until the next timeIf you could turn Mike Newton into any inanimate object, what would he be? Later, Bella. I wished that I understood her better. And although I was happy with this new form of communication, she didn't give me much to work with. But what she did give me to work with painted a very bleak picture. Not that the picture I painted was much better, but from her e-mail I got that she can't live without marijuana, her goal is to party, when she dies, she wants to be dead (no hanging around afterwards). And she doesn't like to think about the all the places she'll never go. Turning away from my computer, I slid over towards my keyboard, plugging in my headphones and letting my fingers fly over the keys. There were times when I composed that it was a very cognitive thing. I had to think about the notes and how to arrange them. And then there were times when the music simply poured out of me. The composition was already complete in my head. Who knew where it came from? This was one of those times when I didn't have to work for it. The music just came, leaving my mind to float about on whatever subject suited me at the moment. I wondered if Bella truly felt as empty as her responses sounded. Perhaps they were all she would allow herself. I understood what it felt like to dream about things that I was sure I would never have. There were a million things that even now I never really thought I could have, but I still tried for them. But maybe Bella gave up. Maybe she had given up all hope and has settled on a small contentment with what she has now. I wondered what had made her give up. ... Everyone was gathered around the large dining room table. By everyone meant my adopted family and the Hales. It was like most evenings when both Esme and Carlisle were not working. The more I thought about it, the more I convinced myself that they were in some kind of relationship. And while I picked at the Chinese take-out and missed Kate's home-cooked meals, I watched Esme and Carlisle. She looked at him a total of two times and he looked at her five times. Even when they were talking to each other, they were looking at something else. She was obviously much better at pretending than he was, but I wondered how I had failed to notice this before. How long had they been together and why wouldn't they just tell us?

This was what I generally had a problem with. It wasn't that I didn't like or even didn't trust Carlisle. And Esme was as enjoyable as a therapist could be. But they both seemed to think that we were all fragile and would break at any moment. Even with all of our collective pasts, I thought we could handle the news that Carlisle and Esme were dating or sleeping together or whatever it was that they were doing. It would actually be a good, positive thing. Why couldn't the two highly educated doctors figure out that perhaps it would be good for us to have this knowledge? That maybe putting a label on something could help us. Maybe we needed to know that she was a mother figure, not just some professional shrink trying to analyze our every move. "Edward?" My eyes flicked to Carlisle. He had apparently been speaking. "Y-y-yes?" "Esme asked you a question." I turned to her, becoming aware that Esme had always worn two hats in this house. Right now she looked like a mother. "I just asked if you had sent your college applications in yet." I sighed knowing that both she and Carlisle wouldn't like the answer. "N-no." Glancing at Alice, I wondered if she had been asked the same thing. She nodded. I heard Carlisle sigh and I turned to see his disappointed face. "He still has tons of time," Alice said in my defense. "But you've had the applications completed for months, Edward." It was not hard to hear the displeasure in my adopted father's voice. "Why don't you just send them off?" "Do you need to fine tune them?" Esme asked. I looked at her and saw that her therapist hat had come back on. Her eyes were studying me, trying to figure out what my motive was for dragging my feet. I looked at Carlisle and found him studying me with his doctor's eyes, most liking running down any kind of physical or medical reason that I hadn't done it yet. "N-n-no," I answered. "He probably wants to make sure he's only applying to the schools he really wants to go to, right, Edward?" I looked at Emmett and had no response. I hadn't sent in my applications yet because the thought of doing so caused my lungs to seize and my heart to race. The thought of putting everything about myself down on paper and having someone decide if I was good enough to get into their school tore at me. And even if I was accepted to every school I applied to, there was still the fact that at worst, I would have to leave this house, leave the comfort of my room and the small cocoon of safety I had woven here. At the least I would have to travel an hour away for the community college. And either way, I still would have to be around all new people. Mike Newton was a dick, but at least I knew he was a dick.

College was expected and to be honest, I wanted to go. But the fact that I would know no one unless I went to the same school as the others scared me. Both Rosalie and Emmett got into Stanford. Emmett was going to play football there and Rosalie was going to study engineering. Jasper got in, but was considering going to the University of Washington in order to be close to Alice until she graduated with me next year. Alice had only one school she was interested in going to and it was Stanford. And so, the only school I could decide that I wanted to go to was Stanford. "If you need some help with" Esme started, but was cut off. Rosalie sighed dramatically, causing every pair of eyes to turn to her. "Leave him alone, Mom. He just said that he didn't need help." I never actually said that or anything like it because no one would allow me to say much more than a two letter answer. "I-I'll send them i-i-in on M-Monday," I said to placate everyone. Jasper caught my eye and gave me a small smile. It was his pitying smile. He was going to divert the attention away from me. He did it a lot and he was good at it. "Carlisle, did Mom tell you about my new bike?" Carlisle cocked his eyebrow at Jasper, "It came with a helmet, I hope." ... Sleep didn't come easily. Sunday nights were worse than most. Even though I had successfully navigated through another week of small town high school just a few days before, Sunday nights were the nights that I was prone to small panic attacks. Sure, I knew what to expect when I got there, but that didn't stop me from freaking out about it. I knew my stutter hadn't magically gotten better over the weekend and I knew the same small minded people were going to make fun of me for it before school even started tomorrow. The only thing that calmed me slightly was the knowledge that Bella Swan would be there tomorrow. ...

Chapter 19: Deeper B POV After writing a quick e-mail to Edward answering his questions, Charlie dragged me off towards the beach. The only reason I didn't pitch a fit was because it was going to be at the Blacks' place, so Jacob would be there. Apparently Charlie went to a lot of get-togethers with the Blacks and the Clearwaters. When I got there, I was surprised at how many people were crammed inside the little house. The house couldn't fit them all, so there were quite a few people outside, keeping toasty around a fire pit,

holding beers in their hands. A football game kept most of the adults blind and in the living room, so everyone under the age of 19 was out back, sitting around a second fire pit. I was sitting between Jacob and Leah Clearwater, watching as Jake packed a bowl. I had to give him props. Dude was packing up a fucking huge glass piece while Charlie, the mother-fucking police chief, sat inside his house watching the Seahawks get spanked. No wonder he was one step away from juvienot that I could talk. "Pass that shit over here." I turned to see one of Jake's friends holding out his hand, a lighter in the other. I think his name was Paul. Jessica Stanley gave me the inside scoop on him. Apparently he's got some kind of massive penis that scared her, you know, in a good way. "Fuck you, Paula, this is my gathering and I say that..." he drew out the word as he let his eyes travel over everyone and then stopped when they landed on me, "Bella gets the green hit." I smiled. Nothing like the green hit when smoking out of a glass pipe, and his shit looked good today, all green and sticky with some orange fluff to accentuate the sparkly crystals. The bowl went fast, but I got decently high from the two big-ass hits I took. There was a loud noise from inside, presumably a touchdown or a fumble or some such thing. It reminded us that there were adults, responsible people, in our midst and the bowl was promptly hidden beneath an upturned flower pot. Everyone kind of drifted away, here and there, leaving me to sit with Leah and Jake. I was content to enjoy a silent high, but apparently they weren't. Leah mumbled something, her eyes fixed on one of Jacob's friends who had his arm draped around a very pretty girl. "Oh, shut the fuck up, will you?" I looked at Jake and saw him roll his eyes at Leah as he spoke. "Just because my dad invited your mother, doesn't mean I need to listen to any more of that shit." "Fuck you, Jake," was Leah's retort. "Nah, pretty sure I'm not your type and I heard somewhere that you think you're too good to suck cock." And with that, Jacob got up and walked off towards the house. "Wow." "He's a prick. I can't believe you let him stick his dick in you." I turned to Leah now, my eyes studying her face. She was scowling, of course. Every time I looked at Leah she was scowling. "What?" "Oh, you heard me." "How do you know I fuck him?" Rolling her eyes, Leah let her lips curl up. "He gave you the green hit, didn't he? In front of all his friends? I've known him since we were in diapers and that's code for marking territory. I'm surprised he didn't pee on you too." I hated possession. He wasn't fucking dating me. I was just fucking him. I thought about responding, about setting her straight about what was going on between Jacob and me, but decided against it. Saying anything at all would give the impression that I cared. So instead, I followed her gaze back to

Sam and his girl. "What's the deal with that? Is that what's got you all fucked up all the time?" Leah huffed. "You're one to talk about fucked up. You're fucking Jacob Black." "Whatever," I said as I rolled my eyes. "So what? That girl take your man?" She snorted. "Right." I looked at where her eyes were trained again and I realized that she wasn't shooting longing looks at Sam, she was throwing those sad eyes at the girl. "Oh." "Oh?" "That girl didn't take your man, did she? That man took your girl." "Shut up." "Okay." I made a move to leave but Leah's voice stopped me. "Emily goes to a private school in Port Angeles. She was the only one in Forkslike me." No way. "Please, I'm sure there're more gay people in Forks than just you and her." I wanted to tell her that no matter what her mommy had said, people were not unique snowflakes. There were millions of people just like her and I guaranteed that at least some of them lived in Forks. "Apparently she's not gay, Bella. She lets him shove his dick wherever he likes." She was so angry. I looked down at her hands and saw her rubbing at her wrists. There were scars. So Jacob wasn't lying about the botched suicide attempt. Even if she wasn't the only gay person in this tiny little town, it must have sucked feeling like it. I wondered if she tried to kill herself over the loneliness or over losing Emily. "Sorry." "Yeah, whatever." Silence loomed and it was uncomfortable. I felt compelled to stay sitting next to her out in the cold. It seemed wrong to just get up and leave after all that was exchanged, but I had no idea what to say next. I didn't really know her, so what type of small talk does one make with someone they barely know after the conversation we just had? "So" "So," she repeated, her eyes once more turning to me. "We're practically sisters, did you know that?" "What?" Her words made no sense. We weren't friends, how could we be sisters? Was it just the pot that was clouding my mind and making it impossible to understand her meaning? "Your dad's fucking my mom." My eyes bulged. "What?" I blinked, looking at the house. "Since when?" "Since before my dad died and he died five years ago." My mind raced, the pot helping it produce more scenarios than necessary. "What? Wait. Charlie's doing your mom?" She nodded. "He was fucking her while she was still married?"

Leah let out a low chuckle and nodded. "Your dad and my dad were friends from high school. I wonder if my dad ever humped your mom. Maybe it was some kind of" I stopped listening at the mention of my mother. My whole body tensed and it wasn't from the cold. Standing up, I took a deep breath, closing my eyes and trying to regain the high I had just been experiencing. "I'm going to go find Jacob." "Shit, Bella." I felt Leah grab my forearm and I fought against the urge to hit her. She didn't do anything wrong, I just didn't like people grabbing me. "I'm sorry if I" "It's cool, Leah. I don't care that he's fucking your mom. I just don't want to talk about it." I sighed. "And I'm cold. Jake can warm me up." ... "You know, we don't just have to fuck all the time," Jacob said as he watched me pull my hoodie back over my head. We were in the bathroom and I could hear Charlie cheering and laughing from the living room that was not but five feet away. My eyes moved to Jacob's face as his tongue swept out to lick his bottom lip. "What?" "We could go do something together sometime that didn't involve condoms and sticky messes." Fucking yuck. Boys were fucking disgusting and, hold up, what boy didn't want to do things that involved sticky messes and condoms? "What are you talking about?" Jacob gave me a shaky smile and then stood up, bringing his pants up with him. "You know, we could do what normal" he paused, looked down at the floor and the n back up at me, "people do." "Normal people? What the fuck are you talking about Jake?" Taking a deep breath, his smile disappeared. "Do you want to go to a movie sometime or something?" Fuck, this was not happening. Jacob was just a hook up and a hook up. I had been clear about that and now he wanted to go to the movies with me? I couldn't help the anger that swelled within me. "What? Do you want to hold my hand and give me sweet kisses on the cheek while I wear your jacket or something fucking stupid like that now too?" It was mean and it was harsh and I hated the look on his face when I said it, but it had to be done. "Jesus, Bella," he hissed quietly, his gaze moving to the floor. "I told you that I don't date, Jake. I don't want to be someone's girlfriend. I don't want the fucking hearts and flowers and I don't want any sappy love poem you stayed up all night writing, okay?" I ran my hands through my hair. "And last I knew, neither did you." "I just asked about a fucking movie, Bella, okay? I didn't fucking propose." "Fine. No, Jake, I don't want to go to a movie with you, I'd rather let you bend me over your dirty bathroom sink and fuck me so hard that I scream and lose my voice. Okay? Is that acceptable for you or do you have to buy me fucking dinner first?" Jacob shook his head and then turned to face the mirror. He stared at himself for almost thirty

seconds until he turned around to look at me again. When he spoke, his voice was quiet. "I didn't say that I wanted to be your boyfriend, Bella." His words were calm and did my best to calm the rising panic I felt within myself. "Good. Because I told you from the beginning that I'm not the girlfriend type." "Yeah, I remember." "I don't fucking hold hands," I said while smoothing down my hoodie, trying not to think about how desperately I had wanted to hold Edward's hand. "I get it, Bella." My teeth clenched together just as my hands were balling up at my sides. After a deep breath, I said, "I don't want sweet kisses and whispers about love and bullshit." "Alright, Bella," Jacob breathed. I put my hand on the door knob and twisted. "I'm not your fucking girlfriend, Jacob. Don't fucking think that I am." "Why are you so fucked up, Bella?" I ignored his question as I left the bathroom. It was another two hours after that before Charlie thought it was time to go home. I didn't have to ask him how many beers he had drunk. I could tell by the stupid smile on his face that he was over the legal limit. "Give me your keys, Charlie." "You can't drive, Bells." I sighed and held out my hand. "I'm sure the court would make an exception if it meant no one gets killed by a drunken police chief today." Charlie got this look on his face. It was all sad and disappointed. "Bella, I" "Just give me your keys." My voice held no anger, no harshness. I was tired and I wanted to go home. Charlie extended his hand and dropped the keys in my palm. "I didn't mean to drink so much, Bells, I'm sorry," he said as he slipped into the passenger seat. "It's cool, Charlie." "No, it's not cool. I'm your father and I'm setting a bad example." I revved the engine as I turned to him. I was horrified to find that he was a sappy, sad drunk. "Forget about it, Charlie. We're cool." He was silent for a moment. "Did you get something to eat? I should have made sure that you" I shook my head and put the cruiser in gear. His fixation on my eating was starting to annoy me. "I had food, Charlie."

"Dad," he whispered as I pulled away from the curb. I ignored him for the rest of the ride home, but thought about his secret, or not so secret, relationship with Sue Clearwater. Charlie drank too much and fucked another man's wife. I wondered if everybody in Forks was a fuck up. "Are you hungry, Charlie?" I asked as I followed him into the kitchen. "I am." I nodded at him. He sat down at the table while I moved to gather food to assemble and tried to keep my mind off of any heavy topic. Truth be told, I wasn't high anymore and I hated it. As my hands went to work cleaning the lettuce and carrots, trimming the fat off the steak, prepping the oven to broil, my thoughts were on all the subjects I didn't want to think about. Today had made twice that Jacob had asked me on what sounded like dates, even though I'd been clear with him that I don't do that shit. It made me uncomfortable to think that Jacob somehow wanted more from me than what we had right now. I had no interest in him beyond his ability to make me orgasm and sell me weed. But now it seemed like he wanted more. I had no more to give. I had just stood up after having grabbed the large ceramic bowl for the salad when Charlie asked, "Why are you so sad, Bella?" I stopped my motions and stood perfectly still, panic and fear rising within me as I watched him get up out of his seat and moved towards me. What the fuck? "What are you?" Charlie extended his hand towards me and instantly I dropped the bowl, hearing it break at my feet. As his hand made its way dangerously close to my face, I arm instinctively came up to block it. I smacked it away quickly and then stumbled backwards until my back hit the counter. "What the fuck are you doing?" Charlie looked at me, his drunken face showing his shock. "I was just going to touch your hair, Bella." He paused, his eyes on me as I wrapped my arms around my torso. "When you were little," he started slowly, "you used to let me brush your hair." I didn't remember that. I felt sick. His hands were slack at his sides as he just looked at me. Swallowing hard, I brought the hand that smacked his away to my mouth. "I'm not little anymore, Charlie." Very, very quickly, I left the kitchen and found the bathroom, just barely making it to the toilet before throwing up. Fuck. I rose up off the floor and grabbed my toothbrush. I knew that Charlie didn't mean to scare me. I knew that he wasn't someone who wanted to hurt me. But I couldn't just let him touch me. I didn't care why he wanted to touch me, whether it was to hurt or comfort, I wouldn't let him do it. After brushing my teeth and washing my hands, I moved into my bedroom, hearing Charlie clinking around in the kitchen. Packing up my bat, I stuck my head out of my opened window and took two

hits. I grabbed a piece of gum, dropped some Visine in my eyes, then headed back downstairs to finish cooking dinner. The pot was working, and I felt so much better. But regardless of the pot, my body tensed again, just slightly as I entered the kitchen. Charlie was butchering the Romaine and all of the ceramic shards were gone from the floor. I wanted to cut the lettuce myself, but that meant I would have to stand next to him and take the knife. I didn't want to be that close to him. The thought of having to stand right next to him made my stomach churn, and I was suddenly struck by how unfair everything was. It wasn't fair for me to have these reactions to Charlie, to my own father. It wasn't fair that all he wanted to do was touch my hair and I had an involuntary reaction. It wasn't fair that I hated him so much for something he didn't even do. This shit wasn't his doing. But that didn't matter. I felt sick again. I tasted bile and my throat burned. My cough alerted Charlie that I was there and he turned around, eyeing me. He looked completely sober now as he placed the knife on the counter. I pointed to the lettuce and through clenched teeth, I managed to get out, "Do you want me to do that?" Although he nodded, I waited until he had crossed back over to the table before I moved to pick up the knife. "You okay, Bella?" Breathing in deep, I bit back the nasty words that floated from my mind to my mouth. As much as I wished it was, this wasn't his fault. When I had filtered through all the snotty, bitchy remarks I could have possibly said to him in that moment, I settled on a quiet tone. "I don't really want to talk, Charlie. Can I just make dinner?" ...

Chapter 20: Slightly High Bella After I knew Charlie was sleeping, I stuck my head out of the window and took another couple of hits off my bat. I got entirely too fucking high. It was after eleven when I opened an e-mail from Edward. Bella, I hope you have an excellent time at the football fish fry fun fest. I don't think it would be appropriate for me to tell you what I would turn Newton into. It's not very nice. But since you didn't have time to ask questions, I'll go. If you could spend a day with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?

What's your favorite holiday? If by some magic you could have either unlimited wealth or unlimited health, which would you pick? Why don't you eat anything other than a Pop Tart or an apple at lunch? Don't you get hungry? What color is your comforter? Bonus: Did you learn anything new at the fun fest today? I'll see you at school tomorrow. I assume that these questions and overall content of this e-mail correspondence won't be mentioned there. Edward. I smiled at his e-mail. It was the bright shining spot in an otherwise stupid day. Even though I was insanely tired and incredibly high, I hit reply and wondered if he would check his e-mail before school tomorrow. Edward, You're all about the random questions, aren't you? Here goes: If you could spend a day with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?- Is spending the day alone an unacceptable answer? People kind of bug me. But again, if that's a cop out and you need an actual person, I enjoy hanging out with you. What's your favorite holiday?- I don't know. Columbus dayit's good to remember the dude who ordered the rape and killing of an entire indigenous people. If by some magic you could have either unlimited wealth or unlimited health, which would you pick? Wealth. Being poor sucks, and with money you can buy health. Why don't you eat anything other than a Pop Tart or an apple at lunch? Don't you get hungry?- I hate eating and not in the Angela Weber kind of way. Diabetes makes me hate eating. It's a pain in the ass to figure all the stupid shit out, so lunch is the one time I try not to think too much about it. What color is your bed spread?- Purple. Charlie bought it. Some chick at the store picked it out. Bonus: Did you learn anything new at the fun fest today? I learned entirely too much at the fun fest today. I will file it all in my 'Things I Can't Unlearn' folder. My five (some of these are specific, so I won't be able to reciprocate an answer, but you can ask me specific in return): When did you discover music? Like when did you know you could play? Do you cuss? 'Cause I've never heard you. Do you believe in God? Do you write your own music?

Why don't you call Carlisle 'dad'? Bonus: Have you ever been to a concert? I heard that the Chili Peppers are playing in Seattle some time close to Christmas. Could you be around that many people? And in regards to school and these questionsI don't want or need other people knowing the answers, Edward. We're friends, like I said, but I don't need someone like Newton or Lauren to know who I am. So I'd appreciate keeping our discussions at school about something other than our questions and their answers. Sorry, I'm fucking rambling because I'm slightly high and tonight I'm unfocused. Shit. Should I have deleted that? Was it rude to mention getting high to him when his mother was a dead smack addict? Being friends was hard and to be honest, I didn't want to offend Edward. Anyone else and I wouldn't have cared. But he told me that he wouldn't judge me. Fuck it. Why was I continuing to put so much thought into this shit? I was going to send it as it was. Is that cool about the questions being private, especially at school? See ya. Bella. ... Jacob was quiet on the drive to school Monday morning, even as I rolled a joint out of my stash for the ride. I felt bad for the way we had left things yesterday and thought the joint would be appropriate. It wasn't that he was giving me the silent treatment, because he was talking to me, but he wasn't talking much and he wasn't saying anything. As we pulled up into his usual parking spot, I said a quick goodbye, figuring that he would either get over it or not, either way, it wasn't my problem. I'd been honest with him and I didn't think that there was anything wrong with that. I caught up with Tyler Crowley in the hall before Photography and bought two Vicodins off of him for three bucks a pill. I hadn't slept much the night before and instead of being tired, I found myself wired. I figured that the Vicodin would help my body and mind relax just a little. Rationally, I knew that Charlie had meant no offense and that I had over-reacted, but my irrational mind still made it impossible for me to stop the involuntary shoulder shakes that happened at irregular intervals. Maybe the pills would stop it. So I snapped one of the pills in half and downed both halves to make it work quicker. And work quick, it did. Pixie Cullen nudged me and my head slipped off of its precarious position, resting on my hands. "What?" I looked around, my eyes finally falling on her. "Class is over, Bella. Are you okay?" "I'm fucking great. How are you?" I took another half right before lunch, and for whatever reason, took the last half after smoking out

with Jacob. I was fairly incoherent during Biology. I was pretty sure that I nodded a hello to Edward, but after that it's pretty much a crap shoot as to what else happened. And to be honest, it was nice. Painkillers always left me feeling like I was floating on a cloud, all the rough edges of the day smoothing out into a nice and warm and cozy fluffy pillow. I should've gotten more from Tyler. I wondered if I would see him again before the end of the day. Maybe Jacob could just lift one of Billy's for me. "o-okay?" I blinked and raised my head off the desk, my lazy eyes finding Edward's deep greens easily. I felt a smile instantly form on my lips. "Hmmm? Okay, what?" His eyebrows raised. "A-a-are you o-okay?" I nodded and Edward's eyes shifted towards the door. "C-class is d-d-d-d, o-over, B-Bella." Looking around, I finally noticed that the room was nearly empty. "Oh." I stood up and collected my notebook, the sheets of paper still blank. "Guess I forgot to take notes." "Y-you c-can borrow mine." I shook my head as I shoved the book into my back pack. "It's cool, but thanks. I'm sure it was all genome this and molecular that." The intensity of his eyes made me look away again. I didn't understand why he was looking at me like that. "So we should do something on Saturday," I said lazily When I looked back at him as I began to walk away, I found him nodding, the edges of his lips turned up slightly. "What do you want to do?" I asked when his feet finally began to carry him towards me. "C-C-Carlisle is inviting y-y-y-your f-f-f-f" Out in the hall, I stopped outside the door, giving the other students a little room to enter. "My what?" "F-father," he spit out, "and you for d-dinner." "What? On Saturday?" "W-well the d-dance is on S-S-Saturday, ssssso it w-would just be mm-mmm-mmme a-and" I sighed. It was nice of Charlie to tell me about all of the social engagements he'd signed me up for. "Well, what about Friday? The game's on Friday, so doesn't that mean the whole Fuck Up Club will be cancelled?" I could hope, couldn't I? Edward nodded, which made my day. It was then that my head began to float again, the blood feeling like it was swishing this way and that inside of it. For a moment, I let my eyes slip closed and I took in a deep breath. I had eaten lunch, hadn't I? Fuck. I opened my eyes and suddenly everything slowed down. People were moving dangerously fast outside of my darkened bubble, but everything on the inside was slowed down and muted. The only thing I could hear was the thudding of my heart. Edward's lips were moving, but I had to strain my

ears to hear him. I didn't know if it was the low blood sugar or the Vicodin, but I felt like shit. Involuntarily, my body rocked forward as my mind raced, yelling at my body to respond. There were things I had to do when my blood sugar was low, actions I had to take. But my body was slow and sluggish. Strong hands like vices grabbed onto my upper arms as I came crashing into Edward's chest. I pulled back and came face to face with him, brown eyes locked with green. It took a moment before my body caught up with my mind and I took a deep breath. Licking my lips, I pushed away from him gently and stood myself up as straight as I could. "Sorry. Just dizzy." I watched his eyes narrow just slightly as his chest began to rise and fall quickly. My body began to move now, shrugging off my back pack and crouching down onto the ground to search through the front pouch. I was vaguely aware that Edward had crouched down next to me, but I couldn't think about him right now. I had to get sugar in my blood stream. When my sugar was low, my thoughts were slow and scattered; on Vicodin my thoughts were speedy, but this was entirely new and slightly scary. Usually I could do all this faster, but today I was a river of mud. And all my thoughts were shooting me in different directions. Yes, I should get the sugar packets. Yes, I should get them into my mouth as absolutely fast as possible. Yes, Edward was standing right next to me and we were in the middle of a crowded hallway. But my hands fumbled with the zipper. They shook as they tore open the packet and I found myself hoping that I'd either just pass out or feel better already. And then finally, sweetness on my tongue, the instant placebo effect kicked in and I felt minutely better. Even if it was psychological, I loved the placebo effect. It at least gave me hope that really, really soon, I'd start to really feel better. The world would begin to brighten again, the hazy disappearing. I would be able to hear it around me instead of being deafened by the thump of my heart. I could control my body again. Probably two or three minutes later, I stood up, three empty sugar packets in my hands. I felt hot, but relatively okay. I knew Edward was still standing next to me, but I couldn't focus on him yet. Shit. Had I even eaten breakfast today? I breathed in slow and deep and finally gave Edward a small apologetic smile. "Sorry. " He shook his head, creasing his brow even more. "A-are you, o-o-okay?" "I have to eat." Looking around, I saw that we were alone in the hall. "You're late for your next class." Edward shook his head again. "I-I don't h-have one." He brought his hand to my elbow. "D-do you w-w-want to g-gggo to the n-nurse?" I wasn't sure if it was his question or some kind of instinctive reaction, but something compelled me to say "No," very loudly while jerking my arm away. Nurses never led to good things, so there was no reason to go see one. And yet I felt a little sad to lose the contact with him. I wondered if the day could get any weirder.

"I'm okay, Edward." I ran my hand through my hair. "I'm just going to go sit outside. The cool air will help." "D-do you w-want mm-mmme to g-go with you?" Did I want him to come with me? No. I didn't. Not because I was a bitch and didn't like him or whatever, but because this shit was getting too fucking deep already. I was fucking hanging on this e-mailing thing we'd just started. Hell, I had practically just told him about Renee in that meadow. The feelings that I had towards him were intense and I didn't like it. It was fucking sloppy and I was stupid for it. I needed to stop thisinfatuation. Things were always easier without all this fucking emotion. But even as I said that in my head, trying to convince myself that I didn't need or want anything like this, my mouth responded, "Yeah, sure." Outside, the cool, crisp and slightly wet concrete of a low wall helped cool my burning face. I focused on deep breaths. I was feeling better overall, but was left feeling jittery. "I-I-I'll g-go get you ssssome more food." "No," I said quietly, my eyes turning to find him. "This is fine." I shook the hand that held the apple I swiped from the cafeteria before coming outside. "Just sit with me." Struggling for a moment, I sat up, my shoulder brushing his. I hadn't realized that he was so close. Again, even though I knew I would be sorry to lose the contact, my body automatically slid away just slightly. I took small bites of the apple and thought about how this had happened. I had thrown up last night, barely ate any dinner, skipped breakfast and forgot lunch and hadn't made any adjustments to my insulin. We must have been sitting outside for a long time because students started filing out of the building. "B-B-B-Bella!" I looked up quickly at Edward, but it hadn't been his voice calling me. My eyes slid over and saw Prick Newton smirking at me. I quickly glanced at Edward again. His neck was bent and his hands clenched in his lap. "I-I'll sssssee you t-tomorrow, B-B-Bella." I sighed, but he got up and walked away quickly, leaving me there with Prick Newton. "You are such a humanitarian, Bella, spending your time with the friendless." He sat down next to me, the smirk still on his stupid face. He leaned in closer to me, "What? Does a guy have to be a total loser to get your attention? You are so giving to the less fortunate. I find that sexy." "Mike," I started slowly. "I feel like shit right now, could we maybe continue this conversation, oh, like, never?" He laughed and shook his head. "I know your game, you know." "My game?" This was going to be good.

"Yeah, your" "Need something, Newton?" I looked up to see Jacob, who was at least a foot taller than Prick Newton, scowling down at him menacingly. "Just talking to my girl Isabella, Black. Don't you have some pot to sell to ten-year-olds or something?" Jacob smiled, but crossed his arms over his chest. I rolled my eyes. Boys and their pissing matches and dick measuring. Standing up, I shook my head. "Actually, Mike, Jacob's my ride so" "I can give you a ride home, Bella. At some point you'll want something classier than" Feeling another insult from Mike coming, this time not aimed at Edward, but at Jacob, I leaned in closer to Mike and I saw his smile widen. "Mike," I said, drawing out his name all low and seductive. "Not only is he going to give me a ride home, but he's going to give me a ride home. And that will never be you." For a moment he was quiet, his eyes flashing something dark but after a moment, he said, "You say that now, Isabella," before walking away. ... After dinner, I found that Edward had written me back. Bella, Your five: When did you discover music? Like when did you know you could play? When I was 12. Carlisle bought me a guitar as something to focus on. He would tell you that I have a 'natural talent for music'. I'm not sure why, but I remember just picking it up for the first time, strumming it and then being able to pick out a simple song that first night. Do you cuss? 'Cause I've never heard you. I guess in my head I do, but they're just such throw away words that I don't waste my time trying to say them. And typically the cussing in my internal dialog is limited to hell or damn, I think. I was brought up not to cuss at all, so I just haven't really done it much. Do you believe in God? Yes. Do you write your own music? I can't help it. Sometimes music wakes me up in the middle of the night and I can't sleep until it's out. Why don't you call Carlisle 'dad'? Because he's not my father. Bonus: Have you ever been to a concert? I heard that the Chili Peppers are playing in Seattle some time close to Christmas. Could you be around that many people? I have not been to a concert and do not see any in the future for me. And although I'd love to say otherwise, I don't think I could be around that many people, no.

Now my five: Why don't you call your father 'dad'? Do you believe in God? You said that you write. What do you write? What's the meaning of life? Why were you really high today? Bonus: When do you want to get started on the project? We'll have to start soon in order to have something in a month. We'll have to produce a plant, I thought brussel sprouts, since you like them so much and they're a hardy late fall/early winter harvest, and do the written essay. Edward. I wasn't shocked that Edward had reciprocated my question about calling our fathers, adopted or not, 'dad'. But his fifth question threw me for a loop. How should I answer that? Should I even answer that? Did I even know why I got so high today? Obviously not eating was a mistake and that aided in how the pills and weed affected me, but I knew that breaking the pills up would make them work faster and make them stronger. And still I took all four halves within in the span of three hours or so. No, it didn't matter why I got high today because it was the same reason I got high every day. I liked it. I liked the numb buzz, the smooth edges, the slight hum inside my head. I didn't feel bad about it. I would answer his question and try to be sensitive to his past while not revealing too much about myself. There was only so much that I wanted anyone to know about me. And there were things I never wanted anyone to know. ...

Chapter 21: Seeds E POV Bella was juststrange on Monday. She clearly had been high. There was no way for me to know if her blood sugar was truly low or if she was using that as a cover for whatever it was that she was on. I still couldn't help but wonder why she would want to feel like that. And although I knew she said yes to doing something with me this weekend, and that most likely she and her father would be here on Saturday, no definite plans had been made. It would be a lie to say that I didn't lock myself away in my room for the sole purpose of reading my email. It was rapidly becoming the best part of my day. It was like a little snippet of Bella's life, a little secret we shared that no one else knew.

It was clichd, but her last response made my heart skip a beat. While she didn't outright say that she'd spend a day with me above all others, she alluded to it. And although she called my questions random, she'd still answered them all. Edward, Sorry about today. Didn't mean to nearly faint on you or anything. Not how I originally planned my day. Here are the answers to your five: Why don't you call your father 'dad'? Biologically, I share DNA with Charlie. Apart from that, I have no evidence that he's my 'father' or my 'dad.' So he is Charlie. To be fair, Renee is just Renee, so it's not like I singled the man out or anything. Do you believe in God? Which one? Honestly, it doesn't matter because the answer is no. And since you said yes to the question, I'm sure you want to know why I said no. And here it is: god is like a parent, right? We're all 'children' of god or whatever? Here's the thing, your god is a shitty fucking parent and I want nothing to do with him. Sorry if you're offended. I hope you aren't, but there it is. You said that you write. What do you write? - As of late, nothing. I used to write emo poetry and short stories, but I've learned that if I want to be creative, taking a picture is just better. What's the meaning of life? Fuck if I know. Is there a meaning behind it? Why were you really high today? Because yesterday sucked and I like being high. I just forgot to eat and still took my insulin, so I went a little hypoglycemic and it wasn't what I wanted. Thank you for your help yesterday. I'm sorry if it made you feel uncomfortable. Bonus: We can start the project whenever. If you want, I can come over tomorrow (Tuesday) or Wednesday after school, whatever's good for you. Dr. Hale won't be there, will she? Now my five: Why don't you have a class after Biology? When were you adopted by Cullen? Why do you believe in god? Do you have any real brothers or sisters? You know, biological? I imagine everyone's going to the football game on Friday, are you going or do you want to do something then? I don't know what we'll do, but it'll be better than a high school football game. Bonus: (Straight from the Book of Questions) If you could increase your I.Q. by forty points by having an ugly scar stretching from your mouth to your eye, would you do so? (Sorry, my brain is a little mushy right now. Can't think of my own question). See you tomorrow, Bella.

I immediately wrote her back, not wanting to lose my immediate reactions and responses to her email and questions. Bella, You don't need to thank me for helping today. I was worried about you. Why did yesterday suck? And did getting high help in some kind of way because it seemed like it just made today horrible too? In response to your answers: Why is taking a picture better than writing? Can I see some of your photographs? You should come over tomorrow. Can you stay for dinner? As far as I know, Carlisle will be home, so Esme will probably not be here. If you don't mind, I am going to change the format a little. I'll respond to all of your questions as usual, but perhaps out of order. First, I believe in God even though God cannot be proven through scientific means. There are certain things in this world that cannot be adequately explained, but it doesn't mean that they are untrue or invalid. While I would not consider myself religious, I am spiritual in my own way. There was a time when religion dominated my life. But now I feel spirituality has a balanced place within me. Your assessment of God is accurate if you truly believe that we are "Children" of God. If that is correct than I can see where God would seem neglectful, cruel and only capable of conditional love. However, if you shift the paradigm and theorize that we aren't children of God but a piece of Him/Her/It, then it becomes a different story. Then we are creators and not victims forced to suffer through the whims of a fickle God. I have one biological brother and I was adopted by Carlisle when I was twelve. We moved to Forks when I was thirteen and Kate divorced him when I was fourteen. I know you didn't ask about all of that, but in case you're building a timeline of important events in the miserable life of Edward Cullen, you now have more information. I don't have class after Biology because on Tuesdays and Thursdays I have speech therapy. As I'm the only one in Forks with a speech impediment apparently, Ms. Rice comes from Seattle. Carlisle gives her quite a lot of money to drive all that way, but she has to do it during business/school hours. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I'm an aide for Ms. Peters. I am not going to the football game on Friday. I know Emmett wants me to, like every year, but I don't think I could handle that many people in that small of an area. I would love to do something with you on Friday. I don't know what though. As for the bonus question, I would take the forty points. With a stutter like mine, I don't think a scar on my face would hurt anything. So now my questions (returning to old format): When you were very little, what did you want to be growing up? You indicated that other than DNA, you have no evidence that Charlie's your father. Did you get to spend much time with him growing up?

When did you start getting high? Do you have any brothers or sisters? Why didn't you make fun of me or at least treat me like a freak like everyone else when you first met me and heard me talk? Bonus: If you could undo one thing in the past, what would it be? It could be something personal (something you did or experienced) or not. Will you let me know about tomorrow? If you can stay for dinner, I'll have to let Carlisle know. And I don't know how much you know about Alice, but I'm pretty sure she's going to commandeer you at some point. Alice collects friends like Emmett collects sports paraphernalia. Just be prepared. And bring your camera, please. Have a good night, Bella. Edward I set about doing my normal after-school routine of homework, music, dinner, then reading a few children's books out loud. I would have to see Ms. Rice tomorrow and it always seemed to go just slightly better when I practiced a lot the night before. It was hard for me to focus. I kept thinking about Bella and then I kept thinking about me. And then I just plain thought about 'Bella and Me.' And I didn't understand it. Despite seemingly popular belief, I was a smart person, but I couldn't wrap my mind around whatever it that was happening between Bella and I. It was confusing. I had never really had a friend in my life, beyond Alice. I supposed that Jasper, Rosalie and Emmett were my friends, but they had to be my friends. This was the first time when someone besides Alice was choosing to spend time with me. And I knew we were opposites in a lot of different ways, but it didn't seem to matter. There was something instinctual about my wanting to be closer to Bella. It wasn't because Esme and Carlisle forced a connection because of some perception that we had experienced similar things. Honestly, all that had done was put me on edge and made me dread having to speak with her at first. But now that we had some solid history of spending time with each other, it seemed much more natural and right. And not only was that confusing, it was scary. Not that I thought it would happen, but it was entirely possible that at any moment, Bella could turn into the female version of Mike Newton. She could realize that I wasn't worth her time and not be my friend anymore. There were any number of ways in which I could be destroyed by Bella. And for whatever reason, it felt right to open up and be vulnerable. And that is what I could not grasp. Why at this point in my life did I feel like I needed someone like Bella? No, not like Bella. I needed Bella in my life. I waited until bed to check my e-mail once more, convinced that she had more important things to do than answer my questions, but desperately needing to see if she had. I was probably more excited than I should have been when I saw her e-mail waiting in my Inbox. Edward,

Tomorrow's fine. I'll stay for dinner. Are you aware that with the three questions in the beginning of your email, you asked a total of nine questions? Do you think you're sneaky with that shit? But like you, I will do my best to answer all of them. Taking pictures is easier than writing because it's harder to interpret. If someone finds a picture, typically it's a just a picture to them. Words get you in trouble. And yes, you can see my portfolio sometime. It's only fair after all, I've heard you play music. I have no siblings and spent about a month each summer with Charlie. But just because I was in Forks, staying at his house, doesn't mean that I spent time with him. The month usually consisted of me at his house while he worked and him dragging me to watch him fish with his friend (Jake's dad). When I was very little, and still thought that I could do anything and be anything, I wanted to be a cop like Charlie. Pretty stupid kid, huh? I started drinking when I was eleven, smoked pot for the first time at twelve, ate mushrooms on my thirteenth birthday, dropped acid on Christmas that same year, I rolled on E for the first time when I was fifteen, did my first line of coke also at fifteen and banged meth once last year. I know you didn't ask all that, but in case you're building a timeline of Bella Swan's history of drugs, you have all the info you need. If I could undo one thing from the pastI would undo the night Charlie and Renee met. I wasn't an asshole to you when I met you because 1) I'm not mean and 2) your stutter doesn't define you, Edward. I'll send you my five, but I probably won't read your responses until tomorrow. You said that smoking pot doesn't help your anxiety, how do you know that? How long have you being doing speech therapy? Does it help? Do you like chocolate? Do you think that people are inherently good or bad? And why? Mike Newton's smaller than you, why do you let him get away with that shit? Bonus: If you were famous, what would you want to be famous for? See you tomorrow, Bella. ... School went by quickly on Tuesday. I had intended for Bella just to ride home with us, but she said she'd meet me in a half hour or so. She left the school property with Jacob Black, as usual, and when she rang the doorbell around 4:30, I could tell she was high. I didn't ask her about it as I led her through the yard to the greenhouse out back. I had gathered all of the supplies and sat down on an overturned bucket, letting her sit on the bench. "How do you know about organic gardening?" she asked as I started to pull the starter plants out of their plastic pots.

"K-Kate l-liked plants." Kate would buy plants like Alice bought shoes. Before she divorced Carlisle, our house was filled with them. I'd counted one time and we had over fifty plants, each with their own watering schedule and sunlight needs. "She taught you about them?" I nodded, twisting my body over to the raised bed, using my hands to dig into the dirt. "W-we never t-talked mmmuch, b-but every t-time she had to re-pot something, w-we did it t-to-together." I punctuated my words with a shrug. Her eyes narrowed as she watched me tuck the first plant into the soil. "Is there something that I need to be doing? I told you I wasn't going to let you carry me through the class." I smiled, remembering how awkward that day was for me. I had wanted to say a million things to her, but next to nothing came out. The awkwardness of talking with Bella was still present, but it had changed a bit. Now there was a slightly different tension between us and I recognized it on my part from having difficulty balancing our email conversations with face to face interaction. It was easy to type words out onto a computer and hit send. It was incredibly hard to speak the same words. "Y-you can help if y-you want." I pointed to the rest of the plants on the floor. "W-we have t-to p-p-p-p-p-pppp," I stopped trying to push the word out and sighed. I'd said the word plant just moments before, but now it refused to pass my lips. "Do all of th-them," I finally finished. I glanced up at her, feeling embarrassed about the verbal block I'd just had in front of her. "Y-you can t-take p-p-pictures. W-we have to document e-each sssstage." Bella nodded and reached into her bag, pulling out her camera. It definitely wasn't new, and now I understood why Alice had wanted to buy her a new one. "Didn't we need to take pictures of the seeds and sprouts and stuff?" I nodded. "B-b-but I d-downloaded the p-p-pictures ssssince we d-didn't have enough t-time to grow them from sssseeds." Bella nodded and started snapping a few pictures of the plants before and after I planted them. It only took a minute or two and then she found herself a white bucket, turned it over, and sat down next to me. "So, I dig a hole and put it in?" Nodding, I handed her a plant. "Then y-you p-pack the dirt around it." "I fucking love dirt." I cocked my eyebrow at her and she graced me with a smile. It was like the smile she had that day in the bookstore. "Seriously," Bella said, her voice light and airy. "Don't you just love how it smells, how it feels?" If my mouth worked like a normal human being, I would have joked around with her about being some kind of pagan hippie or something, but since I knew I would stumble over the words, I just smiled at her. "I used to get into so much trouble for playing in the mud!" She laughed a little as she said it. I watched as her eyes softened just for a second, but that moment passed quickly. Bella sighed, the light leaving her eyes as her lips settled back down into a frown. I wished she would smile again. I wondered if her frown was in reaction to the thought of getting into trouble. Trouble meant punishment and I remembered what that was like. "I-I-I've never p-played in mm-mmmud." I looked down at my hands in the soil and wondered if that

was why I enjoyed working with plants. Plants lived in soil and soil was dirt and dirt was dirty and I had never been allowed to be dirty like that. "Oh, come on," Bella scoffed. "No child has ever not played in mud or dirt, at least once anyway. It's like aa thing, you know, something that's a constant." "I-I c-couldn't." "Why?" Her voice still held a disbelieving tone, but there was curiosity within it as well. I wished I hadn't said anything. It was like talking to Esme, any small detail you drop would be picked at until meaning was given to it and everyone understood it. Not that Bella was like Esme. She didn't pry. She wasn't asking in order to press me into saying something about anything. Bella had no notebook, no script pad, no psycho babble at the ready. She was just asking. But it was harder than typing answers into an email. "A-ask m-me in an email." It was the first time since we'd begun the email correspondence that one of us had mentioned it. I looked at Bella out of the corner of my eye to gauge her reaction. While I heard the sigh, her face held no clue as to what she was thinking. I wished I could read her mind. ... "This is seriously what you guys eat for dinner?" Bella pushed piece of overcooked broccoli to the side of her plate. Nervously, I watched as her eyes turned to Carlisle. "You're a doctor. Aren't you supposed to be peddling good, whole foods?" Carlisle cleared his throat, taking a quick glance at me before regarding Bella. "We all keep pretty crazy hours. It's just easier to bring take out home." "Did you already invite Charlie to dinner on Saturday?" He blinked, looked at me and then back at Bella. "Yes, will you be able to attend?" "What were you planning on serving for dinner?" Carlisle looked down for a moment. "Take out." Alice, who had remarkably been quiet through most of the meal, asked, "You're having Bella and her father over for dinner on Saturday? But the dance is on Saturday." "Which is precisely the reason why we invited them Saturday. The house will be quiet." Carlisle smiled. "Aren't you going to the dance?" Alice asked, her eyes turning to Bella once more. "It's Homecoming." Bella groaned a little and shook her head. She twirled a long noodle on her fork and sighed again. "What time is dinner on Saturday?" "I figured around six or seven." Bella licked her lips, looked at me, and replied, "Then I'll be here at four to start prepping food." I had no idea that not only would she want to come for dinner but that she would volunteer to cook as well. I wondered if she liked to cook and where she had learned.

"B-B-Bella, you d-don't have to" She held up her fork, the noodle hanging limply off of it and scrunched up her face. "Seriously? This isn't food. It's mush." She turned to Carlisle before continuing. "Not trying to be a bitch or anything, but I'd rather spend a few hours cooking before eating something like this again." Bella blinked, chewed on her lower lip, and then added, "No offense." Carlisle smiled. "None taken. We haven't had a home cooked meal in" "Years," Emmett answered. Giving her one of his most charming smiles, Emmett nodded to Bella. "You'd be my favorite person in the whole world if you made enough for leftovers." ...

Chapter 22: Alice Didn't Mean To E POV Bella's father arrived around seven to take her home. We had made plans to shop either Friday night or Saturday afternoon for the ingredients for whatever it was she planned on cooking. Truth be told, not only was I excited, I could tell that Carlisle was just as enthusiastic about the prospect of a home-cooked meal. Alice and Emmett were disappointed that this meal would be taking place while they were at Homecoming. We hadn't had much decent food since Kate left. Carlisle worked so much, Alice wasn't to be trusted with the cooking utensils, Emmett burned everything he touched in the kitchen, and I had no creativity when it came to food. If I were responsible for feeding everyone, we'd have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every other day with grilled cheese and canned soup in between. So it was hard not to be excited about Saturday. Honestly, just the fact that Bella would be coming over again was exciting. Immediately after she left, I sat down to reply to her e-mail from last night, wanting her to have it when she got home, just in case she felt like reading an email from me. Bella, Thank you for coming over tonight and working on our project. And thank you for staying for dinner. We are looking forward to the meal on Saturday. I feel bad that you will be cooking for all of us in our house, but I will help as much as I can. I don't know much about cooking, but I'd like to learn. Alice and Emmett actually contemplated staying home from the dance just to get some good food, but abandoned the idea when they realized that Rosalie would be on the warpath. An upset Rosalie is a sight to behold. I don't think Emmett's room could take another beating. So I'll get into your questions straight away. I know that pot won't help my anxiety because I tried it once my freshman year and it did not make anything better. My chest felt heavy, even as it fluttered, I couldn't speak any better than normal and I was insanely paranoid. It was not good for me. I didn't have chocolate until I was twelve, so I didn't seem to have quite the addiction to it as it seems most other people in the world do. It's okay. As far as sweet things go, I could take it or leave it. But I seem to be smitten with all things gummi. Bears, worms, fruits, whatever. I love them for reasons I don't quite understand, but when Emmett gave me my first Gummi Bear, I knew it was meant to be. But yes, I

like chocolate. I've had a speech therapy session twice a week since Carlisle adopted me. I think it has helped. It takes a lot of effort to try to make a stutter lessen or get better or go away. I don't think mine ever will. But I still hope for it. That's why I see Ms. Rice every week; that's why I spend at least an hour or two talking to myself every night. She has a thing for children's book, but I tend to stick to non-fiction. If I were famous, I would want to be famous for doing something important. I don't know. I don't really want to be famous. I don't know if people are inherently good or bad. I would like to think that people all start out good and may become corrupted over time versus the thought that there are people who are just plain evil out there. Good people corrupted were at least at one time good. Evil people who are born evil would have no concept of being good. That's fairly scary. I'm not sure what I think. Like I wrote, I would like to think that people are good, but experience tells me that perhaps what I would like to think and what is are two different things. I don't like confrontation. Nothing Mike Newton ever does is that bad. I'm sure that makes me a wimp or something, but I don't need or want a physical altercation and since I can't do much verbally to set him straight, I let go. There's only another year and a half until graduation and he'll move on to picking on someone in college. What is it that you think I should do? It's not like anything he says to me is inaccurate. So here are my five and I promise to stick to five this time: When is your birthday? Do you have friends back in Phoenix? Describe yourself in three words. What was the best day of your life? What are you most afraid of? Bonus: If you could be any animal on the planet, what would you be? Good night, Bella. Edward ... School on Wednesday started off just fine. I avoided Newton in the halls and received a smile from Bella about a minute later. Nothing major was being covered in any of my morning classes, so I didn't need to pay close attention to anything. But when lunch came, the ease of the morning faded quickly. Alice wasn't at lunch and Jasper was silent. It didn't happen often, but there were times when Jasper completely shut down. He was normally very animated, his emotions showing plainly on his face. But Jasper was always in a stat e of fluxusually mirroring the emotions of those around him, but other times being completely oblivious to others' feelings. There were times when he would show no emotion at all, as if he were emotionally dead, an

unfeeling robot, and then there were times when he was so empathic, all he had to do was look into Alice's eyes and he could know her pain and feel it right along with her. At the moment, Jasper was blank, his face showing no emotion as he stared off across the cafeteria. Rosalie and Emmett both tried to engage him in conversation, but he wouldn't respond. After fifteen minutes of Jasper's silence, I felt a presence over my shoulder and I turned, shocked to find that it was Bella. My eyes widened as she stood there, chewing her bottom lip. She looked at Jasper and then to me. She looked worried or upset or nervous. "B-B-B" My voice trailed off as her eyes locked with mine. "Alice is in the bathroom." She glanced at Jasper, her eyes narrowing at him for just a moment. He sat there as if she hadn't spoken at all. Turning her eyes back to me, she motioned to her torso as she said, "She's, um," Bella shook her head, her coloring paler than normal. "She's bleeding." My eyes widened and I stood up as my brain processed the information. Alice was bleeding. Bella wouldn't have come to our table unless it was bad. I looked at Jasper and saw that he was still checked out. I wanted to hit him to wake him up, but Alice needed me. She was bleeding. I probably should have said something to Bella. Perhaps a thank you, but I could only think of getting to Alice. It wasn't until I hit the hallway that I realized that there were at least four girl's bathrooms and I had no idea which one she was in. "This one," Bella said, pointing to the bathroom a few yards down. Rosalie was moving towards the bathroom but waited outside the door for me. I quickly looked at the double doors to the cafeteria. I wondered if Jasper was still sitting in his seat like nothing had happened. Realizing that every second wasted out here was a second that Alice was alone in there, I made my feet move. I couldn't have cared less that it was a girl's bathroom. I didn't care who was in there or what I saw and how inappropriate it would be. I pushed open the door and went in. She was in the very last stall. It felt strange and wrong to be in the girl's bathroom but it was Alice. Alice. And I couldn't just leave her there or wait for Rosalie to save the day. I doubted that Rosalie could have saved the day. Rosalie was good with Emmett and good kicking the crap out of Jasper when he deserved it, but she never had much tact and with Alice, tact was always important. I could see the lower half of her body. She was sitting on the tiled floor, her little legs crossed. I wanted to cringe at the fact that she, Alice, clean, meticulous Alice, was sitting on a public bathroom floor in front of a toilet, but the fact that I could see a small pool of blood on the floor next to her, made all of that unimportant. Knocking gently, I could hear Alice sniffle. "I didn't mean to, Edward." I pushed the stall door open and looked down. She was looking up at me, looking crumpled and wilted like dying flower. Mascara ran from her eyes, leaving two black and gray streaks down her cheeks. "It was an accident."

The white fitted button down was red near her belly. The fabric clung to her abdomen. "A-Aliiiice?" "I swear I didn't" It didn't matter what Alice said after that because I would nod my head like I believed her, even if I didn't. She was this way every time and it wasn't her fault. Each time she'd done something like this in the past, she swore up and down that she didn't actually mean to cut herself. I could tell it was deep, much deeper than any of the other times. She had been doing so well. It had been seven months since the last time, so far as I knew. Squatting down, looked closer at her torso until my eyes were drawn to her right hand. "A-Aliiiice." Her eyes caught mine and I glanced back down at the scalpel in her hands. Her hollow gaze followed mine, hearing my unasked question as if I'd spoken it aloud. "I don't know, Edward." Her voice was barely a whisper now, her other hand coming up to cover her mouth. More tears welled in her eyes as she shook her head. "I don't remember getting it." I sighed and then moved slowly to remove the instrument from her hand. I knew she'd never intentionally hurt me. But if someone had a sharp implement, it didn't matter to me who it was, I was going to move as slowly as possible. Being stabbed and sliced was painful. Taking the scalpel from her, I froze, my eyes immediately finding her wide, panicked eyes again, as I felt her hands wrap around my wrists. "Don't tell Carlisle, please. Don't tell him, Edward." "C-c-can I-I s-ssssee?" I pointed to her belly. It looked like blood was still seeping. "Don't tell Carlisle," she said louder. "A-Aliiiice," I started, knowing that there was no way to keep him from knowing. "E-E-Em-Emmett p-p-probably already c-c-c-called him." It was difficult to get the words out at the moment with her hands grasping my wrists so tightly and seeing that panicked look in her eye. "Emmett was dialing the phone when we left the table," I heard behind me. I hadn't known that Rosalie was there. "No! No, no, no!" She rose up onto her knees, her hands moving from my wrists to fist my shirt right under my chin. "I don't want to go back, Edward. Don't let them put me back there." I moved my hands to hers and sighed. I knew she was talking about the institution and I knew she never wanted to go back. I also knew that Carlisle and Esme were watching her like hawks to see if she would 'accidentally' cut herself again. I felt so bad for her. I believed that in the state she was in now, she didn't mean to cut herself. I believed that she had no intentions of hurting herself. But I knew it wasn't an accident. Her episodes made her lose time or black out. Usually it happened and she just sat and stared at a nothing, but sometimes she would do stuff. Crazy stuff, like taking Carlisle's dead mother's ashes and sprinkling them onto the bathroom floor. Or shedding a piece of clothing that she just bought for no reason. Crazy stuff like taking Biology supplies and cutting herself until she bled. I uncurled her fingers from my shirt and held her hands. "Y-you w-won't go aw-w-way, A-Aliiice." I have her hands a squeeze and she closed her eyes for a moment. I heard Rosalie sigh. "We have to get her cleaned up, Edward. I'm sure Bella can't keep the bitches of

Forks out of here for long." I turned to face her and she stuck out a handful of paper towels. "Th-thanks." I asked Alice again, "C-c-can I sssee?" She nodded and her hands left mine to pull up her soiled shirt just over her stomach. While the cut was still seeping blood, it wasn't as deep as I had feared. I held the stack of paper towels over the wound, pressing it gently. "Jasper and I had a fight," she whispered. I arched my eyebrow and she continued, "He kept talking about going to Stanford in the fall. He kept going on and on about it like it would be the best thing in the world for him. And I reminded him that he'd be leaving me, leaving me alone and that if he really wanted to be with me, he could go to U Dub for a year until I graduated." "Motherfucker," Rosalie hissed. "And he said that he wouldn't. And then I said he didn't really love me and he looked at me straight in the eye and said that maybe he didn't." "You got this, Edward?" I turned to look at Rosalie again. "I need to go kick him in the balls." Alice sniffed and I faced her again. "W-we shhhhould go." Taking her hands, I pulled her up, carefully to keep the towels against her. "But I know he loves me." "Of course he loves you, Alice. My brother's just an asshole. You know he doesn't mean half the shit he says when he's like that." Rosalie turned, mumbling something about kicking Jasper again. Alice and I walked to the sink after Rosalie had gone. Alice started crying harder when she looked in the mirror. I turned on the water and grabbed more paper towel. Giving her the dampened towels for her face, I pulled the stack away from her belly. The blood flow was slowing. I pressed the stack against her again. "H-h-hold this." When she did so, I went to clean up the blood from the floor. "Don't let them take me, Edward. I can't go there again." "I-I kn-know." I moved back to her quickly, tossing the towels in the garbage quickly. "W-we should go." Alice let me lead her almost to the door before her feet stopped and she refused to go any further. "I didn't mean to, Edward." I nodded. "I-I know." Satisfied, she moved forward again and as we exited the bathroom, I was thankful that it was still lunch and the halls were empty. "Th-thank you," I said to Bella as I passed her. She didn't have to stand guard, helping to secure our privacy, but she did. Bella's eyes slid to Alice's abdomen and she swallowed hard. She looked away even as she asked, "Okay?" "Y-yes."

"Alice!" I looked over to see that Emmett had joined us. "Damn, Alice," he sighed. "You were doing so good." "D-did you c-call C-Carlisle?" Emmett nodded but before Alice could get upset with him, he came and passed me my bag and then picked Alice up in his arms. Bella was right, he was like Superman, swooping in and saving the girl. They began to walk towards the front of the school and I turned back to Bella. "W-we have to t-take her t-to the hospital." Her eyes were wide. "Is she going to be okay? What the hell happened?" I gave her a smile. "I-I'll email you." I pointed behind me. "I-I have t-to go." "Yeah," she said, waving her hand towards Alice and Emmett's back. "Yeah, go. I'll take notes in Banner's class for you." I nodded, letting myself smile just a little. "Th-thank you." ... It was just after nine at night when I powered up my computer. The day hadn't been what I had expected. Carlisle and Esme made the decision to keep Alice in the hospital overnight. Not because the cut was so bad but because they wanted to study her. They wanted to see if she needed to be taken away again. I hoped that she'd be back home tomorrow. Despite my concern for Alice, I smiled as I saw Bella's email in my inbox. Hey Edward, How is Alice and what the fuck was up with that? What the hell happened? Normally, I'm not so demandingly nosy but that was some fucked up shit. And isn't Jasper Alice's boyfriend? Why wasn't he more fucking concerned? For what it's worth, I hope she's okay. I'm sorry I couldn't do more. I don't handle blood all that well. Funny isn't it, coming from a diabetic? So I guess I'll just answer the questions. My birthday is September 13th. I have no friends back in Phoenix. Three words to describe myself. Three separate words or like a three word sentence? Sentence: Pissed Off Bitch. Words: High, Tired, Angry. I don't know when the best day of my life was. Maybe it's still to come, but if you need best day so far, I supposed I'd go with, the other day in the field. I know all we did was talk or whatever, but it was a good day. I like days when I don't have to deal with all the shit in my life. I'm afraid of a lot of things, but don't tell anyone. If I could be an animal, I would be a house cat. I could iey around all day passing judgment on humans, eat all their food, and then get catnip for being 'cute.' Now mine:

Why didn't you ever play in the mud as a child? Why did Kate and Dr. Cullen get a divorce? When is your birthday? What did you want to be when you grew up? Is it different than what you want to be now? (I am aware that I'm sneaking an extra question here.) Do you hate your mom for what she did? Bonus: Should I have done something else for Alice today? I didn't really know what to do. Anyway, I hope she's okay. She seemed like she was really looking forward to the dance. I hope she still gets to go. Will you go to school tomorrow? I'll see you, or, you know, maybe not. Bella. I sighed. While I enjoyed being able to communicate with Bella, sometimes the questions were difficult. I was sure she felt the same way. I'd expected the question about mud and my birthday and childhood dreams weren't hard to think about, but I hated thinking about Kate leaving and I didn't want to talk or write about my mother. But this was what we were doing. This was our silent agreement, to ask and answer things we wouldn't be able to talk about otherwise. And I couldn't help but think that if I didn't answer, fully and honestly, that I would be damaging the trust that was building between us. I was tired, incredibly tired. It had been an emotionally draining day. Alice didn't want me to leave the hospital and I would have stayed there all night with her if I could've, but hospitals have rules. And so do Carlisle and Esme. I didn't think they were trying to be mean but it wasn't hard to see that Alice and I had come to depend on each other. And while they didn't want to break that bond, I think they wanted to see how far it would stretch. They didn't want us to be co-dependent. But I saw nothing wrong with having at least someone to depend on. Regardless, I couldn't stay with her and had to leave her alone. She looked very small in that large bed, an IV in her arm. They weren't giving her anything but saline, but I guessed they wanted to keep their options open. At least they didn't have to use the restraints this time. I stayed up only long enough to return Bella's email and then lay down for another fitful night of sleep. ...

Chapter 23: Intensity B POV "Oh, fucking Christ!"

"Nope, still just fucking me," Jacob said with a chuckle into my ear. Fucking outside in Arizona was a lot more comfortable than trying to do it outside in Washington on a motherfucking cold fall day. Stupid coats get in the way. I was sure we looked anything but sexy; Jacob with his pants around his ankles, bare ass out in the thirty degree air, me, pants hanging off of my right foot, pressed up against this big old tree. The intensity with which he fucked me the past couple of days was about to send me into orgasmic overload. He was either working out his anger towards me through sex or the dude was fucking in love with me. I hoped it was anger. Anger I could deal with. Anger I could understand. He had been strange and distant on Monday, not really speaking when he picked me up for school. I felt a little bad, but that moon-eyed shit he'd been pulling had to fucking quit. I wasn't his girlfriend and I would never be. It was tough love. I had to snap his ass out of whatever fantasy he was living in which we had more going than a mutual orgasm arrangement. I got my weed from him. I paid him money for that. I got to come and in return, I made him come. There would never be any movies or dinner or goddamn fucking hand-holding. It wasn't until lunch when he decided he would grace me with his words. And what romantic words they were. "Hey, you want to fuck after you're finished with the joint?" It was at least better than asking me to the fucking dance or to a movie. Yesterday, I had gotten home from Edward's, feeling all kinds of weak. First off, why the hell did I volunteer to cook fucking dinner on Saturday? Why couldn't I have kept my mouth shut? I was pretty sure that Dr. Bitch would be there with Dr. Sexy and Charlie, so now instead of being there a few hours, I basically just signed myself up for at least five. But at least Edward would be there. I felt vulnerable yesterday because Edward and I had slipped into this casual friendship and while I liked it, there were things that made me completely uncomfortable. Like sharing pieces of our lives that no else was privy to. I felt stupid after saying that I used to get into trouble for playing in the dirt, and I felt fucking horrible when I didn't believe that he had never played in the dirt. I didn't think he would lie about that because who would? Who would just make that shit up. And then he asked me to ask him in an e-mail and I was instantly reminded that he was in therapy just like me. We seemed to be using our newly acquired e-mail conversations for topics we really couldn't or wouldn't say out loud. I didn't think that I had admitted too much, but I had this feeling deep down that it would only be a matter of time before I would. And that was fucking scary. But as Jacob grunted his way towards the homestretch, I pushed all my thoughts of Edward and the accompanying fears to the side and just felt the waves of sexual bliss course through my body. After he pulled out, tossing the condom behind him, we cleaned ourselves up a bit before exiting the woods and heading to the school. Pixie Cullen wasn't in Photography, leaving no distractions as I developed my film. I could have sworn I saw her get out of the Jeep they all usually came to school in this morning.

And in Spanish, Ms. Goff pissed me off by springing a pop quiz on us. Stupid Spanish. Before I could make it to lunch, I found Pixie in the bathroom. At first I hadn't known it was her, just that there was someone sitting on the floor in the last stall and there was blood. I could smell it before I saw it and it made me slightly dizzy. "Um, hello?" I called as I stood outside of the stall. "Are you okay?" There was no response, so I asked again. "Go away," was the reply. Fuck. "Alice?" "Go away," she repeated. I sighed, running my hands through my hair. "I'd love to. I hate blood and so I should leave, but since there is blood, I'm sort of worried, so I can't really leave until you come out and tell me you're okay." "I'm okay." "Are you coming out?" She sniffled. "No." Double fucking fuck. "Then I can't fucking leave." I pushed on the stall door to see if it was unlocked. It was a long shot and it didn't pay off. "Alice, um, can II need toDo you need some help or something?" I felt stupid. I wished that I could've just walked out of the bathroom and not care. "Please just go away." "Listen, Alice, I fucking suck at this interpersonal bullshit, so could you just come out of there and let me do something or whatever?" I didn't know what I was doing, nor did I know what I would do if she came out. I hoped that whatever was bleeding was an easy fix and didn't require me to do any touching or anything. I felt like passing out as it was. Another sniffle. "Bella, if you're my friend, you'll just leave now." Well, fuck. It was in this moment that I realized how radically different my life had become in just a few short weeks. It was out of fucking control. Here I was, new girl at Podunk High and I had all these people around me. I was a nameless fucking face in Arizona. I was just one more piece of ass, one more bitch, one more stupid-ass kid in a fucking sea of them. And now suddenly, I was here, involved in everyone else's shit with everyone else just dying to be in mine. Pixie Cullen obviously thought I was her friend and I couldn't find anything to point to the contrary, so now she could no longer be just Pixie Cullen. Now she was Alice. Alice, Edward's sister, who likes to fucking shop and loves Blondie Boy Hale. Motherfucker, how had I let this bullshit happen? Between Jake fucking wanting to go all gooey on me and my fucking little school girl crush on Edward, this thing with Alice now made me feel even more out of sorts.

But Alice was there bleeding and she had called me her friend and she neededsomething. And I didn't want the damn girl to just go on bleeding, and not because it fucking made me sick but because she was too nice to sit there bleeding alone for that much longer. I sighed. I had to do something. "Alice, because I'm your friend and all, I'm leaving." I paused and heard her sigh in relief. "But I'm going to go get Edward. He'll know what to do," I finished the last part off in a whisper. I heard a little 'eep' noise come from within the stall, but I turned from her, moving as quickly as I could out of the bathroom and into the cafeteria. It was so easy to spot them. The Hales and Cullens probably couldn't help standing out amongst the rest of the kids. It dawned on me that I had never really spoken to Big Cullen or Barbie and her twin Blondie Boy Hale. I'd obviously been in the same room with them before, but I had never said anything to them. But now I would have to. Big Cullen was Alice's brother, so he probably needed to know to and Barbie was female, so she'd probably be the one to go in after Alice in the girls' bathroom and Blondie Boy was her boyfriend or whatever. But when I finally told them what was up, Alice's boyfriend had absolutely no response. No one had told me about him being fucking deaf, but I swear to the flying spaghetti monster that the dude didn't hear me. I wasn't the one fucking Alice and I was worried about her. But he had no reaction to the news that his girl was fucking bleeding. Meanwhile, this guy looked like the fucking wall on the other side of the room was the most interesting fucking thing he'd seen all damn day. But Alice was bleeding and Edward was out of his chair and heading out of the hallway. He paused only for a moment and I could tell that he was wondering which bathroom she was in. I pointed him on and was amazed at the intensity radiating from him in that moment. As I watched him move with purpose, I nearly forgot that this was the same guy who allowed himself to get picked on day after day. I couldn't tell that this was the same guy that bumped into me on the first day of school. I bit my lip as he disappeared behind the girls' bathroom door. He hadn't even checked if there were other girls in there. He must've loved Alice. Of course he did, she was one of the four things he couldn't live without. "Bella," I jumped at the sound. Turning around, I saw Barbie Hale standing behind me, just outside of the bathroom. "III'm not good with blood." Barbie Hale rolled her eyes as a sneer settled onto her face. "Then just hang out by the door, Bella, and make sure no one comes in." I had no idea why she said my name with such contempt but at that moment, I didn't feel that I had much time to figure it out. Alice was in the bathroom having some kind of bloody breakdown and I had to guard the door. Why I was helping the Cullens and the Hales, I didn't fully understand, but I felt compelled to do it. It felt like I needed to help them, or at least Edward. How fucking bizarre. I kept waiting for her to go into the bathroom after Edward, but she didn't. "What?"

Her eyes moved from my eyes down to my feet and then back up again. "Don't fuck with Edward." "What?" I asked again, this time completely lost. "Edward doesn't need any more people fucking with him." I scoffed, folding my arms over my chest. "I wasn't planning on fucking with him." Barbie sighed and cocked her head to the side. "All the same. I see you, Bella and I don't know what the damage is in your little life, but don't let it fuck him up even more." I shook my head. "I don't even know what you're talking about." "I get that my mom paired you two or whatever, but don't give him false hope." "False hope about what?" I wasn't trying to be slow or anything, but I really just didn't understand. "It's cool that you're hanging out with him, but if you fuck with him and he gets hurt, I'll hurt you back." I rolled my eyes. "Please." I accentuated the sarcasm with a small chuckle. "Will you be hurting me with or without your cheerleader outfit on? 'Cause if it's with the outfit, I know a guy that'll pay us for that shit." Shaking her head, she said, "That's disgusting." I smiled as she turned and went into the bathroom. But as she left, the smile faded quickly. ... After dinner, I typed out an e-mail to Edward and then flopped down on my bed, wishing I was high. It was too risky to get high hanging out the window, especially when Charlie was still up, so I only did that on rare occasions. I found myself stone sober. And being sober made everything difficult. I just wanted comfort of the dull buzz. I certainly didn't want all these stupid thoughts going through my head. I was pissed off. I was fucking mad. I was pissed at Alice for bleeding on the fucking bathroom floor. What the hell was up with that? And why the fuck did I have to care? Couldn't she just go back to being Pixie Cullen like before? Why did I have to get suckered into having the warm fuzzies for her? Why the fuck did I care about any one of them? It had been the plan to not have friends. I didn't want them. But now I fucking had them. And then my thoughts shifted rather rapidly. I thought about the time I had spent with Edward, talking about the fucking mud. I just had a compulsion to ask him why he hadn't played in it. I couldn't help myself sometimes. I couldn't explain it. It felt so foreign to me. I had no idea why I wanted to figure him out so badly. I had never given a shit about any other person. I usually didn't fucking care what another person's name was because it didn't fucking matter. I just needed to know how it was they fit into my life. I just needed to know what they had that I needed. Because who gives a fuck that Jacob was just a guy who sells pot to support his father? Why the fuck did I need to care that his mother was dead and his disabled father was a drunk?

But the fucked up part was that now I did. I fucking cared. Now it wasn't just some fucking dude I get my weed from. Now it wasn't just some guy I fuck. Now it was Jacob and all his problems. And the fucking mud. Why the hell hadn't Edward played in fucking mud before? And why the fuck did I need to know? I wished I fucking knew what the hell was going on with me. And he was going to tell me. He answered every fucking question I asked him. And I didn't deserve that trust he was putting in me. There was no way did I deserve it. Every fucking rule I had for myself was slowly deteriorating. Next thing I knew I'd be shopping at the motherfucking Gap, drinking Starbucks mocha-latte-choco-shit in a cup. I didn't even know who the fuck I was anymore. So I made up my mind. I went to my window and got incredibly fucking high until my thoughts slowed down into something more manageable. Yeah, things were definitely better when I was high. It had felt like my thoughts had been smothering me. And I no longer gave a shit if Charlie caught me because at least my fucking thoughts could slow down. Now I could just be chill. My room was locked up tight, but I still couldn't sleep. It was a little past one in the morning when I read Edward's reply to my e-mail. Bella, Alice is okay. Carlisle had her kept at the hospital. I didn't think the cut was that bad, but I'm pretty sure that they want to 'observe' her. It's what he and Esme always do when she's like this. I told you that sometimes she just sort of zones out. There have been times in the past when she's hurt herself when it happens. I don't really get it and it's incredibly scary. She doesn't remember even getting the scalpel from Biology. I never know why it happens to her. There are no triggers that anyone's been able to figure out. They just happen. But she told me that she had a fight with Jasper. I like Jasper, but it's hard to know what to expect from him. Sometimes he's an emotional sponge and sometimes he's incredibly emotionless. Alice wants him to stay close to Forks for his first year of college, but Rosalie is going to Stanford with Emmett. Rosalie won't go anywhere without Emmett and Jasper won't go anywhere without Rosalie. He's been incredibly protective of her since as long as I've known them. And if he had to choose Rosalie or Alice, he'd choose Rosalie. So enough about that. I'm tired. On to your questions. My real father was pretty particular about things like dirt and mud. He had a lot of rules. I wasn't allowed outside to play when it was raining or snowing. I could go out to get on the school bus, but when I came home, I would have to take my shoes or snow boots off outside. We never had any indoor plants like Kate. Kate left Carlisle, as far as I know, because he was never home. He went out and adopted the three of us

and then left her alone to raise us. She hadn't wanted us in the first place. We weren't meant to hear that part, but they were yelling and I don't think they knew that they were loud enough to overhear. So she didn't want us and Carlisle spent too much time at the hospital. So she left and divorced him. My birthday is on June 20th. I first thing I ever wanted to be when I grew up was fireman. It's not original, I know, but I wanted to be a fireman. The fireman stage didn't last long. About my mom. I don't hate my mom for what she did or who she was. I wasn't in my mom's head, so I don't know why she did what she did. But she did it. It doesn't make her a bad person. My father said that she damned herself to hell by killing herself, but it could have been her salvation instead. How am I to know? My mother loved me regardless of her addiction and regardless of if she killed herself. And so I love her. I wish every day that she hadn't done that, but I don't hate her for it. As for your bonus question, you did fine with Alice. Thank you. Here are my questions for you: Do you dream? Of the many things that you're afraid of, what's one of them? Do you like Forks? What are those four marks on your neck from? You said that you banged meth. Banged means injected right? Like heroin? Why'd you do that? Bonus: What's for dinner on Saturday? Goodnight, Bella. Edward. Edward's reply about his mother just hurt. I knew it was e-mail, but I could feel him through his words. I would've hated her if I were him. I would have cussed profusely when talking about her, but he was respectful and loving. And I felt horrible for him. I didn't like to leave Edward's e-mails sitting unanswered. I felt like I needed to answer them right away. I didn't want him to think that anything he answered made me feel any different about him. He was my friend. I had told him that and I believed that, so it was important to make sure he knew that I wasn't judging him. So I didn't want to leave him hanging too long. Edward, Your first question confuses me. Are you asking if I dream, as in "someday my Prince will come" or as in neurons firing rapidly while I sleep? Because no to the first and yes to the second. I dream when I sleep. Typically I remember them because I don't usually sleep straight through the night. Unfortunately, they're never the type of dream I want to remember. I like Forks as much as anyone can like a small town. It's very green. And wet. And cold. Life is usually life no matter where you're living it. So it's no better or worse than Phoenix. Like I told you before, it's much

more difficult to be anonymous here. That sucks. Three of the five of your questions are tough and I don't really want to answer them. Just so you know, it's only because it's you asking them that I am even entertaining the thought of really answering them. I'd tell anyone one else who asked to fuck off. One thing I'm afraid of is the dark. I don't like it, never have. I'm okay outside at night if there's no cloud cover and the moon is bright. I can see enough of my surroundings to be okay. But I don't like going into darkened rooms. The marks on my neck are from a fork. A fork was stuck in my neck. Banging does mean injecting. I did it because a guy had it at a party and it was something new. It wasn't a horrible experience, but I don't like blood and I don't like needles. Apart from having to inject myself with insulin and make myself bleed in order to control my diabetes, I'd rather not do it recreationally. Bonus: I was thinking about making chicken and noodles on Saturday. Or I could make a stir fry? Any preference, any suggestions? Nothing spicy though because I hate spicy food. So now my questions: Do you miss Kate? Since you've asked me, where in the world do you want to visit? Do you believe in evolution or divine creation? Even though you don't like confrontation, I would imagine that you don't like people making you feel like shit. Don't you just want to pop Newton in the mouth just once? What's one thing that scares you? Okay, that's it. Have a good night. I hope you get some sleep and if you can't, I hope you have some good coffee. B. ...

Chapter 24: On Eating and Cooking BPOV Edward wasn't in school on Thursday but I did get an email from him. Bella, I read as I let my book bag fall to the floor. I would worry about fixing dinner later. Alice got to come home and as far as I know, she won't have to go away. Jasper was over today and they seem to have made up. Both of them are acting as if it never happened. But Carlisle is letting her go to the dance, so she couldn't be happier at the moment. I think you should make whatever you want on Saturday. You are doing all the work, so it should be what you want. But chicken and noodles sounds fantastic.

I do miss Kate. Apart from apparently never wanting to adopt us, she was always kind. She made good food. She was good for Alice to have around. Alice doesn't remember her mother, most of her childhood, really. Alice adored Kate as a mother figure. If I could visit anywhere, I would visit Ireland, I think. My mom was born there and she used to talk about it all the time. I don't really want to hit Mike Newton. I'm not really a fan of violence. I try not to react in a way that would make me more like him. He seems to enjoy hurting people. I don't. I don't want to enjoy it, so even though he makes my life harder than what it needs to be, it would do nothing for me to hit him back, even just once. I believe in both evolution and creation. Just because God made the world, it doesn't mean that the world he created didn't change over time. Who is to say that that God's seven days and man's seven days are related at all in terms of time? What was seven days to God, could have been a million years for million. Who am I to know the measurement of God's time? Religion and Science can come together. Most people are just too narrow-minded to see that. One thing that scares me? There are a lot of things that scare me, some more than others. One thing would be college. I want to go but it seems to be giving me quite a bit of anxiety. Every time I start thinking that today's the day I'll mail in my applications, my hands won't pick up the envelopes. I don't know what it is exactly, but I'm sure it has to do with all those people that inhabit a college and I won't know a single one of them. I could go to Stanford with Emmett, Alice, Jasper, and Rosalie, but I'm not sure that's where I want to go. So, now for mine: Why don't you like spicy food? How does one get impaled with a fork? Why don't you like talking about your mother? Why would you just put something like meth into your body simply because someone offered it to you? Are you upset with me for asking these questions? Bonus: I'm thinking of a number between 1 and 100. Guess what it is. I'll see you tomorrow. We'll go to the store directly after school. Pretty much everyone will be busy with the game, but if you still want to, we can do something after getting groceries. It'll be too late to try to go to the meadow, but we can find something. Have a good night, Bella. Edward He certainly wasn't holding back with his questions. I would answer them though, just as he answered all of mine. As much as I didn't want to admit it, I was the one that opened these flood gates and now I couldn't close them. It was a weird thing to want to tell someone shit I'd never even wanted to think about before. I had no idea what it was about him, but Edward was able to make me feel like it was okay to share. Not that I wanted to. I wished to the FSM that he hadn't asked me any of these questions, but he did, so I would reciprocate his honesty and trust. I might not tell him every motherfucking thing, but I wouldn't avoid the questions. No matter how bad I wanted to. Edward, I'm glad Alice is okay and can still go to the dance. I'm sure it wouldn't have helped her to have to miss something that obviously means a lot to her. She's told me all about her dress during Photography.

No, I'm not upset with you about you asking those questions, however, to be perfectly honest, I hate every single one (except the bonus. You're thinking of number 73, aren't you?). I don't like talking about my mom because I don't really like my mother. I would rather just banish her from my mind and not talking about her helps. She's in Phoenix and I'm in Forks, so there's really not that much to say. Banging meth was stupid. I know that. It was stupid to do it, but I did. And I don't know why I did it other than just because it was there. I'm kind of a 'I'll try it at least once' kind of girl. I don't know. I don't like spicy food because it can hurt. One gets impaled on a fork by falling on it. I paused my typing for a moment. I wondered how unfair it was that I wasn't elaborating and I wondered if he would pick up on it and mind. I wasn't trying to give less than I took with Edward but these answers fell into the realm of things people didn't need to know. They were things I didn't want to think about and I was quite frankly not high enough to go into depth. My emotions would have been all over the place. Here are my five for you. 1) How did you get the scar on your top lip? 2) Why do you want to be a doctor or a medical researcher instead of a fireman now? 3) Do you miss living in Chicago? 4) Why do you want to know anything about me? 5) I've never seen you upset. Not even when I think you should be. What makes you upset? Bonus: If you could do anything, without any negative consequences, what would it be? Most of the rest of my Thursday was routine, the only difference being at dinner and a phone call after. There was something that I knew I had to discuss with Charlie, him being my legal guardian and all. I'd been kicking it around my head for a little bit and unfortunately I needed his consent. "Charlie?" I asked, watching as his eyes met mine. His knife stopped on the steak, mid-cut. "I want to get a job." I needed money. Despite cooking and cleaning, Charlie didn't give me an allowance, like other kids' parents. Renee never did either, so I wasn't upset with it, but I needed money. "You want a job?" I nodded at his question. I had just said that. Charlie looked like he was thinking, his mouth finally chewing that piece of steak. "Well, I know the Newton's pretty good. I don't know if they need any help, being that it's going into winter and all." "Newton's, as in Mike Newton?" "Yeah, he's a good kid. I've known his parents practically since birth. You know him from school?" I sighed and then took a drink of my water. "Yeah. Does he work there?" "I think he helps out, yeah." Shaking my head, I continued, "I was thinking about the diner." Serving would give me cash in my pocket after every shift. "No." I looked up at him again, his face was stiffly set. "But, Charlie!" I whined. "Why not?" "The diner gets a lot of truckers, drifters, and vagrants." "But"

He cut me off. "No, Bella. Half the calls that come in to the station come from the diner." I sighed. I could tell that I wouldn't win. "Fine, what about the grocery store? Is that acceptable?" "What's wrong with Newton's?" "I don't want to work there. It's a sporting goods store, right? Look at me, Charlie, do I look like I know the difference between a grappling hook and fishing lures?" He thought about it for a moment. "I suppose the Thriftway's fine. But you have to keep your grades up. The judge said" Not wanting to hear about that asinine judge and his stupid agreement, I didn't let him finish. "I can keep my grades up with or without a job." The academics at Forks high left something to be desired, but that made it easy for me to pass without trying. After dinner, I finally called James from Port Angeles. The conversation consisted of him talking dirty to me and me pretending to care about it. And I hung up about as unsatisfied as I was when I called. ... On Friday, Edward had driven his own car to school. I had been relatively stoned when I saw him pull up, but it later dawned on me that he had driven to school alone so that he could take me to the store on Friday to buy food for Saturday's dinner. I hadn't been in his car since the ride home from Olympia where I ended a perfectly nice day with a crazy grope that hadn't even been addressed between us. He didn't bring it up and there was no way that I would. I met up with Edward outside of the school. Jacob had been a little put out that I had plans for the evening that didn't include him. But just like I'd reminded him before that I wasn't his girlfriend, I reminded him that I was no one's girlfriend and going out with Edward wasn't a date. We were doing grocery shopping. No romance going on inside of a grocery store. But it did give me a great opportunity to pick up an application. "A-ar-are y-you getting a j-job?" I looked at Edward and gave him a smile, seeing the sheepish look on his face. With an application in hand, it was obvious that I was trying to get a job. But I wasn't going to give him a hard time. Edward tried harder to communicate and took more care in speaking with me than most people. "Yeah. Less time at home, more money in my pocket." Grabbing a cart, I screwed up my face into a grimace. "Charlie wanted me to get a job at Newton's. How bad would that have sucked?" Edward smiled and I felt warm at the sight. "P-pretty bad." I pulled out a list as we entered the Produce Department. "Here, will you look at this and let me know if you have any of this shit at home?" Taking the paper, Edward's eyes moved quickly. "A-a-asparagus, b-b-beets, p-potato?" He looked at me again. "Ch-chicken and noodles has b-beets?" I smiled at him again and headed over to green rack. "No. I changed my mind. I think I'm just going to roast a bunch of stuff. It's pretty easy and very yummy." "W-we have p-potatoes." "What American family doesn't?" "W-what kind of apples?" I had toyed around with making dessert because if I was going to be in charge of cooking, I was going to fucking hook it up. And since Edward's favorite fruit was apples, I'd decided on an apple crisp. It was quick and easy and shouldn't garner too many questions about my diabetes. I was feeding a doctor after all and the last thing I needed tomorrow was a goddamned lecture about carbs and sugar.

"Y-you like b-brussel sprouts and b-b-beets? W-what kind of t-teenager are you?" I smiled at his joke and shook my head at the fact that I liked all the weird vegetables that most people my age had never even heard of. "W-w-why do you l-like to cook?" I sighed, heavily. I didn't like to cook. I fucking hated cooking. I've never enjoyed it. I cooked because if I didn't, no one would. "I don't like cooking, Edward. I like eating. Eating requires cooking. If I don't fucking cook, I don't fucking eat." It came out harsher than what I had intended it to. Edward inhaled quickly, his brow knitted together as he looked at his feet. In an instant, guilt flooded me. I hadn't meant to snap at him and I had no honest clue why I had. But what I did know what that I wasn't high enough to discuss some shit about liking to cook. Yes, I cooked. Yes, I was fucking good at it, but I didn't fucking like it. Why the fuck would I want to talk about the day Renee decided that I was responsible for cooking? Because at six years old, there's not much beyond dry processed cheese sandwiches that you can make without cutting or burning yourself. Nope, I wasn't going to go there and certainly not with Edward in the middle of a fucking grocery store. I wanted to be high now, but Edward looked like a fucking kicked puppy dog and I didn't want him to fucking feel bad. "I'm sorry, Edward." Licking my lips, I forced myself to stop looking at the potatoes and look at him again. "I justcook because I have to, not because I enjoy it or anything." "D-d-didn't your m-mm-mmmmom cook?" I rolled my eyes and pushed the rising anger down. "No. She didn't cook." His brow was still furrowed and his green eyes fucking burned me. "I cooked and if I didn't, I didn't eat." His lips shifted into an O and his cheeks puffed out as he tried to say something. From the shape of his mouth and the general sounds he was making, I imagined that he was trying to ask another question. Edward's hands balled up and he hit himself in the thighs. I wondered if he knew that he did that shit. "H-h-h-how old w-w-were y-you w-w-w-w" It wasn't hard to tell that he was nervous or anxious or something because he could barely get a word out without stuttering. He wasn't normally that bad. Again, guilt ate at me like acid from the inside. All he did was ask a question and then I kind of flipped out on him and now he wanted to know how old I was when I had to fend for myself. And it was just a question. I'd asked him questions. He trusted me enough to answer them. Even though I really, really, really didn't want to think about this shit, could I really just not answer him? If he had typed that question into an e-mail, would I answer it? "She just stopped feeding me one day. " Fuck, he looked like he was going to try to ask it again. Fine. "I was six, now can we buy some fucking beets or what?" What a way to crash and burn from what was a perfectly good high. I wanted to catch another buzz, but I was with Edward. I had gotten high around him in the past, but no matter how much I wanted to be stoned, I didn't want to do it around him anymore. It obviously bothered him. Not that I didn't want to be high around him, I just didn't want to get high around him. I huffed. Not at him, just at the whole thing. Grabbing the list back from him, I started shopping in earnest. I would need to remember everything for tomorrow's dinner. I was going to make roasted vegetables with rosemary chicken. And of course, apple crisp for dessert. I found the apples and read the descriptions next to the price sign for which ones would cook the best.

I didn't need to read them, as I already knew, but the distraction was welcomed as my mind decided that thinking about apples meant I should be thinking about Edward. And in its normal sober attempt at pushing me to think about other things, my brain moved from thinking about Edward to thinking about his question about my mother and cooking. And now I was thinking about Renee and the kitchen. I was thinking about the oven and the sharp implements. I thought about being burned and punctured. I thought about being hungry and having incredibly low blood sugar because Renee hadn't bothered to go shopping for us. I remembered having to stack up pots and pans on the upturned trash can so that I could stand on the counter and get into my mother's candy stash. And while I'd been happy that the sugar had made me feel better, I remembered how much trouble I'd gotten into when she found me shaking on the floor, a chocolate bar in hand. Some parents grab the video camera and record their six year old covered in chocolate and send it into America's Funniest Videos. Not Renee. Renee grabbed me by my hair, twirled me around like a sling shot and flung me against the wall. Afterwards, I "Fuck," I whispered. Turning to find Edward just looking at me, I excused myself to the bathroom. I didn't give a fuck if someone walked into that bathroom, I was getting fucking stoned. ... "That's nice," I said quietly as I sat in a chaise lounge, listening to Edward play the piano. We'd unpacked the groceries quickly. I was somewhat surprised that no one else was here. This house was usually bustling on Friday nights and it felt a little strange. We had planned to do something after grocery shopping, but my mood went south real fucking quick and no amount of weed could help it. We'd barely spoken since the exchange in the supermarket. I wasn't trying to be rude and I hoped that he understood. My high had started to fade and I was coming down. And as far as coming down goes, this one was alright. This room was dimly lit and the house was quiet except for the sound of Edward's piano. I had no idea what he was playing, but it was nice, calm and soothing to me. He played a few things. I only knew that they were different by the change in tempo. He never stopped playing, he just switched songs. I wondered how long he could sit there and play. It was hours before I sighed, my eyes fixed on the clock. I was completely sober and the new melody that Edward was playing further depressed me. It would be easy to dwell on everything I didn't want to think about. I wanted to get high or get laid. And while we had this entire house to ourselves, I had no desire to make him feel uncomfortable. I figured both would have that effect. "I think I should go, Edward." His fingers stilled on the keys and he looked up at me. Charlie had never given me a specific curfew, but I used the time as an excuse. "It's getting late." Glancing at the clock, his eyes grew wide. "Ssssssorry, B-B-Bella. I-I-I didn't know it w-was sssso late." I had no words to describe how his apology made me feel. I didn't want him to say that he was sorry because he lost track of time doing something he so obviously loved to do. "It's okay, Edward. I'm just tired." He stood up when I did and crossed the room to me, his brow creased. "Ssssorry we didn't do anything b-b-but shop a-and sssit here." But we had done something. He had played music for me and I had listened. "I had a good time,

Edward," I replied in a whisper. ...

Chapter 25: First Edition EPOV I knew Bella got high at the grocery store. It had been evident when she had returned, but I couldn't really be upset with her. I had pushed her into talking about it and I didn't know why I did. I hadn't thought that asking her about cooking would end like that. I didn't know why I assumed that just because she cooked, she liked it. We didn't talk much after we got back to the house. I couldn't think of anything to say and she seemed to withdraw into herself a bit. I played the piano for her, knowing that she had liked it when I played guitar for her that one day. She seemed so tired when she said she had to go. My fingers stopped their movements and I wondered why she seemed so small sitting over there by herself. She was usually such a strong and powerful presence, but tonight she was different. I drove her back to her house and we just sat in the car for a while. It was hard not to think about the last time I'd dropped her off and the mess I'd made of it all. I had my iPod plugged in, the song playing was quiet, one I knew she'd like. "Sorry about the store, Edward." Bella's voice surprised me when she spoke. It had been so quiet for so long. I felt my brow knit together. "W-what?" "I didn't mean to snap at you like I did." Looking into her deep eyes, I realized that it was the first time that I could see such bottomless sadness there. "I-it's okay." Bella's eyes slipped closed for a moment as she rested her head back. When she opened them again, they connected with mine and for whatever reason, neither of us looked away. I only looked away when I felt something take my hand that had been resting on the center console. Glancing down, I found that it was Bella's hands on mine. My palm was up and she had one of her hands under mine while her other hand's fingers stroked my palm. The sensation of her touch was no less electric than the last time. I took a deep breath and willed myself not to start breathing hard. I willed my heart to regulate its pace. She had turned her head, just a little, her eyes focused on something beyond my left ear. Again, I was struck by the magnitude of the sadness within her brown orbs. I had spent a lot of time stealing moments to look at Bella over the course of the last month, but we were physically very close in this moment. The skin of her cheek looked incredibly soft, but the area around her eyes seemed as though she were much older than seventeen. It was probably still soft to the touch, but the way she carried pain her eyes made it look harder somehow.

I wanted to touch her face, just to see if it was truly as delicate as I thought it would be. And before I could tell my hand to stop, it floated upwards, my fingers just brushing her cheek. It seemed to happen in slow motion for a moment, but then it gave way to a flurry of activity. Instantaneously, the pleasant and slightly zinging sensation on my other hand stopped and Bella shifted her head away from my outstretched fingers. The peaceful calm that had settled over us seemed to shatter as her teeth nibbled on her lower lip. Panic rushed through me; what had I done wrong? I shouldn't have touched her. That was obviously what had sparked this. She hadn't wanted me to and I did. Hell, I hadn't even been aware that I was actually going to do it until it my hand was doing it. I had no idea how I screwed this up again. My eyes fixed on her lips as I tried not to freak out. Her tongue came out to sweep across the pink flesh and her eye lids fluttered. "Did you return my e-mail?" Her voice was soft and quiet, but it was enough to pull me out of my spiral towards a panic attack. I had read hers this morning, but with Emmett's banging on the door and Alice's shouts that she wasn't taking too long, I hadn't had time to reply. "N-no, n-not yet." Running her hands through her hair, she swallowed hard and licked her lips again. "Well," she started but never finished. "B-Bella," I said after a few moments. Turning to me, she gave me a smile, not her true smile, but a smile none the less, and said, "See you tomorrow, Edward." I couldn't get out a goodbye for anything, although I tried. Bella waited for a moment, but when I couldn't produce much more than random sounds, she opened the car door. "Bye," she said as she slipped out into the darkness. I watched her as she ran up the steps to her front door, slipping the key into the lock and then disappearing through the door. As I sat there for a few minutes, I figured it all out. The central difference between Bella Swan and myself. I'd spent my whole life feeling every emotion and reliving every horrible moment, but Bella had spent hers avoiding all that, running from all those things, using anything and everything she could to justforget. Even the few words she said, admitting something deep and painful, were huge for her. And I knew that this couldn't be easy for her. ... I wasted no time when I got home. I ignored all distractions. Instead I found myself moving as quickly as I could to my room to answer her e-mail. Bella, I hope that you're okay. You seemed so sad tonight. I'm sorry if I caused that. Since it's late and I'll get to see you tomorrow, I'll answer your questions straight away.

I want to know things about you probably for the same reason you want to know things about me. I don't have many friends, Bella. It is interesting to know a new person. With Emmett, it's like reading an open book. He hides nothing because he just doesn't see the point. With Alice, she doesn't remember anything much from before I first met her, so I already know everything she knows and everything she likes, since she discovered it in real-time while I was around. But you are like the book on the top shelf, the first edition that not many people touch because it's way too precious. I know that there are things about you that I'll never know, and there are parts of you that everyone knows. But there is that area between those two extremes, the parts you don't show everyone, but the parts you're willing to share. I want to know that part, if you'll share it with me. And with me asking you to share, I share myself. I don't usually do that, Bella. I get upset, but it is usually on the inside and doesn't make its way to the outside. I typically don't let it because there's no point in it. I get upset about a lot of things. One specific thing would be being treated like an idiot because I have a stutter. I understand that it's a particularly bad stutter, but it's not like I stutter in my mind. My intellect is intact, and just because it takes me a minute to say two words, doesn't mean that my brain function is any less than that of someone who can speak fluently. There are many things that upset me, but there isn't much point in showing that to the outside world. The jerks of the world like Mike Newton would get far too much pleasure out of it and the overly helpful of the world, like Esme and Carlisle wouldn't be able to sleep until they cracked the code of why I was upset. I don't want to deal with any of that. I don't really miss living in Chicago. It is a perfectly fine city and it has most things that anyone could want in a hometown, but for me, too much happened there. To say I missed it would be like saying I missed everything that hurt me in the past. Carlisle likes to plan vacations and last year he suggested Chicago. He made it seem that he just wanted us to take in a big city, but it was fairly transparent that he thought it would be good for Alice and me to go back, just to see that it wasn't the city we didn't like, just our pasts. It didn't go over well. Even though she can't remember it, Alice knows that something happened there that she doesn't want to relive and I have no desire to go there ever again. I don't think I could do the job of a fireman. Emmett could, but not me. There is a lot of rushing into burning buildings and while I could probably get over my human instinct of avoiding flames, I would not only have to work very closely with people ,but to save them, I would have touch them and talk to them. Generally, it's a people job. I need a job where I can just sit in a room by myself and cure cancer or something. Maybe I'd have to talk to five people as a researcher, but it would be the same five people and I could grow comfortable with that. A fireman talks to the same people he works with everyday, but a fireman also has the potential to talk to hundreds of new people daily. That's not for me. The scar on my lip is from my teeth. For whatever reason, that skin is easy to tear. As for the bonus, if I could do anything without negative consequences, I would ask you why you're so sad. And now it's time for my questions and once again, I hope they don't upset you. Why did you volunteer to cook if you don't like cooking? How did you fall onto a fork?

Have you ever had short hair? How did you get the scar on your forehead? You knew Otis Redding because your grandmother used to listen to him. Did you spend much time with your grandparents? Bonus: If we call Australia "Down Under", do people in Australia call us "Up Over"? Goodnight, Bella. I'll see you tomorrow. I don't really know how to cook, but I promise I'll help as much as I can. Edward. Just like every time I sent an e-mail off to her, my chest tightened just slightly in anticipation of her reply. It was evident that we had moved past all the obvious questions about favorite this and favorite that. We were now firmly within the sphere of intense questions. I knew that my questions would make her uncomfortable, just as hers made me uneasy. But I also knew that both she and I would answer them, some more in depth than others. Just as there was a story behind my teeth creating the scar on my lip, I knew that there was more to her aversion to spicy food than just that spicy food 'can hurt.' And I knew without a doubt that one doesn't just simply fall onto a fork. But Bella wasn't about to share those things easily. I had compared her to a book in the e-mail and if she was a book, she was a book of poetry and only after constant study would I be able to understand her. She was abstract art; the picture in the clouds. So I would continue to ask her the questions and be satisfied with every small crumb of information she dropped for me. Eventually the bread crumbs would lead me down the path of knowing her. ... Saturday was the house was flood of activity. Of course Forks won the Homecoming game the night before, and Emmett had to recount it in the morning, play by play. I didn't mind; it obviously was important to him, but I couldn't help but tune some of it out. Touchdowns were one thing, but quarterback sneaks and 57 yard punt returns were something I cared little about. Alice, of course, was flitting around the house like an overactive hummingbird on a coffee buzz. She always took it upon herself to take care of all the details for big events like Homecoming and Prom. Alice not only had to supervise Emmett's choice of suits, but she had to make sure that his tie matched Rosalie's dress. And after a half hour of arguing, she finally convinced Emmett that green, red, and white striped socks were not appropriate for the dance, especially if his date's dress was some shade of purple that even I couldn't identify. Most of the day, I stayed on the outside of the action. I had no interest in the hair, the make-up, the ties and the overall anxiety that a dance like this caused in the Cullen house. Every once in a while, Alice would knock on my door and ask me if this hairstyle looked better than the last one. I always replied that it did. I didn't understand why she would ask me things like that since I clearly had no clue, but it was important to her, so I played along. After lunch and a little bit of guitar strumming, I checked my e-mail and was happy to see that Bella had replied. Edward,

If you did ask me why I was so sad, I would tell you that I'm not so sad. And I would tell you that you shouldn't waste your time wondering about things like that. Here are your answers: I volunteered to cook because it seemed like a good idea. If I have to have dinner with Dr. Hale, Dr. Cullen, and Charlie, it might as well be tasty. I told you that I cook because I have to, and I decided a while back that if I had to cook, I might as learn to be good at it. I like PB&J, but that's pretty much what I lived on for a few years, so sometimes it's nice to whip up a few days worth of lasagna or put together a fruit salad. I had short hair one time and I didn't really care for how it looked and it didn't accomplish the reason I cut it in the first place, so I let it grow back. The scar on my forehead is from the corner of a wall. Like the skin on the lips, the skin of the forehead is amazingly easy to rip open. And walls, especially the corners, are unforgiving. I never knew Renee's mother, but I spent time at my Grandma Marie's every summer when I visited Charlie. I usually got to spend a few days with her. I don't remember much about her. She died a long time ago. She used to let me eat windmill cookies and she loved strawberries. Why do you have a fixation on the fork, Edward? It's a meaningless scar that most people don't notice. Forks are pointy. I am clumsy. And it's been established, skin can give way rather easily. Bonus: If we call Australia "Down Under", do people in Australia call us "Up Over"? You're entirely too funny to be locked away in some kind of medical research lab. I'll be over in a few short hours, but I'll give you my questions. Why do you want to know about the fork? Do you know your grandparents? The news said it could snow this week. Do you like the snow? Why do you like that picture in your art book? The Flaming June one. Do you ever wish you could be someone else? Who would you be? Bonus: How are our baby brussel sprouts? I'll see you soon, Edward. B. ... "Just cut them the same size as the potatoes." Bella said, pointing to the vegetables on the cutting board with one hand and popping a piece of raw potato into her mouth with the other. She had shown me what she wanted with the potatoes. Now she would start preparing the chicken and leave me to my own devices. Her father was in the living room with Esme and Carlisle. They seemed to have a very loud discussion

about football. Every so often, I saw Esme going into the dining room. I was aware that she was looking in on us. "Oh my God, that smells delicious!" I looked up to see Alice enter the kitchen, pulling open the oven to get a better look at Bella's apple crisp. She wore the long green dress she'd bought for Homecoming over two months ago. "Y-you look p-p-pretty, Aliiiice." Closing the oven, she beamed at me. "Thanks!" Beets stain, so I went to wash my hands before continuing the cutting list. When I turned back around, I found Alice at the cutting board, knife in hand. It was innocent, I knew that it was. On some level, I knew that she would not intentionally hurt herself, but my lungs started to seize as I watched her eye the knife she held. Bella was busy rubbing the chicken with herbs and I was grateful that she was distracted. Very quietly and quickly, I moved back to the cutting board and carefully took the knife back from Alice. Alice stepped to the side, just slightly as her eyes stayed glued on me. It hurt to look back at her because it was clear that I had just hurt her feelings. And as much as I hated when Alice's feelings were hurt, I would hate it more if she stained her pretty green dress by accidentally cutting herself. And the sight of Alice with a knife was just too much right now. I just looked back at her. Her eyes grew wet and I felt horrible. "D-don't, Aliiice," I whispered. She sighed and then turned to Bella. "I wish I could eat dinner here, Bella. It smells unbelievable." "Thanks," Bella replied. "If I would have known that you were going to go all gourmet on us, we wouldn't have made reservations." Craning my neck, I saw Bella give Alice a smile. "No worries, Alice, I'm sure there'll be leftovers, and I'm sure I can cook for you another time." ... Bella's meal was delicious, but I wished that we hadn't had to eat it with Esme, Carlisle and Charlie. She and I were mostly silent at the dinner table, both only really responding when spoken to. "This is an excellent meal, Bella. Thank you for preparing it," Carlisle commented. "Yes, it's wonderful. Where did you learn to make it?" Bella looked at Esme and opened her mouth for a moment before closing it rather quickly. Her eyes flicked over to Charlie, then to Esme, then to me and finally, they rested back on Esme. "The apple crisp is from a cook book and the rest I just threw together." "Bells is a hell of a cook. She could go on one of those cooking contests on TV." Bella's brow creased as she looked down at her plate. Shuffling a potato piece around on her place, she shook her head. "It's not that good," she said under her breath. She was obviously not comfortable with compliments.

The topic of conversation floated between humorous incidents at the hospital and the police station, and the pros and cons of universal health care. Neither Bella nor I said a word. In fact, Bella didn't look up from her food until Carlisle said something about some kind of study he'd read concerning teenagers and sleep. Her face remained neutral as her father mentioned something about Bella sleeping until the afternoon today. "I was tired," she mumbled before taking another bite of apple crisp. "How has your blood sugar been, Bella?" Carlisle asked. Bella sighed and carefully rested her fork across the top of the bowl before taking a sip of her water. "Fine," she answered, her voice sounding fairly tense. "Fatigue is a sign of" "Yes, I know," she cut him off. "A sign of what?" Chief Swan asked. While Bella sighed again, turning her head to the side, her eyes fixing on some invisible spot on the wall, Carlisle turned to her father. "Diabetic ketoacidosis." I wanted to ask what the world ketoacidosis was and if it was a bad thing, but it would have taken me forever to try to say it, so I waited for Chief Swan to ask. "It is a condition in diabetics in which the blood sugar is elevated to near lethal levels." I watched as Bella's father flicked his eyes to her. It wasn't hard to see worry within them. "What are the symptoms?" "Charlie," Bella said in yet another sigh. "I'm fine. I take my insulin, I monitor my blood, and I'm fine." Her father looked back at Carlisle and waited for the answer to his questions. "Fatigue, vomiting, dehydration, excessive urination, and sometimes confusion which can lead to a coma." Bella was silent and didn't talk until dinner was over and we had cleaned up. I told her that she didn't have to clean up, but she shrugged and did it anyway. "Boy, who knew eating dinner with a doctor could be so fun?" she said as she plopped down onto my sofa. I smiled as I pushed play on my iPod. "Talk of vomit and urination during dessert was incredibly appetizing. Does he do that shit a lot?" Chuckling, I turned around to face her. Carlisle was fairly limitless and oblivious to how many disgusting medical facts and stories he told. Thankfully, she hadn't had to endure the STD talk or the picture of the cancerous lung. "S-sssometimes." I moved over to sit on my bed. At her sigh, I quirked an eyebrow at her. Bella just shook her head. "W-w-what?" "Can't you sit on your bed differently?" The confusion intensified. I had no idea what she was asking. "W-what?" I asked again. "Move back." I blinked at her, but immediately did as she asked, scooting back into the middle. "Now

fold your legs." Again, I did as she said, moving to sit cross-legged. "Doesn't that feel better? You look like you own that bed now." I smiled, still not really understanding her and even though I was going to sound like a complete idiot, I asked her again, "W-what?" "You always sit on the edge of your bed like it's going to fucking bite you or something. Now you lookchill." Something about her tone and the way she was looking at me made me nervous. I ran a hand through my hair and tried to think of something to talk about, even though I just wanted to ask her to run her hands through my hair. "The s-sssprouts are doing w-w-w-w, g-good. Do you w-want to g-go sssee?" Although she smiled widely, she shook her head. "Not now that you look so comfortable." I had to close my eyes for a moment and concentrate on breathing slowly. I forced myself to mentally play a Chopin piece in my head to relax my tensing body. All signs had been pointing to the fact that I had a thing for Bella. And knowing that made me anxious. "What's wrong?" I looked up at her and swallowed hard. How had we both worn green today? She was wearing a t shirt with the word 'Boo!" written on it and I was wearing the shirt the Alice had given me. Come to think of it, Alice had worn green to the dance. "Edward?" "Y-y-yes?" "I asked you what was wrong. For a minute there you looked like you just finished a marathon." Cocking her head to the side, she added, "But you look okay now." "I-I'm fine." As I sat there looking at Bella, I thought about something Esme had asked me a long time ago. She'd asked me what I would attempt if I knew I could not fail. At the time I had no clue how to answer, but today, I would try to be closer to Bella. I had never had these feelings for anyone else and they were powerful within me. But I had no clue how to 'be closer' to Bella and the likelihood of failure was pretty high. I was nothing like the guys she seemed to like, and I had no idea what she really thought of me. As I'd spent the majority of my life avoiding people in general, I was no student of human behavior, and I was having a hard time figuring out if she really wanted anything to do with me or if she was just trying to make the best of being stuck with me in her involuntary quest to be less screwed up. "B-Bella?" She looked up at me and I looked away just for a moment. "Hmm?" "W-why didn't you g-go to the dance?" "I told you, they're not my thing."

Shaking my head, I refocused my eyes on her. Her eyes looked exceptionally big and bright. "B-but you were in g-g-gymnastics. I-isn't dancing almost the ssssame?" Pulling her hair to the side, she exposed her neck and I caught sight of her small scars. It reminded me of her e-mail. She had asked me why I was fixated on it. And I truly didn't know why, but I felt bound to ask. Like I needed to know. She was always so guarded and even though she knew my life wasn't honeysuckle and roses, she still didn't share any more than she felt she had to. And it bothered me. I understood her silence, but I didn't like it. "It's not the actual dancing that's not my thing, Edward." Drawing my thoughts back to the question I had asked her before I got sidetracked by the question of the fork, I asked, "Then w-why didn't you g-go?" "A room filled with a bunch of people I don't really like isn't all that appealing, Edward. It's stupid. Stupid people subject themselves to rites and rituals they don't believe in. I don't want to go to a dance because everyone else is. I don't want to go to the dance for some kind of status booster." I took a deep breath and moved once more to the edge of my bed. If I knew I wouldn't fail, I'd have gotten up off of this bed and sat next to her on the couch. It wouldn't be the first time we were sitting close. We shared a lab table in Biology. There wasn't anything different about sitting next to her in Biology and sitting next to her on my couch. Absolutely nothing. So there was nothing to be worried, nervous, or anxious about. A tingle in my chest told me otherwise, but my body rose off the bed anyway even as my mind battled with itself. The couch wasn't far, but it seemed like a long distance for my feet to travel. When I was sitting next to her, I couldn't bring myself to look at her. I felt almost frozen in fear. It was incredibly new to me to actually want to be physically close to someone else. I wanted to touch her face like I had last night and I wanted her to run her hand through my hair the way she had before. I wanted this closeness because the currents of energy that flowed between us when we were close like this felt so good; so right. When I finally looked at her, she had sunken into the couch a bit, her head laid back. Her eyes were closed and I wondered if she was tired or bored or just comfortable. Her words seemed to tell me that it was the latter. "I love your room," she said quietly. Remembering that it was only last night when she had picked up my hand in the car, I thought that if I had no fear of failure, I would touch her hand. And despite the racing of my heart, my hand moved closer to hers, the fingers just brushing against the back side of her hand at first. The pads of my fingers glided over her smooth skin, feeling that same prickling feeling that made me shiver just slightly. Before I could let out a shaky breath at the fact that I had actually done something like that, my fingers curled around her hand. It was small, much smaller than mine, just as a woman's hand usually is compared to a man's. But it felt so fragile, like if I squeezed too hard, it would fracture into a million tiny pieces. There would be no squeezing though, since it took so much energy for me to even be able to do what I was doing now. But the fact that she didn't protest my touch didn't go unnoticed. Her eyes were still closed and I wondered if she even felt my hand on hers. Bella nibbled on her lower lip as her chest rose and fell more rapidly than normal.

And as the current song faded away, I knew the next in line was one that was practically made for moments like this, I thought that if I knew my attempt couldn't crash and burn, I would pull her up, bring her into my arms and dance with her. But only if I knew I wouldn't fail. ...

Chapter 26: Heavily Guarded EPOV It was as if I knew that I couldn't fail. My hand was already holding hers and she hadn't pushed it away. So it was almost like it was incredibly easy to stand up, my hand still attached to hers, and pull her up with me. Bella's eyes had popped open and for a brief moment, something flashed within them. Fear, panic, whatever it was had dissipated quickly as her eyes locked with mine. And as Otis Redding's rich voice broke through the thick air in my room, I felt emboldened. I was nervous, near panicking, and yet it seemed incredibly right and natural to be bringing Bella this close to me, as if bringing her into me. These arms of mine She wobbled just slightly as I tugged her up, her fingers gripping mine. They are lonely, lonely and feeling blue I stepped back just enough to pull her away from the couch and risked a look at her face. These arms of mine Her eyes were wide and her tongue swept out to lick her bottom lip. They are yearning, yearning from wanting you I heard her sharp intake of breath and I steeled myself for the rejection that I was sure to come. And if you would let them hold you But it didn't come. Instead, Bella let out a long sigh and her eyes narrowed just slightly as if she was confused. Oh, how grateful I will be One of my hands slid behind her as I wrapped my arm around her waist. I was amazed how well she seemed to fit in my arms, as if she had been made to be there. These arms of mine I swallowed hard as I mentally forced my body to behave and not react to the sheer nearness of her. They are burning, burning from wanting you

She smelled so good. These arms of mine Slowly and very, very carefully, I moved just a little, bringing her with me in a soft sway of our bodies. They are wanting, wanting to hold you. And for just a moment, her head was pressed into my chest and I wondered what she thought of my rapidly beating heart. "I can't really dance, Edward," she whispered into my green button down shirt. "N-n-neither can I," I whispered back. And so we swayed to the music her grandmother used to listen to in the middle of my room while her father, Carlisle, and Esme were downstairs and my siblings were at the Homecoming dance. I didn't have time to wonder how long she would let me hold her, because she was already out of my arms and across the room before the song was over. I watched as her hands glided along my books like she liked to do. I suddenly felt very empty, as though I'd lost a bit of myself. Rubbing my hands on the side of my pants, I just watched her pretend to be interested in my books. "I was putting the dishes in the dishwasher." I blinked at her soft voice, wondering what her words had to do with anything at all. "I'd been late coming home from school, so dinner was late and it was supposed to be some kind of 'special' dinner for her and whichever boyfriend she had at the time and I served it late and undercooked." Bella paused, taking a breath. "She waited until he left." I wished she would look at me. I wanted to see her, but now that I understood what she was talking about, I knew I wouldn't have been able to look at anyone either. "I was trying to get finished. I had homework and Renee's stupid cat had puked all over the floor and I had to clean it up. Usually I knew where she was at all times, but I must have been thinking about something else, because I had no idea she was in the kitchen with me." Bella stopped speaking for a minute, her index finger scratching at the wood of my bookshelf. She let out a deep breath. "I didn't know she was there until I felt the pain in my jaw. She hit me from the side and I stumbled. My legs hit the door of the open dishwasher and I couldn't stop myself from falling. I hit my head on the edge of the counter, but the searing pain in my neck was too much. It was the last time I ever put forks or knives with the pointy sides sticking up." "B-Bella," I started as I took a step towards her. I stopped when she turned quickly. "I have to go." No, that wasn't want I wanted. "D-don't." I took another step forward, but she pressed herself against the bookshelf. Her fingers were constantly moving, curling, straightening, twisting. Her foot was tapping on the floor, but not to the beat of the music as her shoulder shook a little. Bella looked like I felt during the onset of a panic attack.

I didn't want that for her. "B-Bella?" I took a step backwards, knowing that any movement towards her would just make her even more uncomfortable. "W-w-w-will you e-mail m-mm-mmme tomorrow?" I watched as she swallowed hard and took a shaky breath before finally looking at me in the eyes. She nodded. "But I have to go now." It was barely a whisper. I returned her nod and moved back to my bed. In sitting down, I hoped that I was showing her that she was free to leave and that she wasn't trapped. Quickly, she ran her hands through her long hair and moved to the door, muttering a goodbye as she went. ... I had gone downstairs for just a moment as Chief Swan and Bella were leaving because Carlisle and Esme would have expected it. Bella was quiet and wouldn't look at me. I really didn't take it personally. While I'd only known her for a short time, it was easy to see that she wasn't rejecting me with her silence. She avoided thinking about things, it was her nature. And she had just told me about being stabbed in the neck with a fork because her mother hit her. I understood her silence and she was probably feeling incredibly helpless or exposed. I doubted whether she had ever told anyone that story before. After she left, I decided that if I wanted her to e-mail me, I needed to reply to her last one, but it was relatively difficult to begin. Did I acknowledge what had just happen, throwing it back in her face and making her hurt again, even if that wasn't my intention? Or did I not mention it at all and let it be something silent between us until she felt comfortable with the information she shared? Bella, Thank you for dinner. Are you okay? Her first question had been about why I wanted to know about the fork. I had no idea if I should even address it or not, so I went to the other questions. Flaming June has always been one of my favorite pieces of art because of the use of color. Orange is so alive, so vibrant, so joyful. Even though she is sleeping, she is so awake, if that makes any kind of sense. I've always wanted to be like that, but have never been. I constantly want to be someone else. It doesn't really matter who I would be, just someone else. I like the snow. I hope it does snow. Chicago was very snowy but I never got to really play in it like other kids. When I met Alice, she made sure we went out and played. The first time, I had a good time and stayed outside entirely too long and snow got into my boots. Heating my feet back up hurt, but I think it was worth it. I don't know my grandparents. My mother's parents are or were somewhere in Ireland and my father's parents were dead long before I was born. Neither of my parents had brothers or sisters. I had to decide whether to bring up the fork or not, and without knowing how she would react, it was a tough decision. But she had asked in her e-mail and like Esme said, no one ever did anything they don't want to do on some level. Bella had told me about it, so some part of her wanted me to know.

I don't know why I wanted to know about the fork, Bella. It seemed important. There aren't many people who have fork scars on their necks. I'm sorry that your mother hit you and I'm sorry that she knocked you onto the fork. I'm sorry that you have to see the scar every day. Also, I'm sorry that I made you uncomfortable by asking about it. As for my questions for you, I have many, but I'll settle for just a few: It was true that I had many and they were all deep questions that would probably make her incredibly uncomfortable, so I decided to stick with mostly light subjects. She was uncomfortable enough for one day. What's your favorite smell? What is your favorite flower? Why do you like Jane Austen books? Do you like ice cream? There were so many things I wanted to ask her about tonight. I wanted to know if she felt similar to me about whatever it was that was going on between us. I wanted to know if she had completely hated the time she spent with me or if I ruined everything by trying to dance with her. I wanted to know if she even liked me as a friend. But thinking about some of the answers to questions she'd given me in the past, I thought that she did. Perhaps it would be rude of me to outright ask her something like that. And Bella wasn't a mean person, so perhaps she would lie to save my feelings. Why don't you dream about the future or have some kind of goal or idea what you want to be? It might have been the easy way out for me not to ask what I really wanted to, giving me a little more time to hope before the inevitable rejection came, but my intention was for it to be easy on her too. I knew that Bella didn't like talking about certain things, like her mom or anything associated with her life in Phoenix, and she'd given me so much in the past few days that I didn't want to overload her with asking her to answer questions about how she felt about me. That would have been selfish of me. Bonus: It's the last day ever before the earth explodes, what do you do? I hope you have a good Sunday, Bella. Can you come over sometime early next week so we can work on the project? Or I could come to your house. The plants aren't there, but we have to work on the report and we can do that anywhere. See you Monday, Edward The bit about going to her house was selfish because I wanted to see the inside of her house. Apart from knowing that she had a purple comforter on her bed, I knew nothing about the place where she spent so much time. She'd been in my room and seen my things and I wanted to see firsthand what was important enough to her to be in her room. It was probably presumptuous of me to think that she'd even want me to come over, but I couldn't

help but feel as though she and I had crossed some kind of invisible line in our relationship. These questions we asked, they had a purpose. She wouldn't answer mine if she didn't want me to know these things about her. And the whole thing had been her idea. Bella was confusing. She was a puzzle but she purposefully held back some of the pieces. It was frustrating and baffling and wonderful and exciting. These new pieces she handed me were bits of her heavily guarded secrets. And I understood why they were kept so secure. There were things locked within me that I felt like it would take the Jaws of Life to pry out, and yet some part of me desperately wanted to give them up freely to her. But not yet. If I hated Bella's mother before, I loathed her now. There was no funny, but a little scary story that accompanied the four little marks on Bella's neck. Instead, it was just scary. There was only pain and more confusion. It didn't matter how old Bella had been when it happened or what she did to deserve something like that because no person, any age, deserved to be hit like that. And the fact that she could have died because sharp implements were so dangerously close to major arteries made it that much more horrific. For I moment, I felt paralyzed as I realized just how close to death she could have been. It must have been bloody. It must have hurt. Forks, while being sharp, were sort of blunt as well. Thank God there wasn't a knife to accompany it, otherwise Bella probably would have died that night. I wondered if her mother took her to a doctor or if it was just patched up at home to avoid all of the questions that would have surely came at an Emergency room. I wondered if the dirty fork gave her an infection that her body had to fight off while it tried to heal itself. I knew of pain and I knew of almost dying and I wanted to give her little pieces of information like she had given me, but my chest seized just thinking about it. And I wondered what Monday would bring for Bella and me. She had a pattern of saying something or doing something that was real, or at least that felt real and then withdrawing. I wondered how much damage our pseudo-dance and her small confession about the marks had caused and whether she would even talk to me. I hoped that she would talk to me. I hoped that she would come over. And I hoped that she would feel like it was okay to be real. But I was prepared for it not to go that way. ... Sunday dinner was once again shared with the Hales. I was thankful that the main topic of conversation was the Homecoming dance and not college. I still hadn't sent in the applications and I didn't want to have to admit that to Carlisle or Esme. And while they talked about the gym full of streamers and what songs were played, I thought about my own dance with Bella. It was short, probably not even a minute, but she had let me hold her longer than I thought she would have. And when she moved out of my arms, I knew that it wasn't about me. I wanted to hold her again, to feel her body that close to mine. I wanted to feel that electric touch and the way her skin made mine tingle. I wanted to know if she felt a similar connection. I wanted to know her and I hoped that she wanted to know me.

I wanted to make her happy. I wanted to see her smile like she had in the meadow and in the book store. I wanted to take all those memories that made her so sad away from her. Her body had been warm against mine and so small. I had never realized how much taller I was. I wondered if Bella would let me dance with her again. I wanted her in my arms, pressed against me. I wanted to be so close to her that I could smell her. I wanted to be so close to her that she wouldn't have to share those heavily guarded secrets because they would just silently absorb into me. And I didn't just want to know her secrets, I wanted her to know mine. I was happy that she knew about my mom. I wanted her to know more. I wanted her to know about my father and about My chest tightened. No. I didn't want her to know about that. For a moment I couldn't breathe. "Edward? Are you okay?" I looked to Alice and gave her a small smile while I thought about Bella's hands in my hair, helping me relax. ...

Chapter 27: Quiet, Bella B POV I was freaking the fuck out. I had hoped that sleeping would take away the absolute terror I was feeling. Last night at Edward's house, I'd fucking danced with him. All fucking hands-around-the-waist, head-on-motherfucking-shoulder dancing. It was fucked up at that point, even if I kind of liked it. Fucked up! And then my stupid mouth went ahead and started talking, even though my brain told it to shut the fuck up. I'd told him about the stupid fork. I just knew that shit was going to happen. And I was pissed. I was so angry at myself for saying that shit. I was so angry that he kept fucking asking about it. I was so angry at being in Forks and angry at the stupid judge who told me I needed therapy. And I fucking hated that Bitch Hale for pairing me with someone like Edward. What the fuck was it about him? I spent years keeping things tightly locked up because who the fuck would want to hear it anyway and every time I was in the same room with Edward, I felt like telling him everything up to and including what my preferred cut of underwear was. Stupid! I'd gotten crazy high last night to make sure I'd get some decent fucking sleep in the hopes that it would calm me the fuck down, but did it work? Fuck no. It was ten o'clock in the morning on a fucking Sunday and I just kept wondering where the hell the working part of my brain went. Nothing good has ever come from telling people shit like that.

So while Charlie went out fishing and drinking, I got really fucking fried and found myself on a bus headed for Port Angeles. I tried like hell the entire ride to stuff Edward back into the Bronze Cullen box, but he didn't fit anymore. I'd told him I would e-mail him, but I hadn't even read his latest. I'd told him enough about myself and I was through with it. I was fucking over it. Once in Port Angeles, I walked around until I found a pay phone. It was ridiculously hard to find. I had no idea when pay phones disappeared from our urban landscape, but their demise pissed me right the fuck off. I was sure the phone companies couldn't afford so many anymore, but not all of us were blessed with cancer-causing cell phones. It took me forty-five minutes to find one and by that time my buzz had worn off. The old receipt was tucked in my back pocket and that was my sole purpose for coming here. Even if he couldn't meet up, it was better than fucking sitting around all day like a moon-eyed dip-shit, fretting over some stupid fucking high school boy who never stopped asking entirely too many questions. I was aware that I was the one who'd started the question-asking. Stupid fucking me. I would have never done it if Edward hadn't been so fucking interesting. But as I found myself dialing James' number, I did my best to push Edward and the shit he caused me to say and feel out of my mind. And as I found myself knocking on the door I'd been given directions to, I very nearly succeeded. And when I was inside the house, the guy I'd only met a week or so ago watching me look at his pictures on the wall, I'd managed to shove Bronze fucking Cullen out of my head. I was looking at a picture of James in combat fatigues standing next to some kind of large gun in the middle of the desert. "You were in the military?" Duh. "Yep." He came up close behind me. "Iraq, two years." "When did you get home?" I turned around, finding myself so close to him that I didn't even bother looking up into his face, I just put my hands against his t-shirt covered torso. There was no need to be coy. Both James and I knew what was going to happen and I'd never been a fan of playing hard to get. "Six months ago." "Do you miss it?" What the fuck was wrong with me? Why the hell did I insist on asking everyone fucking questions? Since when did I fucking give a shit about anyone? His hands moved from my waist up to my breasts and he pushed me back against the wall. "Do I miss almost being killed every day? Can't say that I do. They told me to go shove guns in people's faces and I did. But roadside explosions aren't as much fun as they sound." James stepped back, his hands leaving me as he lifted up his shirt, exposing some wicked fucking scars on his chest. "Thankfully the shrapnel that punctured the skin missed the heart and only tore through one lung. And even though my skin was on fire from the blast, it didn't consume me completely." Reaching out, I let my fingertips brush against the wide, smooth area of his flesh scarred from being burnt. I wondered momentarily if he was one of those guys that suffered from PTSD or some shit. It would be fitting that yet again I found someone in this fucking life that was fucked up. There were no normal people left anymore.

I couldn't help but gasp in shock when I found myself being picked up and carried up the stairs. My breathing was rapid as his strong hands gripped me with tight possession. I had to remind myself that this is what I'd come to Port Angeles for today. I had to once again push Edward from my mind, reminding myself that he wasn't my boyfriend and that no matter how damaged I was, I knew that nothing good would come from my ruining him like that, which I would eventually. I'd given Edward enough, even though I knew I'd given him next to nothing. No, that wasn't right. I'd taken enough from Edward and in return, I'd thought about shit I'd never wanted to think about and I was finished with it all. I was in James' room now. Clearly his wife decorated it. And I felt like shit letting this man kiss me like that in the middle of the room his wife had decorated. But it was what I thought I wanted. I wanted to feel this way. I wanted to hate myself just a little more because it was better than the alternative. It was better than thinking about fucking forks, and getting shoved into brick walls for playing in dirt, and cutting my hair in hopes that Renee couldn't rip it out like she was always so prone to do. And it was better than feeling the hope that Edward's friendship dangled in front of me. My thoughts were so consuming that I didn't realize that I was naked now. James was too, his hard cock jutting out, drawing my eyes away from his scars. I didn't know how old he was, but I knew I was too young to be doing this with him legally, just as I knew how im-fucking-moral it was to fuck another woman's husband. But as he pushed me back onto the bed, spreading my legs and placing his face firmly between them, I just couldn't care. "Oh, fuck," I breathed, loving the way he was making my body feel with the touch of his tongue. He was working me over like a fucking expert and I needed it. I needed this tingle he was creating. I needed the way his touch was driving every fucking thought out of my head and allowing me to focus on the heat spreading from where his mouth was attached to me. And as he pushed his fingers into me, pressing up into the spot that made my eyes roll back, I came. I hadn't thought I was loud. My eyes were closed, but popped open quickly when I felt his hand cover my mouth. "Shhhh. Quiet, baby. My kid's asleep. We don't want to wake him up." And while the information that I was not only fucking someone's husband, but someone's father settled in, I couldn't help but not pay attention to it. My brain was stuck on something else. Shhhh! Quiet, Bella. My body froze and I felt like I couldn't breathe. Even when James removed his hand from my mouth, I still felt it there. And as he said something about being a tease, I still couldn't get my mind to push past its paralysis. And when I felt the wall behind me, knowing that I was on my knees in front of him, all I could do was take the cock he was shoving into my mouth. Shhhh! Quiet, Bella. I wanted to be high. I knew that things were happening, that my body was moving and that he was moving with me, but I didn't exactly remember how I'd gotten on my back in his bed, but I knew he'd just fucked me and as he laid his head down on my stomach, I allowed it, but only for a few moments.

Shhhh! Quiet, Bella. Don't wake your mother. Finally, my brain let me control my body again. I needed to get away. "Get off." "I just did," he mumbled against my belly. I pushed at him. "Get off of me," I said again, using all my force to push at him and sit up all at once. "Where are you going?" he asked as I got up off the bed and grabbed my clothes. "What? You want to cuddle?" I tugged on my pants and glanced back at him. He shrugged. "Go find your fucking wife." And with that, I left the bedroom, pulling my shirt over my head as I went. ... I sat shivering on the bus home, my legs drawn up against my chest, my arms wrapped around them. I wished I had brought my one-hitter. I wished I had some pills with me. But I didn't. I wished that the orgasm I'd gotten had been enough to push through these things in my head. But it wasn't. So I was left to deal with the shit playing out in my head. Shhhh! Quiet, Bella. Don't wake your mother. I wanted to puke. I felt sick. Biting the inside of my cheek was the only thing that kept me from screaming on the bus. But the blood that pooled in my mouth did nothing to settle my stomach or my mind. I went quickly to the great big house that sat back from the road and hoped like hell he could make the shit stop in my head. I couldn't deal with this shit. I didn't want to deal with this shit. Shhhh! Quiet, Bella. Don't wake your mother. I shivered and rang the doorbell, relieved when someone answered. "Is Tyler here?" "Just give me something. Please?" I practically begged once inside Tyler's room. "You just said you had no fucking money, Bella. The shit's not free, you know." I nodded. "No, I know. I've got money, Tyler, just not on me." His eyes narrowed. "I'll give it to you, but you'd better pay me tomorrow, Bella." He moved over to his dresser, pulling open the middle drawer. "Now what do you want?" I peered inside, thankfully feeling myself go slightly numb at the mere sight of my choices. "That," I answered, pointing. "And a couple of those." It was only after a line was up my nose that I began to feel better. "Do you want to do one with me?"

Although he smiled, Tyler shook his head. "I sell that shit, Bella, I don't do it. It'll rot your brain, not to mention the cartilage of your nose." "'s fine with me," I said. "What do I need nose cartilage for?" I did one more line and shivered as the energy, the electrical charge, coursed through me. I stood up and ran my hands through my hair. "Thanks, Tyler." His eyes were hard and when I tried to leave, his hand wrapped around my bicep. "I fucking mean it, Bella. You'd better pay me tomorrow. I don't have time for this 'just give me a little more time to get the money' bullshit. Got it?" I nodded, sniffing as my nose tickled and burned. "Yeah," I breathed. "I've got the money at home, Tyler. I'll give it to you tomorrow." "Good." He released my arm, but one of his hands moved to my tits as the other came to press between my legs. His teeth were biting at my lower lip and my eyes slipped closed. Shhhh! Quiet, Bella. My eyes popped open and I pushed Tyler away, forcing me to stumble backwards until my back hit the door, the doorknob sticking me hard in my lower back. "I'll give you the money tomorrow," I repeated as my hands found the knob behind me. Tyler licked his lips and smiled. "Good." ... Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster that I had enough brain power to buy a few Vicodin from Tyler too. Monday was not going to be easy to handle. I got up and immediately smoked out when I realized Charlie was already gone and before Jacob had picked me up, I'd taken two halves of a pill. I hadn't slept at all Sunday night and had spent my entire night pushing thoughts around in my head. So I spent the first part of my day sleeping through all my classes. I liked it. I was sure that I dreamed, but I couldn't sleep long enough to remember them. Before I knew it I was smoking out again with Jacob in the woods. When I got to Biology, Edward was already at our table. I'd taken another half of the painkiller and was incredibly high and still very, very tired. "Hey," I said in greeting, my eyes never meeting his. His eyes searched my face and made me incredibly uncomfortable. I licked my lips and turned away as I sat. I should've bought more coke from Tyler yesterday. A bump would've been great right about now. I pillowed my head on my folded arms. "B-B-Bella?" I didn't look up at my whispered name, but I didn't want him to be upset if I didn't respond. He'd take that shit as me not liking him or something and then the kicked puppy look would appear. "What, Edward?" "Are y-you o-o-okay?" Closing my eyes, I hated what I heard in my head. Shhhh! Quiet, Bella. Don't wake your mother. I

nodded against my arms. "I'm good, Edward. Don't worry about me. I'm fine." "Are y-you g-going to take n-notes?" I shook my head. "No. I'm sure it'll be more of the same." I wasn't sure if he said anything else because I let my mind drift off on a codeine-induced wave of numbness. I fell asleep. Thoughts of beds and bodies in the hidden depths of night falling away from me. Before I could get into Jacob's car to leave school, Tyler's strong hand wrapped around my bicep. "You have my money?" Fuck. "I forgot it at home. Ow!" His hold on me tightened. "Jesus, Tyler, I have it, just not here." He pressed me back against the door of the car and leaned in close. "Don't play games, Bella. Give me the fucking money." "It's at home." "What the fuck, Tyler?" A voice growled behind me. I turned, very happy to find that Jacob had finally made it to his car. While Tyler moved away just an inch, he tightened his hold on my arm. I'd be surprised if I wasn't bruised by this evening. "You'd better tell your girl here that she needs to pay me my fucking money." Jacob's eyes shifted from Tyler to me and then back to Tyler. It seemed that his whole body sighed. "How much does she owe you?" "Sixty, and it's going to be rounded up to a fucking hundred if it's not in my fucking hands right fucking now." Again, Jacob sighed. His hand snuck into his pocket and he pulled out a wad of cash, pulling out three bills and shoving them towards Tyler. Finally, Tyler's hand released my arm and instead of feeling better, the release of pressure made my arm hurt even more. "Next time," Tyler said to me, his face still way too close to mine. "You'll have my fucking money before you get your shit." "Whatever." "No, not whatever, Bella. I'm not a fucking bank and I don't give out loans. You want some shit, you'll have the fucking money in hand first." "Fine, Tyler," Jacob cut in, this time moving grab my arm again and pull me towards him. "She gets it, okay?" "She better, Black." Tyler walked away and Jacob opened the car door for me. It wasn't until we were both inside that he said, "Jesus Christ, Bella." "What? I'll pay you back when we get to my house."

"That's not the fucking point. You can't keep Tyler waiting like that. He's not like me. I get my weed from laid back hippie folks who grow just to have something to do with their land. The people he gets his shit from are bad people, Bella. They'd have no problem killing him if the money wasn't right and let me explain to you how Tyler would have no problem kicking the shit out of you if owed him money." I rolled my eyes, but knew he was speaking the truth. "Don't be so dramatic, Jacob." "Don't be so fucking stupid, Bella." It was in my room when I shoved money towards him that he said, "You could say thank you." I was sure I could say thank you if I really meant it, but I didn't need Jacob saving me. If Tyler wanted to hit me over sixty bucks, it would have been fine with me. I could take a punch. My hands went to the button fly of his pants. "If you say please, I'll say thank you." ... I didn't go to school on Tuesday. The mere mention of "female problems" and Charlie flew out of the house, mumbling something about heating pads and a busy day. I had thought that it would've been a peaceful, restful day, but I had been wrong. There were even fewer distractions at home than there was at school. And fewer distractions meant more unbidden thoughts. So I slept. I slept from eight in the morning until ten at night. I vaguely remember Charlie knocking on the door, saying something about eating, but other than that, I was out. But I wasn't out in a good way. The good way was being so out of it that you didn't recall anything and certainly didn't dream. But I dreamt and as much as I had wanted to, I couldn't seem to wake from it. It was after eleven when I finally opened the two e-mails from Edward. The first was our usual question and answer. The second one asked just one question. Are you okay? Why the fuck couldn't he have just not cared like every other fucking person? Why did he have to be so damn concerned and shit? Couldn't he just want to fuck me like everyone else? Fuck, no. Edward had to be all kind and caring with his puppy eyes and motherfucking dancing to Otis Redding. No, Edward, I am not okay, I replied. But I'll answer your questions anyway. My favorite smell and my favorite flower are the same. Lilac. I like Jane Austen because her books are about things I'll never experience. She writes romance stories that are all about how tangled up one can get with all that shit. I like ice cream, but I don't eat it much. I don't dream or have career goals because what is the point? I could say that I want to be photographer, but who gives a shit? I'll probably just end up working at IHOP or something.

I don't think there would be anything I wouldn't do on the day before the earth exploded. You can come over tomorrow. I'm pretty sure Charlie caught more fish last weekend, so I'll cook you dinner. What's your favorite smell? Why didn't you watch cartoons as a child? Out of everyone in the world, why on earth do you want to be friends with me? You do realize just how fucked up I am, right? Do you realize that I'm not a good friend? Bonus: Is there anything that you've done that you wish you could take back? I'll see you in school tomorrow. B. I probably should have just cut the whole thing off with Edward, not even answering the questions and not letting him entertain the idea that he even wanted to be my friend. But I had to acknowledge that there was something about Edward that made me want to truly be his friend. There was something about Edward that made me need to be around him. But I was going to need to reign myself in just a little bit. I would allow myself to be his friend, but I wouldn't keep going the way we were. I had to remember how to keep it together. I certainly didn't need to continue to let myself get swept up into Who the fuck was I kidding? I was in pretty deep with him already and I could never take back what I told him. He knew now and he would always know. I barely slept on Tuesday and went to school on Wednesday powered by nothing but fumes. I remembered to eat only because Charlie reminded me during the few minutes in the morning that I saw him. I was pretty sure I'd fucked Jacob in his Rabbit before school but I wasn't entirely positive. I was high, not just from the pot on the way to school, but also from that sleep deprivation high that was not entirely welcome. I'd never slept particularly well, but I'd usually managed at least five hours. I did my best during school to retrain my mind again. I was in control of my thoughts. I was in control of what I felt and I wouldn't let myself get involved in the whispers of the past again. Edward was coming over after school and I would prove to myself that I could still keep my shit private. It was all about keeping it in a box and ignoring the crow bar Edward carried and used to pry it open. But in order to ignore, I tried to go on autopilot, which worked for the majority of the school day. I knew that I listened to Alice tell me about Homecoming and I knew that at lunch I nodded at appropriate places when the kids I sat with said something I was expected to listen to. I didn't fuck Jacob at lunch; we just smoked pot, neither one of us really talking. But autopilot failed in Biology. Of course, Edward was there, as he always was. My plan had been to sleep again. Surely, he would've understood that I was tired. But when I sat down, he slid a few crisp sheets of paper towards me. I looked down and recognized his very careful script.

"I c-copied my notes f-for you." I focused my eyes on the paper and looked at how well laid out the notes were. He was entirely too nice to me. Edward seemed to care when no one else did and I wanted to be pissed at it. I wanted to yell at him and tell him to leave me the fuck alone. I wanted to go back to being a nameless face in a crowd of kids. I wanted to take back my first day and do it over. If I could've, I would have never spoke to Eric. I would have never found myself walking with him and Prick Newton and Edward would have never bumped into me. And I wouldn't be stuck with all these fucking feelings. But I couldn't take any of it back and if I were truly honest with myself, I didn't want to. I finally lifted my eyes to his and gave him a small smile. "Thanks, Edward." And instead of trying to push Edward out of my mind, I tried to focus on him. I tried to drive away the memory of a man's voice telling me, Shhhh! Quiet, Bella. Don't wake your mother. ...

Chapter 28: Lonely Ears B POV The ride from school back to my house was awkward and strange, but that seemed to be our normal. Edward was kind, too kind and I was, well, I was whatever the opposite of kind was. He was so deserving of good things and I was so not. Our relationship had slipped into this murky gray pool of what the hell. He wasn't my boyfriend but he wasn't just a friend, either. I hadn't had many friends in my life, but I was pretty sure I'd never tell other 'friends' about a fork in my neck or having to learn to cook out so I literally wouldn't starve when I was just a little kid. I didn't know what to say to Edward. What the hell was I supposed to say to him? I wished that I could pull back all of those words I'd said to him on Friday and Saturday. No good was going to come from people knowing that shit. Even Edward. There was a change. It was subtle, and stupider people might have missed it, but I saw it. I saw the slight change in his eyes when he constantly studied me. The studying wasn't new, but something in his gaze was. I heard the even softer tone his voice held when he talked to me now. I wasn't glass, I wasn't going to break and I sure as fuck didn't need people thinking of me as 'fragile.' "Do you want some coffee?" I asked as Edward followed me into Charlie's tiny little kitchen. I knew he liked coffee and it would give me something to do. I didn't understand why I felt so fucking nervous around him. Charlie's house was kind of dumpy compared to the Cullen Palace, but I wasn't really nervous about Edward seeing it. He didn't strike me as one of those jerks who would look down on someone just because the house they lived in wasn't on the Tour of Homes every holiday season. "C-C-Carlisle doesn't l-like me drinking it ssssso l-late."

My head whipped around and I glared at him, and before I could hold my words back, I heard my voice snapping at him. "That's not what I asked, Edward." And there was that damn kicked puppy look and I took a deep breath. "That's not what I meant to say, Edward, I'm sorry." I wrung my hands together and let my eyes slip closed. "Dr. Cullen isn't here, so do you want some coffee?" "Y-yes." Great. I was the perfect fucking host, making my one and only guest feel like shit over stupid fucking beans and water. I started making the coffee and tried to figure out something to say to him that wasn't a total reveal of how fucked up I was or how fucking stupid I was now that I'd decided I wanted to go all gooey and share stupid shit with him. With coffee in hand, I mentally tried to prepare myself for showing Edward my room. It was nothing like his and I was pretty sure he'd think it was stupid. I wasn't used to having people in my room. In fact, the only other person to be in there was Jacob and I'd only allowed him in there long enough for both of us to get off. My hand rested on the doorknob and I turned around. "My room isn't cool or anything, so don't get your hopes up for some kind of interesting experience or whatever." Before I let him speak, I opened the door and walked through. "See?" I asked as he followed me through. "It's really just" I moved to sit on my bed and watched him look at my meager possessions. His eyes were on my computer. "Yeah, it's like fifteen years old or something, plus, it's a dial-up connection, so it pretty much sucks." He threw me a smile and it made me soften just a little. Even though it was strange having him or anyone, really, in my room, it surprised me to realize that I wanted him there. And as I watched him sit down in the old rocking chair in the corner, I realized that he fit my room. I didn't know what that meant, if it was me who made him fit or if it was just that he was made to be there. "D-did you ch-check your e-mail?" I shook my head, my eyes glancing back at the computer. "No." I felt like apologizing that I hadn't seen his reply, but I didn't. Edward said nothing; he just sat there, looking at my things. Turning his head to the side, he glanced at the books on the top of my dresser, the same dresser Jacob fucked me on a few weeks ago. It was a natural progression of my thoughts to imagine being fucked on that dresser by Edward. And my thoughts not only made me nervous, they made me blush. I didn't understand that at all. Every other male on the planet, outside of Charlie, was fair fucking game. I had no problem thinking sexual thoughts about any one of them, but thinking about Edward like that made me some kind of virginal girl that giggled every time I said the word dick in my head. "Um, so, how's Alice?" Talking about Edward's adopted sister who cut herself seemed like easier than sitting there wanting to fuck Edward and getting all embarrassed about it. "Sh-she's good. L-like I w-wrote to you, they're b-back to acting l-like it n-never hhhhappened." I shook my head, wondering how that could be. And then my thoughts turned to Blondie Boy Hale. "What was up with her boyfriend? I mean, how could he have just not reacted? I know you said he was emotionless or whatever sometimes, but how can he have heard that she was fucking bleeding and not

feel anything?" Edward took in a deep breath as his eyes moved to look out of my window. "J-Jasper's H-h-he" His mouth closed and he looked back at me. "I-I-I don't know if it's m-my p-place to tell you. N-n-no one else kn-knows. I m-mean b-besides us." I rolled my eyes at him. "Now you have to tell me, Edward, you can't just leave it like that. That's like saying 'I've got a secret and I'm not telling.' It's human nature for me to absolutely need to know now." "B-b-but it involves R-Rose and Esme t-too." "Even better." He still looked incredibly nervous which was not abnormal for him. I immediately felt bad that I was pushing him, even if I was only half serious. "You don't have to tell me, Edward, it's okay." He was silent for just a moment longer before blurting out, "H-he k-k-killed his dad." "What?" I couldn't hide my shock. I imagined many things about the Hales but never that. "H-h-his dad w-was m-m-mm-mmm... H-he w-w-w-would b-b-beat on all of them and one n-night he h-hit Esme and then R-Rosalie and b-before he could h-hit them again, J-Jasper t-t-took a b-b-baseb-ball b-bat and k-k-killed him." "Holy shit." I understood where Jasper was coming from. There was nothing wrong with ridding the world of one more asshole, but shit. Some people didn't deserve to live. That sealed it, Jasper was no longer Blondie Boy Hale and Rosalie couldn't be Barbie anymore. And as much as I hated it, Dr. Bitch Hale had to be Dr. Esme Hale. "How the hell does no one else know that? I mean, you can't keep it a secret in a small town like this." "They l-lived in N-N-New York then." I didn't know what else to say about that. It wasn't a wonder that Jasper could turn his emotions on and off and that Rosalie only displayed one emotion. It was amazing that somehow I'd found myself in the middle of the fucked up Bermuda Triangle. People weren't this fucked up in Phoenix. "I-I lllike your room." I couldn't help but smile. "No, you don't, you're just being nice." Edward returned my smile and I found myself enjoying it. He needed to smile more. "I-I-I do llllike your room, B-Bella." "There's nothing in it." His brow creased. "Y-y-you're in it." My smile faltered just a little at the sincerity of his voice. And again, I didn't understand how I could be perfectly fine having some random guy eat me out but when Edward said something all sweet like that, my insides tightened and I felt sick. Why couldn't I just be like every other girl and eat that shit up with a spoon? Why couldn't he be like every other guy and make non-subtle sexual innuendos and try to get me to suck his dick? I wished I was high. I wished I could just go get high but it would be rude. And I didn't want to be rude

to him. I didn't want to get high around him. I was fine with being high around him, but for some reason I thought getting high in front of him or around him would be disrespectful in some way. He equated me getting high with his mother's fucked up addiction and I didn't want to throw that in his face. I took in a sharp breath and forced myself to look away from his near-flawless face. I grabbed the large portfolio folder beside my bed and got up to hand it to him. "You wanted to see my pictures." My eyes focused on his hands as he reached out to take it. His fingers were long and elegant and his nails looked like they were kept better than mine. I'd touched his hand before; I'd held it. I knew exactly how soft the skin of his palm was compared to the slightly rougher skin of his knuckles. But I didn't know how that skin would taste. I found myself wanting to lick the back of his hand, to suck his fingers, to rake my teeth against the heel of his hand. My teeth clenched. I was supposed to be showing myself that I could control all that shit. That Edward was nothing more than any other guy. I was failing. Forcing myself to move, I went and sat back down as Edward opened the portfolio. I stole it last year. Renee wouldn't buy me one, but my class required it and I couldn't just tell them that my mom wouldn't buy me one because she wouldn't even buy me testing strips for my blood sugar. So I stole it. "I-is that your ear?" I nodded, knowing which picture he was looking at. "Why d-d-did you t-take a picture of your ear?" Sighing, I let myself sit back just slightly on my bed. I didn't know what it was about Edward, but somehow I always felt less guarded around him. It was like I felt that he wasn't trying to get something from me. Everybody always wanted or expected something from me, but Edward wasn't like that. "The assignment was a self-portrait based on a feeling or whatever that the teacher gave us." I shrugged. "I got loneliness." "Ar-are ears l-lonely?" Nodding, I answered, "Of course they are. They have a mate, a thing that is exactly like they are, only it's one the other side of the head." "A-are you lonely?" Edward and his prying questions. "Sometimes." He flipped the photograph and came to one of a rocking chair. "I won first place for that one." He looked up and smiled. "I l-l-llliiike it." Why did the fact that he liked that picture I took make me so happy? It was just a random photo I'd taken messing around with my camera and then when I developed film everyone was all like "that's so good." It made no sense. The lighting and shading, I agreed was good, but other than that, it was just an old fucking rocking chair sitting in the waning light of the afternoon.

But typically all the pictures that I thought were toss away photos ended up being favorites of other people. "W-w-what is this one?" "That's a needle on my favorite cactus in Phoenix." "Y-you have a f-ff-fffavorite c-cactus?" I smiled in answer "W-why is it your f-ff-ffffavorite? "It was right outside my bedroom window," I said, my mind picturing it. "I like cactuses or cacti or whatever the fuck they're called. They can survive for so long without life-giving water in the worst conditions ever and yet when you're thirsty in the desert, you can find water inside a cactus. It's just kind of fucking nuts." "W-why do you w-wonder wwwhy I w-want to be friends with you, B-Bella?" My eyes widened a bit at the unexpected shift in our conversation. I recalled the e-mail questions I had sent him last night. "Because I'm not a good person, Edward and you are." "How d-do you know that?" My fingers fiddled with the hem of my shirt. "Because I can see that you're a good person." "How d-do you know that you're n-not?" I sighed deeply. He didn't really want to know how I knew. It was evident that I wasn't a good person. He didn't really want to know about the guys I'd fucked and the shit I'd done. And if he did know, he'd rethink his friendship with me because he'd realize that the only thing I'd do was bring him down. "Do you want to help me make dinner?" I was clearly changing the topic and I was thankful that he let me. "Ssssure." But it wasn't time to make dinner. Charlie wouldn't be home for a while and I knew that if he were any other guy I'd jump him and fuck him blue. But he was Edward and I wanted brush the hair away from his face and make him smile. As much as that dance scared the shit out of me, I couldn't help but want to be close to him like that again. And most of me didn't care that it was wrong to want to be close to him. Most of me wanted to break all of my rules, but there was a part of me that was terrified of him. Terrified of the change he brought and petrified at the risk of hurting him. And I was pretty sure that no matter what I did, I'd end up hurting my very own Greek god with green eyes and a lopsided smile. He was waiting for me to move to the door. He'd put my portfolio on the dresser and was just studying me. "W-w-why are you sssso ssssad, B-Bella?" "I'm not a good friend for you, Edward."

I watched as he froze for a moment, his eyes looking like a wounded puppy. "Y-you d-d-don't w-w-want to be mm-mmmy friend?" My body felt heavy at the sadness in his voice. "That's not what I said. I said that I'm not good for you, Edward, and it'd be better if we weren't friends." Edward shook his head and suddenly I felt like I needed to warn him. I needed to get him to go away, to not want to be my friend, to not give a shit about me at all. I needed him to abandon his quest of getting to know me. "I'll ruin you." Again, he shook his head. "I-I've been r-r-r-ruined for a l-l-long t-t-time now, B-Bella." No. He wasn't understanding. "No, you're a good person, Edward, I don't want to corrupt that." "Y-you're a g-g-g-good p-person." Damn him. He didn't fucking get it. He should fucking leave. "Don't be blind, Edward." The look of panic wore off his face and it shifted into something like anger. "I-I-I'm nnnnot. I c-c-can ssssssee your f-f-f-flaws, B-Bella, b-but they d-don't make you a b-bad p-person." He was probably the only person on the planet who would sit here and argue with me about if I was a good person. It's pretty damn clear that I wasn't. "Please, Edward" "P-p-please w-w-what?" he asked when I didn't continue. I shook my head. "You don't even know me. No amount of e-mailing will change the fact that I'm not good for you." "N-n-no amount of y-your p-p-protests will mm-mmake me believe that you're n-not." "Edward," I sighed. Why couldn't he just see that I was trying to save him here? "If you d-don't w-w-want to be f-friends w-w-with me, that's f-f-f-f-f, okay, b-but you're sssssaying that you're n-not g-g-good for me and you d-don't kn-know w-what's g-good for me, especially if you think th-that I d-don't kn-know you because th-that m-means th-that you d-don't know m-me either." Dammit, he was right. If I said that he didn't know me, how could I say that I knew what was best for him? I could see his argument, but if he knew who I was, he wouldn't want to be around me. I wasn't a likeable person. I knew that. Hell, I'd fucking manufactured myself to be that way. I didn't want people fucking hanging around. My dad didn't. My mom for whatever reason hated me before I could even fucking walk. And if your parents were the people who were supposed to never leave you, always love you, what fucking hope was there for anyone else to hang around? And I didn't fucking need them either. I could take care of myself. I always had. "You're going to regret it, Edward." I wanted a Vicodin really fucking bad. With a pill, I could've gone to the bathroom and popped it quickly. He would've never known, but no, I didn't have anything and I couldn't smoke anything

because Edward was here and it would make him feel bad. Why the fuck wasn't I high? This conversation probably wouldn't even be happening if I was fucking high. "I-I thought w-we established th-that w-we don't know each other. Ssssso how d-do you know if I'll r-regret it?" One of his eyebrows was cocked and I had to let my mouth curve into a smile. "Who would have thought that I'd ever hear you talk back? Now you just need to do that shit with Newton." "I-I don't c-care about Newton, B-Bella." Edward's lips slipped into his crooked smile. "I c-care about you." "But don't you see that you shouldn't?" He shook his head in answer. Damn him. I sighed. As long long as I was going to hell, I might as well do it thoroughly. "I care about you too," I said quietly. After what seemed like a long time, I finally asked, "So do we have to work on our brussel sprout report or what?" And after he nodded, it seemed like forever, but he finally pulled out his blue Biology notebook and moved to sit next to me on the bed. The more I listened to him tell me what we should do for the report and the more I watched as his eyes flicked back and forth from the pages of his notebook to my face, I wondered if I could have him and not ruin him. I licked my lips as my eyes focused on his. They weren't thin and they weren't a full-on boy-pout either. They were just perfect and I wondered again what Edward tasted like. And maybe if I tried really, really hard, I could not fuck this up. Maybe I wouldn't fuck him up. Maybe I could just Maybe I could just be normal and like a boy and hold his hand and kiss him. Maybe it was possible that Edward really did want me. Maybe he wanted me as a friend. Maybe, if I tried really hard, he'd want me as more than a friend. Maybe he could "I want to try something," I said, before I even knew I was going to. I was already sitting close to him, but I leaned in close to him very slowly. I could do this. I could do this and not fuck it up. I knew I could. "Just be very still," I whispered, afraid that at any sudden movement I'd freak out and grab his crotch again. He sucked in a ragged breath and I froze just briefly. "Don't move." Very, very carefully and very, very tentatively, I managed to press my lips against his. His lips were soft and giving, making me want more and more of him. Edward tasted sweet, not like candy, but like beets, sweet with the underlying earthy notes that accentuated the sweetness even more. His sweet flavor, coupled with the peppery orange smell of his skin sent my senses into overdrive. I was suddenly very, very hungry. I wanted to devour him. I wanted to grab a hold of him and press against him until I sank into him. Or more accurately, he sank into me. I wanted to knock that stupid fucking notebook out of his lap and maneuver myself on top of him, pressing my heat down onto his and smashing my tits against his chest. Maybe his chest would taste different than his mouth. I needed to taste that too and if his chest was different, it would stand to argue that his thighs would have their own tastes. And if his thighs tasted unique, then the Flying Spaghetti Monster only fucking knew what his cock tasted like.

I wanted him. I wanted his body in mine. I wanted his stuttering voice and his too deep green eyes. I wanted his awkwardness and his pain. I wanted Edward. And when I wanted something, I took it. Usually. But with Edward, if I took, I was certain I would break him. I didn't want to break him. I wanted to make him whole. So instead of rubbing myself up and down the length of him, instead of letting my hand roam his entirely too sexy body, instead of even pressing my lips harder into his, I pulled back. Letting my tongue flick out and savor Edward's flavor on my lips. When I finally opened my eyes, I found him practically shaking in front of me, his eyes wide and his lips pressed tightly together. Fear seized me as it never had before with any other boy or man. He didn't want me. Not like I wanted him. Not only did he not want me, but I disgusted him. I wasn't surprised. If I were him, I'd be disgusted by me too. I was a horrible person who took way more than I could give back. I knew that the things I did, the people I did, weren't secrets. I was nowhere near virginal. "I'm sorry, Edward," I whispered, but his chest continued to rise and fall rapidly. He looked absolutely panicked, so I did the only thing I knew to do. I ran my hands through his dark rusty hair and whispered again, "I'm sorry." I braced myself for his rejection, sure that he realized how wrong I was for him, in every way, no matter what kind of relationship we were in. But his breathing slowed as my fingers soothed his scalp, I let my eyes slip closed and let myself pretend just for a moment that neither of us were fucked up and both of us were whole. I wondered where I'd learned how to soothe anyone or anything. Warmth encompassed my hands and my eyes opened. Edward's hands were wrapped around mine and he moved them down from his hair. When they were lying between our bodies, he didn't let go. His gaze was intense on mine, his eyes burning into me. Maybe he didn't hate the kiss. Maybe I hadn't fucked up. He was still breathing hard, but he no longer looked like he was going to pass out. I didn't know what I was supposed to do. I could apologize again, but I wasn't sorry for kissing him. I was fucking proud that I didn't wrap my legs around his waist and ride him for a week. "B-B-Bella?" I didn't know what he was saying my name like that for. I didn't know if he had a question or wanted me to explain what the fuck just happened. We could figure that shit out later. I was still just floating on the rush of having done that with him. I pulled my hands away from him. "Charlie will be home soon. Let's start on dinner."

...

Chapter 29: The Healing Power of Worms E POV Bella had just kissed me and I nearly freaked out about it. When she apologized for kissing me, her words made my body ache. I wanted her to be happy about kissing me. I wanted her to want me. But then her hands were in my hair and I thought that maybe she was happy about it but thought that I wasn't. I said her name, hoping to clarify or get clarification from her, but she just said that it was time to make dinner. But I wanted to talk about it. I wanted to understand what just happened. I wanted to finally be on the same page as Bella. Her fingers threaded through mine again, only long enough to tug me up from the bed. Her hand dropped mine the moment I stood up straight and as she reached for the door knob of her bedroom door. I stopped her with my voice. "B-B-Bella? Wh-wh-what are w-w-we?" I didn't want to sound or seem stupid to her, but I honestly didn't know what I should be classifying our relationship as. "I can't be your girlfriend, Edward, if that's what you're asking. I can't" She was so confusing because while she said what she said about not being able to be my girlfriend, her hand moved to curl around mine for just a moment. Again, she pulled it away so quickly that I wondered if I'd imagined it. "Y-you don't h-have to be mm-mmy g-girlfriend, B-Bella." And it was true because I didn't have any real or concrete notion of what the terms boyfriend or girlfriend entailed. But I knew that I wanted to take care of her. Her brow furrowed as she shook her head, her eyes fixed on my feet. With a sigh, she opened the door and without another word, led me downstairs where she started cooking. I'd offered to help, but she seemed to be in a world of her own, so I sat at the small kitchen table and watched her cook a meal, not because she wanted to but because if she didn't cook, she felt like no one else would. As she moved around the kitchen, grabbing knives and dishes, fish and potatoes, I felt myself relax again. She had let me in her house, in her room and her lips had been pressed against mine. Other than the tensing of my body as a whole, there was no other embarrassing reaction on my part. Honestly, I didn't know what I would have done if I'd gotten an erection like last time. But she had sort of scared me a bit with all of the 'don't move' and 'be still' stuff. The memory of her lips against mine made my skin hum and I wished that we were back upstairs in her room. Because even though we had argued a little, her room was still a comfortable space. Her room was a reflection of her. It was fairly empty with only a few things tacked up on the wall, like if she had to, she could leave in five minutes without leaving anything of herself behind. Bella was just like that, I supposed. Even though I knew that she would be around, she didn't seem permanent.

She had books, although nowhere near as many as I had, stacked up all over her room and there were piles ofstuff all over. There was a stack of loose leaf paper by her old computer monitor and a pile of folded clothes at the foot of her bed. She had about three handfuls of loose coins mounded up on the far side of her dresser. She didn't have any pictures up on the wall, but she kept her portfolio sandwiched between her bed and her night stand. Her room smelled like her. It felt like her. I wished that she had something up on her walls though. I wished she had just one picture. It didn't have to mean anything really, but a calendar of nature photos or some random page out of a magazine would have made it seem like she was actually planning to live in that room longer than just one day at a time. My thoughts were on Bella and clearly I was thinking very, very deeply because I hadn't realized until the man was in the same room with us that her father had come home. I was usually hyper-aware of when people entered the same room I was in, but this time it took him clearing his throat to catch my attention. I stood up immediately as if I had been caught doing something incredibly wrong. I found him studying me in a way that made me intensely nervous. I shifted and I tried to calm my breathing. I didn't want to have a panic attack in front of Bella and her father, but I as my lungs seized, I felt almost powerless. I swallowed hard against the lump in my throat, hoping that her father wouldn't require me to speak but knowing that he would. "Charlie, Edward's staying for dinner." Tearing my eyes away from her father's unreadable face, I glanced at Bella. She was still assembling ingredients into a pot like it nothing major was happening in this small kitchen. "He is, is he?" I looked back at Chief Swan and saw him shrug as his eyes studied me. "Okay," he said after a few moments of scrutiny. With one more glance at her, Bella's father left the kitchen. My body relaxed and the wave of panic ebbed. I spent the rest of my time at Bella's house studying their relationship. Bella didn't look at him once, but he snuck a few peeks at her during dinner. Even when he would ask her random questions about her blood sugar or a class at school, they never made direct eye contact. It wasn't until Chief Swan started asking me questions that Bella even looked up from her plate. "So, Edward, your brother's pretty good at playing football," he said, the awkwardness apparent in his voice. Emmett was good at everything. "Do you play any sports?" "N-n-no, ssssir." But I wished I did now because he obviously liked football and being able to talk jock-speak with him would make things easier. Not that talking about anything would ever be easy for me. "You have Biology with Bella?" I nodded, but he wasn't looking, so I had to use my voice. "Y-yes, ssssir."

"Bella says that you two are working on a project?" "Y-yes, ssssir." He looked like he wanted more details than that, so I tried to supply them. "W-w-we're g-growing b-b-br-br," I tried to say the word brussel, but failed horribly. "We're growing brussel sprouts, or at least Edward is, but I already told you that, Charlie." The table fell silent after that. It wasn't hard to feel the anger that rolled off of her like waves. I didn't quite understand where it came from since just moments before, it hadn't felt like that. It was clear that their relationship was strained at best and I wondered how their everyday interactions differed from the interactions on display for me tonight. Unless he hurt her in some way, I would have thought she would be much happier to be away from her mother, who obviously hurt her a lot. But Chief Swan didn't seem like the hurting type. That was not to say that I didn't think he couldn't hurt someone. I'd seen him restrain Jasper at least twice when Jasper's emotional overload festered into thinly concealed rage. The one time at the diner, the only thing that saved Jasper from any real consequences had been Chief Swan pointing out the fact that the other guy had been over twenty and Jasper had only been seventeen at the time. But still, Jasper was on a last chance basis with the Forks Police Department. One more time and he'd be prosecuted. When dinner was over, Chief Swan moved to the living room where the TV was turned on and he popped open a beer. I tried to help Bella clean up, but she wouldn't let me. She took my plate and glass out of my hand and I found myself sitting at the kitchen table once more, watching her. I left shortly after she finished the dishes. I wanted to reach out and pull her towards me. I wanted to feel her hands in my hair and her lips upon mine again. I wanted to make her happy and see her smile. But none of those things happened. She handed me back my bag, which she retrieved from her room while I stood awkwardly by the door, and ended the night was a "see you tomorrow." When I got home, I hoped that I'd have an e-mail from her, but she said that she hadn't even read my reply to her yet, so I reread mine before turning to mess around with my keyboard. Bella, Why aren't you okay? Can I help? My favorite smell is bergamot. I didn't watch cartoons when I was young because I wasn't allowed to. We could only use the television to watch the evangelists and only during certain times of the day. Just like with dirt, he was particular about things like that. The television couldn't be on from noon until five at night and then it had to be turned off by seven. Questions three through five confuse me as to why you asked, but I'll answer them as honestly as possible. I want to be friends with you because you're a good person and you're kind to me. I don't realize that you're not a good friend and I don't know how 'fucked up' you are. But I'm the same way. I wonder if you realize that. As for the bonus, I think everyone's done at least one thing that they would like to take back. One small example was when I suggested to Alice that she step away from Jasper just long enough to logically analyze their relationship. I would take back ever saying that to her. Not that I was able to say it like that. The words I chose to say were simple and direct. She took them wrong. It was two years ago that I said it, but she still thinks that I was trying to get her to break up with him.

That wasn't the case. Now my questions for you: When did you know that other people's lives were different than your own? Did you ever tell anyone about how you fell on the fork? Do you like playing video games? Why didn't you come to live with your dad sooner? Are you happy? Bonus: Did you turn in your job application yet? I'll see you, Bella. Edward ... On Thursday, I smiled at her in the hall and although my heart swelled when she gave me a little smile back, it hurt a little too. Her eyes were too glassy, her movements were slow and deliberate and I knew she was high. But the pain in my heart was less noticeable when my brain registered pain in my chest and abdomen. Mike Newton was apparently on the warpath and I was in the line of fire. His shoulder had connected with my ribs again and before I could let out a pained breath, he had me up against the closest row of lockers, his hand at my neck. "She is so far outside of what a fucking retard like you could get, C-C-Cullen. It's pretty much only in your wet dreams that she'd touch someone like you." He leaned in, his face just inches away from mine. "Just so you know, I doubt she'll be thinking of you when I'm balls deep inside of her." He laughed. "But I'll be sure to tell you what she feels like from the inside." Before he released me, the fist of his other hand connected with the side of my torso and as much as I tried to keep it in, I grunted. "Go cry to your big brother, C-C-Cullen." And for the rest of the day, my ribs and side hurt. The only bright spot was Biology where it didn't matter that I had watched Bella leave the cafeteria like always, following Jacob Black because she slid a bag of Gummi Worms across the Formica table top towards me. And as I ate one, I suddenly understood why doctors gave children suckers. The Gummi Worms made me feel better. "W-w-will you c-come over today?" I had no reason to expect her to say yes since we hadn't planned it and I was basically ambushing her after Biology, but I wanted to spend more time with her. Bella's eyes widened slightly. "Um, yeah, sure, but Jacob's taking me to turn in my application." I didn't want her to go places with Jacob Black. It was irrational, I realized that because she wasn't my girlfriend and even if she was, she was able to make her own choice of friends, but I couldn't help it. "W-w-we could take you there, if you w-w-wanted and then go back to m-my house."

"Well, I already told him that we'dthat he'd take me." I knew I wouldn't be able to hide my disappointment, but I tried to convince myself that I had no right to be disappointed. Bella would do what she was going to do. She had kissed me, twice now, so I should've been somewhat confident. But with Bella it was so hard to tell what she was thinking. She could very easily have kissed me last night and then not spoken to me for a week. "I'll be over around four, okay?" I just nodded, happy that she was speaking to me. "Don't forget your Gummi Worms, Edward," she said with a smile as she stood up from our shared table. "I'll see you, okay?" I nodded again and watched her leave the room before standing up and finding my way to the administrative office to see Ms. Rice. ... "I m-meant w-what I ssssaid, and I ssssaid w-what I m-meant. An elephant's fffffaithful, one hundred p-p-p-p" I sighed and stopped trying. The word percent wasn't going to come out, so there was no use in trying. My hands were balled up on my thighs and my eyes were squeezed tight. "Edward, just relax. You were doing quite well. Just work through that block." Slowly, my eyes opened back up and I saw Ms. Rice's patient face. It wasn't just as easy as 'working through' a block. It involved a lot of concentration and effort and I wondered if she even knew that. But I had to try because if I didn't, I would never get better and I had a goal of having a normal sounding conversation with Ms. Rice one day and it wouldn't happen if I just stopped trying. So I thought about music, but as my lips pursed together to try to form the word, it didn't get easier. And then my thoughts naturally floated to Bella. And then to Bella's hands and then to her hands in my hair. I didn't know why that was so soothing to me, but it was. "P-p-percent." "Very good, Edward." "W-why do w-we always r-read Dr. Sssseuss b-b-books?" She smiled at me. "Because once you master Seuss, you can master anything. And I'm not just talking about people who stutter, Edward. Most people can't make it through Fox in Socks without stumbling. Seuss is a mainstay for people looking to master public speaking." Ms. Rice held out her hand and I gave her the book. "Whatever you used to relax just now, was perfect, Edward. You need to do that exact same thing next time you encounter a block." Thinking about Bella was not going to be a problem. ... At home I checked out my side and torso, grimacing at the bruising Mike's shoulder and fist had caused. Graduation was only a year and a half away. That thought was a relief on one hand and induced panic on the other, so I switched my thoughts to Bella. When Bella arrived at my house at a quarter after four, she smelled of pot and I knew that the reason she didn't want Emmett to take her to the store to drop off her application was because she wouldn't have been able to get high.

I wondered if she just always got high or if it was because of me. She wasn't inside more than thirty seconds before Alice grabbed her hand and literally dragged her over to the Wii, practically forcing her to bowl and then to drive circuit after circuit on Mario Kart. She was about as good at it as I was. Everyone told her as much and even Rosalie laughed when Bella's avatar fell off the side yet again. She was still on her first lap when the others had finished the race. Bella tossed the wheel to the side. "I'm done." I was afraid that meant that she wanted to go home, but I was relieved when she stood up and took my hand, pulling me up as well. I saw Rosalie scowl and wondered why. When we were out of the game room, Bella continued to hold onto my hand, but just barely. Her small finger was hooked around my index finger. She broke our link, our connection when we were in the kitchen. "Do you want me to cook you guys something?" "C-Carlisle will be h-home ssssoon." "That's not what I asked," she said, not really sounding annoyed like she had when she'd asked about the coffee. "I can cook him something too." "And Esme w-will be here t-too." Bella sighed but shrugged. "I get it, the whole family. I can still cook you guys dinner." "You d-don't have t-to, B-Bella." "You don't want me to?" "N-no, I mean, y-yes." I sucked in a breath, worrying about how badly this all was coming out. "I-I-I mmmmean, if y-you w-w-w-w" Her hand moved to cover one of mine. "Edward, please relax. I just asked about dinner, okay? Nothing major or panic-causing. I know that I don't have to, but I don't want you to eat anymore bad take-out." I couldn't help but smile and tighten my fingers around hers. She was so beautiful. "W-w-we bought brussel ssssprouts." Bella beamed. ... "It's official. Bella's my new favorite person!" Emmett declared loudly. I looked to Rose, knowing that she'd react to his exclamation. I was right. Rosalie raised an eyebrow and then licked her lips which had settled into a frown. "Well, I hope that Bella likes six-foot-five eight-year-olds because she can have you then." "Aw, Rosie, I was just joking. You know that you'll always be my ultimate favorite person. This food is just really good."

Rosalie wouldn't look at him. Bella's eyes were focused on her plate, but she said to Emmett, "It's just chicken and noodles. Don't go breaking up with your girlfriend over it. You can buy this shit in the frozen section and it's probably better than this." Alice gasped quietly, her eyes bugging out just slightly. "What?" Bella asked. "We don't cuss at the table, Bella." Glancing around, Bella didn't apologize, instead, she asked, "Why? They're just words and it's a table. I don't think it minds." Esme cleared her throat while Carlisle smiled. "You must enjoy cooking, Bella," he asked. I immediately tensed up for her. She had already told me that she didn't really enjoy it; that it was just necessary for her survival. I thought she might've gotten upset or angry like she did when I had asked her, but to my surprise, she kept her head down and replied, "It's easy and people seem to like it." "I'm impressed that a teenager can appreciate brussel sprouts and the squash you incorporated into the last meal." I glanced over at Esme, who wasn't looking at Carlisle while he spoke. She was studying Bella. I hoped against all hope that Esme wouldn't be clinical tonight. It was bad enough that I'd had to share Bella all night with everyone. I didn't want Esme to upset her by spewing shrink questions. "I don't really have a choice, do I?" Bella's eyes were fixed on Carlisle. "Most vegetables are low in carbs and are low on the glycemic index. Plus they taste good." "How is your father?" Esme asked. "Charlie's fine." "It's a shame he wasn't able to join us." "I didn'tI mean, he wasn't invited. I didn't even know I was coming over until sixth period and I didn't decide to make dinner until five-thirty or six." "Does he not know that you're here?" Bella sighed and shook her head. "Does he need to know?" "You don't think he might want to know where his daughter is?" With a shrug, Bella asked, "Why would he need to know?" For a moment Esme just looked at her, but then flicked her eyes to Carlisle. "I'll call him," Carlisle offered. "Bella," Esme started as he stood up. "Your father is responsible for you. He needs to know where you are at all times, don't you think?"

I could see Bella's jaw tighten as her teeth clenched. "He hasn't bothered with that shit for seventeen years. Why would he suddenly need to know now?" Bella set her fork down and pushed her plate away. Everyone was silent for a moment and it was uncomfortable. "B-B-Bella?" She looked up at me. "D-d-d-do you w-want to" "Yes," she said quickly, standing up. I followed suit, unsure if she knew that I was asking if she wanted to go to my room. Maybe she thought I was asking if she wanted to go home. Maybe she was tired of being here. Maybe Rosalie's illogical jealousy and Esme's questions made her want even less to do with me. But Bella headed to the stairs, not the front door. I relaxed. "How can you stand being around her all the time?" she asked as I closed my bedroom door. "Sssshe didn't m-mean to upset you, B-Bella." "What is she even doing here? She's not your mom and she and Carlisle" "It's j-just easier b-because E-Emmett and Aliiice are d-dating Rosalie and J-Jasper." "Whatever," she said with a sigh before sitting down on my couch. I wondered if I should sit by her. Was that acceptable in light of everything that had transpired between us? I wondered if she'd allow it or if she'd even want me to. I didn't want to risk it, so I sat down on my bed, scooting to the middle and crossing my legs like she had suggested last time. "I e-mailed you last night," she said quietly. My eyes flicked to the computer. I should have checked it after school. "I-I d-didn't read it yet. I'm sssssorry." Bella smiled and it made me feel calm. "It's okay. Do you want to do something on Saturday?" My heart leapt! "Maybe go back to that field with the flowers?" As much as I would have loved to, I didn't think we could. "It's ssssupposed to sssnow." Her face wrinkled up and she looked almost horrified. "W-w-what?" I asked. "I've never really been in snow. I mean, maybe when I was too small to remember. I don't think I'll like it. How about you?" "I-I'm from Ch-Chicago. There's l-l-lots of ssssnow there." "I meant beyond liking it, like you said in the e-mail, what do you think of it?" I shrugged. "I d-don't really have an opinion on it." "Are you aware that you only stuttered once in that sentence?" I hadn't been aware, but I knew that for whatever reason, I always felt so much more comfortable and confident when it was just the two of us.

Looking at her, I let one side of my lips curl up. "Y-you make it easier f-for m-me to talk." ...

Chapter 30: Pushing E POV We'd been in my room for nearly an hour before Bella stood up from the couch and stretched. She was so beautiful. I wondered if she knew that. I mean, really knew how beautiful she was. As her back arched and her chest jutted out, I forced myself to look away. The sight of her elongated body was going to end up causing me embarrassment if I let it. And I wasn't going to let it. She glanced at my books, like she always did, her fingers gliding over the spines before she turned to look at my instruments. Reaching out, she strummed the first guitar Carlisle had given me and then glanced down at my computer desk. Then she picked up the envelopes sitting next to my keyboard. "Yale. Princeton. Stanford. Washington. Colorado. Harvard?" Bella turned to look at me. "What are all these?" My body tensed just slightly as my heart beat faster. "C-college applications." "They look all set to go. We go right by the post office on the way home. Do you want to take them tonight?" I shook my head. "N-no." Bella just looked at me for a moment. "Why not?" I was sure my face showed my panic and I shook my head again. "Does college make you nervous?" I nodded in response. Sighing, she set the envelopes down and shrugged. "Maybe I'll apply where you apply and we'll just go to the same school." That would be wonderful. I wondered if she knew how helpful that would be to me. "A-a-are you p-p-planning to go?" "To college?" I nodded. "I don't have applications all filled out, sealed and ready to go like you, but maybe I'll go." I was sort of shocked. Most people our age already had solid plans or at least had schools in mind. "You d-don't know?" She shook her head. "I-it's not ex-expected?" "Charlie hasn't mentioned it and Renee never cared about, well, anything to do with me, really, but school especially. No, I take that back, she cared enough to convince the teachers that she was a decent mom, but when I turned eighteen she'd be rid of me either way, so she didn't care about applications and all that."

"D-do you w-want to go?" I watched her shrug. "Maybe." I furrowed my brow. How could she not know if she wanted to go to college or not? "B-but you're ssssso sssmart, B-Bella. W-why w-wouldn't you go?" Her eyes darkened a bit. "Why do you have finished applications just sitting around in your room?" I knew her question was asked out of defensiveness and I didn't answer. "There's no real point for me to go, Edward." "W-why not?" She sighed. "I'll most likely be dead or something." The smile she gave me wasn't real. Fear struck me at her words, fully realizing that she really wasn't joking. Graduation wasn't that far off, did she really think that she'd be dead before college? Was she actively seeking it? "B-B-B-Belllllll," I couldn't even get her name out, dragging the l's until I gave up. I needed to focus on something to keep the fear from escalating into panic. Again she sighed. "Come on," she said as she grabbed the envelopes. "Let's put these in the mail. I have to get home." ... "B-B-Bella d-d-don't. N-n-not y-yet." Her hand paused as it opened the drop shoot of the mail box. "What? You need to send these in. I might not want to go, but I know these applications are due very soon." "B-b-but, B-B-Bella, I" "Edward," she said, her voice calm, "You're going to go to college. You know that. The only way to get there is to be accepted, and the only way to get accepted is to apply." My hands clenched and I pressed my fists into the top of my thighs. She was about to drop the envelopes into the mailbox and then the applications would be out of my hands and into other people's. "B-B-B-B" "Edward," she said again as she withdrew her hand, still holding the envelopes. "They're pieces of paper, and it's just college." But it wasn't just college. It was new places, new things, and new people. It was the fear of not being good enough, the fear of people not understanding, the fear of rejection and the fear of never being anything more than the stupid stuttering guy in class. College required at least two years of a foreign language. There was no way that I could escape two years of Spanish or Russian or German without having to speak it in front of people. "I-I c-c-c-can'tI-I d-d-don't w-w-w-w" I was getting anxious and nervous and I could feel it within my body. I didn't want to have a panic attack in front of her. I didn't want to have a panic attack over

college applications. Her eyes softened and she sighed. She moved away from the mailbox, licked her lips and stopped next to me. She put the envelopes in my hand before reaching up and stroking the side of my head, her fingers tugging at my hair. "Just put them in the box, Edward. Then you don't have to worry about it anymore. It'll be done." I gripped the envelopes tightly and closed my eyes, concentrating on the feel of her hand in my hair. "What was it that Churchill said? 'If you're going through hell, keep going'? The only way out is to keep going, Edward, and all you have to do is walk to the box, open it up and let those fucking things slide out of your hands. It'll be okay and you won't have to think about it anymore." I knew she was right. Logically, I knew that it was ridiculous to be frozen to this spot outside the Forks Post Office. But I couldn't help it. I wished it was easier for me to do this. I wished that I was like every other teenager and only put it off because I was lazy. Oh, how I wished I was just lazy instead of frozen in panic and fear. The thought of her applying with me calmed me a little, but I had no way of knowing if she truly would., and even if she applied, it didn't mean that she'd be accepted. She wasn't stupid. She was quite smart, actually. I'd seen the grades on her tests when Banner handed them back. Through our conversations, I could tell she was very intelligent. But if she did apply and even if we were accepted into the same school, I had no guarantee that she would go. "B-B-Bella," I gasped, unprepared for the intenseness of the situation. I was sure we looked stupid and if Mike Newton saw us, he'd be extra cruel tomorrow, but I couldn't get myself to move. I wanted to just put the damn things in that stupid blue box. I wanted to do it because Bella was there and she wanted me to. My brain yelled at my feet to move, but they wouldn't. Although I wasn't gasping for breath like during a regular attack, I felt like I couldn't breathe. I didn't want to disappoint her, but I wasn't able to get over the fear and panic that was holding me down. I had no idea how long we stood there like that, until I was finally able to open my eyes, but it was only because Bella removed her hand from my hair. "You can mail them tomorrow, Edward," she said, her voice quiet as she gave me the out that I needed. I let out a deep breath. "But food for thought," she said as she moved away from me, moving closer to my Volvo. "You're way too smart to flip burgers or pour concrete, Edward. A job is a job, but they're not for you." She turned her back to me. "There are people everywhere. Not all of them are assholes, but most are. Don't let the fact that you don't know them fuck your life up." She opened the car door and I looked down at the letters in my hand and sighed. I felt completely sick to my stomach, my head was swimming, and I felt like I was drowning in a sea emotion, but I sucked in a deep breath and said, "Y-y-you d-d-d-do it." I thrust out my hand, gripping the envelopes tight and making them wrinkle. Bella turned around. With a half smile, she said, "I'm not going to walk all the way back over there if you're not going to let me really do it this time." I held my arm out farther. "P-p-please?"

I closed my eyes as I saw her come back towards me. My breathing sped back up as I felt her take the papers from my hand. I nearly choked on my heart when I heard the creaking of the metal drawer. I had to concentrate really hard on not vomiting. "There. Now Edward's going to college and there's nothing he can do about it. So there's absolutely no reason for him to worry." I sighed. "W-why are you t-talking about me in the th-third p-person?" When I opened my eyes, I saw her smiling. "Because I'm telling you that you're not going to worry." I swallowed hard as she tugged on my arm, but then released it. "Now that that's over" It was a long moment before I could move my feet, but when I did, I found myself no less stressed about the applications than before. However, now the stress was accompanied by sadness at the fact that I would be taking her home. I made myself move and I forced myself to drive her to her father's little house. When I pulled up at the curb, she turned in her seat while unbuckling her seat belt. "Do you feel better about it now?" I knew she was talking about the applications and I didn't want to lie. "N-no." "You will. Don't let that shit bother you so much. You think entirely too much." "Sssssorry." Bella chuckled and threw me a smile. "I don't want an apology. I like that you think too much, but don't convince yourself that you can't do something." "I-I'm ssssorry." "Stop." "I-I c-c-c-can't, B-Bella. I-I d-don't w-w-want to," I stumbled, "l-let you d-down, b-but I j-just c-c" My words were cut off and I was suddenly aware that Bella was on her knees in the passenger seat facing me. Her hands moved to my hair and I took in a deep breath. Suddenly, her lips were gently brushing over mine. It was entirely too short. I wanted more. I reached out to take her hand like she'd had mine, but she pulled away. "I have go. Charlie's," she said, "probably" Bella sucked in a deep breath and opened the door. "D-do you w-want me to w-walk you to your d-door?" Bella turned and smiled at me. "It's not 1918, Edward. I'm a big girl and I think I can make it to the door all by myself." I hadn't meant to insult her. I wasn't trying to imply that she couldn't make it there herself. "I'm sssssorry, B-Bella, I d-didn't m-mean to" She smiled again. "You worry too fucking much, Edward. Thanks for the offer, but if you come to the door, Charlie'll probably look to intimidate you some more and there's no need to give him the idea

that he has the right to care about who I'm out with." I thought back to what Esme said at dinner, about it being Charlie's responsibility to know where she was and who she was with. I wondered why she couldn't see that. I had no idea about their relationship, but she seemed like she gave him a hard time when he tried to do what most normal parents did, which was to keep tabs on their children. It was easy to see that she was angry with him, but I didn't know why. He hadn't been the one to knock her onto a fork or lie about her injuries or stop feeding her when she was little. As much as I knew that Carlisle wasn't my blood father, I respected him for taking me in and making my life a little bit easier. "C-c-can I t-t-take you t-t-to school t-tomorrow?" "Jacob's already planning on picking me up like usual." Oh, right. Jacob. I tried to keep the crease off of my brow, but failed. The disappointment had to have been clear on my face. "But you can pick me up on Monday, if you want." Without waiting for my response or looking back at me, Bella got out of the car and jogged the short distance to the front door. One thing was for sure, Bella Swan was confusing. ... It took a great deal of concentration to drive home safely. After Bella had left the car, I allowed myself to recognize that I was half-hard. It was uncomfortable. I sat in the garage for fifteen minutes until it went away. Incredibly thankful that the evening hadn't been a replay of the night after Olympia, I entered the house and tried to avoid everyone. The Hales were still over and I really didn't want to socialize, but that was the usual. In my room, I powered up my computer and looked for Bella's e-mail, feeling the need to make sure I returned it tonight. There was a message from Imabell, just like she said there would be. I didn't fully understand why, but I felt like I was waiting for the carpet to be pulled out from under me. Surely, she couldn't have actually kissed me and there was no way that she meant it, whatever 'it' was. Somewhere inside, I was waiting for her to figure out that I wasn't worth her time or energy. Edward, Do you want to do something on Saturday? I'm turning in my application after school on Thursday. I've never played video games before. Not really my thing, I think. I'm not sure what your first question is really asking. When did I know that other people's lives were different than mine? I don't know. Probably pretty young though. I went to this girl's birthday party when I was in kindergarten and she lived with both her parents.

They had a dog and flowers everywhere. Her mom and dad kept hugging her and telling her that they loved her and how it was her birthday and that meant it was her day or whatever. That pretty much showed me that what I had with Renee and Charlie was insanely different than what other kids had with their parents. I've never told anyone about the fork. Why would anyone care about it? The hospital seemed to believe that I slipped and fell, even though the bruise was on the opposite cheek. If the hospital, filled with doctors and nurses who are supposed to be fucking trained to figure shit out didn't care, why would anyone else? I told you because you kept asking. I didn't come to live with my dad sooner because he never invited me. And even if he had, who the fuck knows if Renee would have let me? She might have hated me, but she needed me. She can't cook, doesn't understand the concept of separating colors from whites, and refuses to clean up after a cat that she decided to adopt. Am I happy? I am as happy as I can be. When you close your eyes and think about someplace that's completely safe and comfortable, which place do you see? What do you want most out of life? Did your dad have OCD or something like that (in regards to the mud and the TV)? If you could only listen to one song for the rest of your life, what would it be? Do you believe in luck? Bonus: How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? And don't think I'm joking. I really want to know and figured you might know that shit. I'll see you in school, B. I wasted no time and composed my reply. Bella, I'm sorry about the applications. I must seem rather weak and pathetic to you. I don't really know why I couldn't do it. You're right, I know that I'm going to college, but the act of sending those applications in was just daunting. Just to clarify, I would love to do something with you on Saturday. We never really decided on anything. When I close my eyes and think of the place I feel most comfortable, I would have to say that it's my room that I see. It has all of my things and that makes it comfortable and no one comes in here unless I want them to, which makes it safe. One song for the rest of my life? That's impossible to answer. Probably something by Chopin. I never get tired listening to his works. His Nocturne #1, Op 9 is probably my favorite. I'll play for you sometime. I don't think I believe in luck. I'm not sure. If I did believe in luck, then I've never possessed it. When good

things happen, I don't think it's luck. And sometimes bad things happen and I would hate to think that something as vague as luck would cause it. My father didn't have OCD, as far as I know. He had some very firm religious beliefs that he imposed on everyone around him. He was obsessed with this notion of "clean living means a clean heart and a pure soul." Television and video games weren't clean. Actually, it extended to most forms of new technology. It wasn't that he was afraid of it, of the change it brought. It was more that he saw it as corrupted and corruptive. So that explains the TV. As for the mud, I've thought about it and all I can come up with is that mud and dirt were the literal/physical manifestation of his internal thoughts. Jesus walked in dirt, so I don't understand why my father hated it so much. So now for what I want out of lifeI feel like I need to think about this for a while. I think I just want to find some lasting form of happiness. I always feel good when I'm playing music, but I can't play all the time and while I tend to have music on my mind quite a lot, the feeling isn't the same. So I would like a happiness that could saturate and seep into me. As for the bonus, I don't know anything about woodchucks, but I could Google it for you. Some questions for you: Who is your favorite Harry Potter character (assuming you've read the books)? If you had a supernatural ability, which one would you want? What's the last book you read, outside of books required by school? What do you want out of life? Do you like your dad? Bonus: What do you want to do on Saturday? I'll see you on Friday. Edward I played around on the keyboard again, trying to get the wispy notes of a new piano composition that had been playing in my head to come together. Sometimes composing took an awful lot of concentration and other times it did not. This time, while it was mostly written in my head before I ever even touched the keys, there was something just missing. My mind wandered as my fingers flowed across the keys almost of their own accord. Was it too late to hope for an e-mail from Bella? Should I hope for it? And how exactly did I feel about the fact that she'd made me send those college applications that had been sitting around for over a month? She'd been right. I did feel better about it now, but the anxiety wasn't gone. Because in a few days or a week, someone would be reading those applications and deciding whether or not I'd be good enough to go to the school they represent. If no one wanted me, I didn't know what I'd do. I had no backup plan. On the other hand, if every school accepted me, I would have to choose which school I wanted to go to for at least four years. That was a huge decision I felt like I was ill-equipped to make right now. The fact that I'd most likely go to a school other than Stanford, meant that I would be alone. Without anyone. Without Alice. I wasn't sure I'd be able to handle any of that.

It was technically Friday when I finally moved away from my keyboard and slid over to check my e-mail. I took in a deep breath and recognized the excited feeling I experienced when I saw that she had, in fact, replied. Edward, Stop apologizing, especially about things that are outside of your control. I don't know what to do on Saturday. What do you normally do on Saturdays? I have read Harry Potter. Favorite character? I would say Ron. Yeah or Sirius. Ron because he's pretty damn average as a wizard, but still gives everything he has to stand up to defend what he believes in, and Sirius because the dude survived prison and torment to try and right the wrong of his best friend being killed. I'd probably want to have mind-reading as my supernatural power. The last book I read without it being for school was The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Super fucking interesting, but you probably wouldn't like it. Charlie's okay. He leaves me alone for the most part. I wish he didn't have this idea that he has the right to be a father now. My favorite time of the year has always been the summer, simply because I got to come here and be away from Renee. He and I never did much but go fishing. Or, rather, he went fishing and I shoved Jacob into the mud for pulling my hair. Or we watched TV. Some summer vacation, but it was always better than the alternative. All I want out of life is for all the assholes of the world to leave me alone. I don't really need a lot of things, and despite what everyone thinks about that car, I've never stolen anything simply because I've wanted it. Honestly? All I really want is a little quiet. I like the quiet. My question for you (yes, only one): Why did your mom do it? I'll see you tomorrow. One day closer to the weekend, thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster! Let's figure out about Saturday tomorrow, okay? B. ... On Friday, even though I was delighted to see Bella in the hall before first period, Mike Newton slammed me into a row of lockers again, his fist connecting with the same damaged flesh he'd hit yesterday. I gasped in pain. "What do you think, C-C-Cullen?" he asked, nodding over towards where Bella stood talking to Tyler Crowley. "She's looking particularly fuckable today." Bella was wearing a small black t-shirt with a gray thermal under it and what Alice would call black "skinny jeans".

"Do you think she likes it rough, C-C-Cullen?" My thoughts went inappropriately to random made up images of Bella in various positions and I fought against it. I didn't want Mike to be thinking of her like that and I shouldn't either. "Tyler says she does. He said she got off hard when he slammed into her. Tyler's a big dude and he says that she took every fucking inch while he smacked her ass." Mike's fingers tightened around the back of my neck. "I bet her mouth could do wicked things to my dick." I shook my head slightly as I took in a deep breath. Mike slammed me against the locker again, the back of my head starting to smart. "Keep fucking her in your dreams, dude, because I'm next in line to tap that shit." He leaned in closer, "And you're a bigger fucking loser than I thought if you think she'd really go for someone like you. Unlike Jessica, I bet Bella knows exactly what a good lay is, and C-C-Cullen, you aren't it." His hand moved to grip my hair and it was the complete opposite of when Bella's fingers were in it. "Newton!" His hands quickly moved away from me and he took a step back as he looked up at Emmett's burning red face. "Hey Emmett," he said nervously. "Edward and I were just discussing the Biology homework while taking in the fine sight of Swan's tight ass." Emmett took Mike, one hand on his forearm, the other on his shoulder, and shoved him down the hall. "Edward," he sighed as he watched me pull away from the locker. "Pop that guy in the mouth, will you? He'll stop if you just hit him once." I sighed and shook my head, feeling the creeping terror at the thought of hitting Newton. "I-i-it's o-okay, E-Emmett." Both he and I knew that it wasn't okay, but I'd taken all of the cruelty that Mike had to give ever since I moved to Forks years ago. I didn't think I'd up and change that now. I didn't want to fight. So I moved quickly alongside Emmett, ignoring the pain that shouted at me from my body. ...

Chapter 31: Calm and Peaceful Sea B POV I went to school on Friday with twenty bucks in my pocket with the sole intent of getting Tyler to sell me some of the morphine pills he'd had in his middle drawer. I'd called him and told him that I had the money. Morphine was so much better than Vicodin. I knew that taking one before school started would leave me pretty mellow and numb until lunch or maybe a little longer. If I was lucky. The pot just wasn't working to kill the voice in my head that told me to be quiet and not to wake my mother. As soon as Jake's little Rabbit parked into its usual spot, his hand moved from the gear shift to my leg. His other hand removed his seatbelt as he leaned in closer to me. I turned my head away and sighed. "Fucking still?"

I shrugged and gave him a smile. I'd told him that I was on my period yesterday morning. It was a complete and utter lie since thanks to the 'miracle shot,' I hadn't had an actual period in years. But it was easier than explaining to him that since I'd kissed Edward, I was having all these fucking feelings that told me that fucking Jacob would be wrong. Even though I wasn't Edward's girlfriend, I knew I'd still felt guilty about that shit. It was fucked up. I was fucking horny as hell and there was someone currently sitting to my left who could give me satisfaction, but my stupid need to do right by someone who was not my boyfriend kept me from it. Fucked up. I didn't know what the hell I was hoping to get out of any of it. There wasn't anyone in this world who was worth giving shit up over. I knew where this was headed. I could see the flood of heartache and pain and yet I couldn't stop my stumbling feet from taking me down the Edward path. Tyler sold me the morphine without drama, and I was thankful. Once the pill was digested and the opium was coursing through me, I felt pretty damn decent. Morphine was like floating on a cloud while blanketed in bubble wrap in the middle of a calm and peaceful sea. The day sped by thanks to the floating and the sleeping I did during class. I was awake and fully functioning by the time lunch came around, so I'd downed another pill with my water and nibbled on my PopTart. I wasn't hungry, but my insulin was injected already, with the sweet pastry puff already planned for and counting towards my carbs. I drifted outside and smoked out with Jacob. A soft smile plastered on my face, I glided on into Biology with just moments to spare before the bell rang. I meant to say hello to Edward but it came out sounding more like a lustful, "Mmmmm, Edward." And lustful over Edward, I was. I spent most of the hour ignoring the fact that there was a lecture occurring, and instead of listening to Mr. Banner, I blatantly stared at Edward. He was perfect and sexy and the motherfucker had no idea. He totally had no clue that he was sexy as fuck and if he'd just fake a little confidence in school, he'd have most of these bitches hanging off his junk. Not that I wanted any of them on his junk. In fact, I probably would have fought a bitch over his junk. Edward remained blissfully unaware. I didn't think he had any idea that his sexy-but-not-too-pouty lips were making me clamp my legs together. He was clueless as to what those fucking gorgeous green eyes and extremely long eye lashes could do if given the chance. If he had only a little more confidence, he'd make every fucking girl in this school come by just looking at them. His hands were absolutely exquisite. They were beautiful with long, strong, elegant fingers. They were marked. Both hands had small divots and tiny, barely noticeable scars littering them. His right hand was gripping his black ink pen tightly as the fingers on the other hand constantly curled and uncurled around the closed text book on the desk. Edward's chest was rising and falling more rapidly than most people's would, but it was a strong chest. He had broad shoulders and narrow hips and his lap made me want to crawl up on it. I could've totally fucked him. I would lick his neck and taste his skin while I straddled him. I'd do most of the work, but his hands would be on my hips, pulling me forward and pushing me back at erotically even intervals. My hands would grip his chest, using the hollows of his collar bone as handles as I rode him. I'd also bet he was relatively well-endowed. Poetic justice like that was rampant in this world, and nothing would be more right and in-tune with what "should be" than Edward wielding a massive cock. It would fill me up and take away the ache that was ever-present. I would sink down on him and become whole, if only for the long minutes we were connected like that. I would make him pant, make him grunt. I knew he wouldn't be like some guys, who were practically girls the way they screamed their way through sex. I could see him biting his lip and casting his face

up towards the ceiling, his eyes shut, while his quiet sounds told me how far along he was on the path to orgasm. Fuck me, and those fingers that looked so fucking sexy strumming a guitar would dig into the flesh of my hips and my ass. As he was quite a bit larger than I was, it would be nothing for him to lift me up as we were still connected and press me back into the wall. My legs would automatically wrap around and lock at the ankles behind his back and he'd take over thrusting up into me while I held on, burying my face in his neck. He'd smell so fucking good too, like grass and citrus, and I'd flick my tongue out against him once more, just to taste the saltiness of his skin. The wet, flat stroke of my tongue would own him and make him shiver as he pressed against me even more, his chest putting pressure on my breasts, his soft sprinkling of hair teasing and tempting my hard nipples. His fucking delectable mouth would suck in my earlobe before trailing open, wet kisses along my jawline. He'd kiss my chin, bringing it into his mouth briefly before making my lips swollen with his. All the while, his hips never stopped thrusting between my thighs and I would grip "O-o-okay?" I blinked and sucked in a ragged breath. "Hhhmm?" What the fuck? As I came out of the intense fantasy and found myself still sitting in my seat while other kids were leaving the room, I wondered about my day dream. The fucking I could understand but he would kiss my chin? Trail motherfucking kisses on my jawline? What. The. Fuck. What was my problem? Motherfucker. "I-I asked if you w-were o-okay." I looked up at Edward and he was breathing hard, as if we truly had been fucking in the middle of class. I wondered what sounds he would make and if he'd be able to say anything coherent for long minutes afterwards. "I'm good, Edward." My voice sounded tired and lazy even to my ears. He shook his head and I stood up, running both of my hands through my hair and pulling it back, tugging on it just a little, just until I could feel the slight sting of the pull. Moving as quickly as the morphine would let me, which wasn't quickly at all, I started gathering all of my things. I dropped my pencil, which Edward picked up and by the time it was securely in my bag, about ten pieces of paper floated to the floor. I watched lazily as Edward picked them up, stacking them straight in his hands before putting them in my bag for me. "Thanks. I'll see you later," I said, knowing that the Fuck Up Club was holding its weekly compulsory meeting. His hand curled around my wrist as I tried to go and I froze for a moment before I remembered that I didn't like that shit from anyone and pulled my arm away. "What?" He didn't disguise the hurt on his face very well, but I didn't fucking like that shit, so I wasn't going to feel bad. "W-w-wwwhat are you on?" I blinked at him, but he waited, his eyes fixed with mine. I played it as cool as I could while drowning in a sea of green. "Nothing." "B-B-Bella," was all he said, but it made me shiver. "I'm fine, and I'm noton anything." "M-maybe n-no one else p-pays attention, B-Bella, b-but I do." The crease on his brow deepened.

"W-what are you on?" I didn't want to tell him. Morphine was a derivative of opium, the same as heroin. He would know that shit and he would make a direct connection with his mother and I didn't want that, for him or for me. I smiled slowly. "Nothing, Edward, I'm just" I looked around. "I have to get to the gym, but I'll see you at your house in a few hours." "B-B-Bella, you are" I cut him off and began moving away. "I'm fine, Edward." ... The morphine numb carried me through to Edward's house and clung to me during my twenty-minute wait to see Dr. Hale, but after the first few minutes of talking to her about random things like school and photography, I recognized the signs of coming down. And I hated it. It was way too easy for that voice to ring out inside my head. Shhhh! I drew my legs up onto the chair and wrapped my arms around them, resting my chin on my knees. Quiet, Bella. "Bella, I think it's time we talk about some actual issues, would that be okay?" Pulling myself out of my mental downslide, I shrugged. "It's your show. You can try." "It's been very interesting to see you interact with your father." My eyes narrowed, but that was my only reaction. "Why won't you let him get close to you? You seem to keep him at a distance and get annoyed when he tries to involve himself in your life." "No, I don't." "You should have seen the irritation and anger on your face last Friday when he asked Carlisle about your diabetes. Doesn't it make you feel the least bit happy that someone is concerned about you?" I shook my head. "He doesn't need to be close to me." "Is it all men you stay away from in general or just authoritarian men?" I stayed silent, suddenly entirely too sober for this shit. "Let's go back to a question I've asked you before." I rolled my eyes. I knew exactly what Hale wanted to discuss. "About sex, right?" Esme nodded and I sighed, ready to give her the juicy details she so obviously wanted. "What do you want to know? I prefer doggie style and I find it sexy when guys lick my neck." Her reaction was muted as her eyes continued to bear down on me. "Do you think you prefer that position so that you don't have to see the person you're having sex with?" "No." She might've had a point, but there was no way in hell that I was validating that shit for her. "Is that why you let Doctor Cullen fuck you from behind? So you don't have to be faced with the fact that you're boning your kids' future father-in-law?" Although she took in a sharp breath, Dr. Hale's face was impassive. "How many men have you slept with, Bella?" "Men or boys?" I asked, wondering if it made a difference to her how many people over the age of eighteen had fucked me and whether or not it mattered if they had known I was underage. Because most motherfuckers couldn't have cared less. "And do you actually mean 'sleep,' because we don't." "No," she said seriously. "No, sleeping next to someone without sexual contact would be a challenge for you. It would be a deeply intimate act."

My whole body bristled, but I said nothing. "When's the last time someone hugged you?" I shrugged. "When was the last time you let someone touch you in a manner that wasn't sexual and did not lead to or stem from sex?" I thought about Edward, but it had been uncomfortable and I didn't let it last long. Esme looked at me hard. "Just because people might not have shown you affection in the form of hugging or holding your hand in the past doesn't mean that you're not worthy of those small acts of love, Bella." I hated her words and I hated that she thought she fucking knew anything about me. Despite my internal vow to remain silent, my mouth pushed out the words, "They make me nervous." "Yet sleeping with men you barely know is something you do with ease." Fuck her. "You don't know what I do. How the fuck do you think you know how easy or hard something is for me or that I fuck anyone I don't know." She ignored my question. "Perhaps you should try to refrain from sexual activity in order to better understand intimacy. You might find that simple things like a touch or a smile are actually much more rewarding than random sex with people who most likely don't even care for you at all." "Perhaps you should mind your own fucking business," I spouted off immediately without really thinking about it. "Do you worry that your father will take advantage of you?" My breath caught. "What?" I stood up, my chest felt tight, as if I couldn't breathe. Dr. Bitch was suffocating me, drawing the fucking air out of my lungs to watch me flop around like a fish on the deck of a boat. "I'm fucking done with this shit. Fuck you. Don't fucking ask me shit about Charlie. Ask him." There were many ways people could take advantage of me, and most of them didn't involve Charlie. Despite that smack across the cheek when I first arrived, which I had deserved, I knew that Charlie wasn't a violent man by nature and posed little physical threat to me. The only thing Charlie could do was hurt me emotionally, and there was no fucking way I was letting that happen. Renee stopped letting me come to Forks on my summer breaks, even though I was sure she had desperately wanted the time away from me. She said it was punishment for me, and for him, or so she thought, but he never fought to get back his court-appointed right to have me for the summer. It seemed to me that he welcomed my absence from his life and felt he was only my father biologically. He took me back because he had no choice. "Bella, please sit down." I didn't want to sit. I wanted to leave the fucking room, but my body did as she asked. "Why do you call him Charlie?" "It's his name," I answered tensely. "Do you wish to distance yourself from him? Calling him by his first name is like not acknowledging the familial bond you share with him." "He distanced himself from me." Hale cocked her head to the side and jotted out a few words on her legal pad. "Perhaps one day the two of you can sit down and talk about that. Your feelings are valid, Bella, but you should also give him the opportunity to share his with you." Again, I said nothing. She could have her little moments of psychiatrist clarity, but I wasn't going to be

involved in them. "Are you upset that he didn't save you, Bella?" I bit my lip as my whole body tensed. "Shut up." I had meant it as a forceful command, but it came out a whispered plea. "You don't fucking know anything." "Do you think that he should have stopped your mother from hurting you?" My lip slipped from between my teeth and my jaw clenched. My teeth hurt from the pressure. Of course he could have and should have stopped my mother from hurting me, but he didn't quite care enough to figure the shit out. If he would have just asked me a fucking question about how I got a motherfucking scar or why it was that I was so bruised when I arrived every June, I would have told him the truth. But he never asked and by the time I came to Forks for the summer after sixth grade, I didn't want to be in the same room with him. Plus being alone in a house with a big man I barely knew, no matter if I called him Dad, Daddy, Father, or Charlie, would never be comfortable again. Then the fucking voice had to make an appearance, reminding me that no one ever did ask any questions and no one ever saved me. Shhhh! Quiet, Bella. Don't wake your mother. Dr. Hale didn't need to know all that shit. "I don't know what you're talking about." ... Group therapy was about as annoying as it could have been and as I reached Edward's bedroom, with him following closely behind, I felt wiped. I flopped down onto his couch, thanking the universe that such a wonderful place as Edward's room even existed. Dr. Hale had me thinking and I wished I was high because I hated thinking about all the things that people like Dr. Hale wanted me to think about. I had told Edward about the fork and the day Renee decided she'd had enough of taking care of me. Not to be confused with the day that Renee decided she didn't like me or whatever. I can't remember a time with Renee when she wasn't just outright mean. I'd seen those melodramas on TV about how the big bad mother/father/husband/whatever beats his or her loved one up and then the next day was all like, 'hey, I'm sorry, here's a fucking gold necklace to make up for it.' Renee wasn't like that. She never apologized. She never gave me a fucking thing. Except scars and bruises. I wished I was high. Why the fuck couldn't Edward be a burner? I could be fucking high right now. I wanted to be high. "B-B-Bella?" I blinked as he said my name and I felt myself come back to the here and now just long enough to remember that I was in Edward's room and that just last week, I'd fucking danced with him, and it was the best I'd ever felt for just a split second. His hands were perfect for that short time. The smell of him was just sofuck! I didn't know what it was but I fucking liked it! It was too much. He was way too much. And he didn't even know it. It was like he was burning me, but from within myself. That didn't even make sense. I had broken that contact as quickly as I could. But I ached for him when I was across the room and no longer in his arms.

How could he fucking want me? How could he do what he did to me? I wasn't capable of these feelings. How could he make me want him when I didn't want any fucking one? Why the fuck wasn't I high? I still had one pill left but I was going to save it for tomorrow morning. I wasn't sure about being on morphine with Charlie around. "B-Bella?" I took a deep breath and looked up at him. "What's up, Edward?" I whispered. I took in his furrowed brow and his nervous posture sitting on his bed and gave him a small smile. Although he didn't respond, his eyes told me that he was worried about me. I didn't think he should be worried about me. His eyes burned into me; they breathed into me. It made me hurt. "A-a-ar-are you o-okay?" I breathed out a near silent, "Yeah." Shhhh! I breathed in and forced myself to look away from him. "I'm fine, Edward." Quiet, Bella. Don't wake your mother. I let a long moment go by before saying, "You don't look like you own that bed, you know?" When I could finally allow myself to look over at him, I smiled as he scooted back, looking more comfortable. That was better. "What do you want to do tomorrow?" "If it sssssnows, w-w-w-we c-can" "We can play in it," I finished for him, not because I was impatient, but because the idea was sort of exciting. I suddenly wished it would snow. "And then I'll make you chili." ...

Chapter 32: You Who Are Cursed B POV Saturday morning came too soon. Charlie was already up when my tired eyes finally cracked open. I could hear the TV downstairs and smelled the coffee growing stale and burning to the bottom of the pot. Grumbling because yet again, I didn't get much sleep, I rolled out of bed, my bare feet hitting the cold wooded floorboards. I shivered and went to retrieve my socks. It was probably at least 80 degrees right now in Phoenix, but as I glanced out of my window, I found that the weatherman had been accurate. An early and unusual snow had settled upon Forks, making everything outside blindingly white and everything inside much colder than I'd experienced in a long time. I wasn't excited about the cold.

I stumbled out of my room and down the stairs, I had fully intended to go straight for the coffee pot, but was stopped short by the sight of Edward sitting across from Charlie at the kitchen table. We'd made plans but not until the afternoon. I looked at the clock. Oh. Oh shit. It was already twelve-thirty. Edward had probably been here for a half-hour at least. "Uh, hey." Both of them looked up at me. Edward smiled. I probably looked utterly horrible and yet he still smiled at me like I was fresh water to a parched throat. "Tried waking you up, Bells, but guess you didn't hear me knock." Well fuck. There I was in my sweat pants and t-shirt, both of which were clearly too big for me. I could either be incredibly embarrassed about the fact that I'd slept too late and looked so bad, or I could fucking own this shit. Fuck it. I moved to the coffee pot. "Sorry for making you wait, Edward." "I-i-it's o-o-o-o," he paused, took a deep breath and then continued, "o-okay." He must have been nervous because of Charlie. "I-I-I b-b-b-b-b," he tried, but finally gave up. When I moved to the table, he thrust a bottle towards me. "Hhhhere." I couldn't help but smile. He'd brought me pomegranate juice. I sat down and took it from him, my fingers brushing his just barely. I shivered, but not from the cold air in the house. "Thanks." He pointed at my chest and I looked down, wondering if my tit was hanging out or something. "What?" "Fffffavorite ssssssshirt?" I smiled again, but then remembered Charlie was in the room. My brow creased. "Yeah," I said as I turned to see Charlie's eyes narrow as he studied the shirt. I thought he was going to say something about it, but all Charlie did was stand up, grab his coffee and newspaper, and mumble something that sounded like 'have fun' as he left the kitchen. I felt bad that I had made him wait with Charlie. I turned to him. "I'm really sorry, Edward." He shook his head. "N-no, it's o-okay, B-Bella."

He sounded pained and slightly out of breath. The crease reappeared between my brows as I really looked at him. My scrutiny must have been too much because he turned his eyes away. "What's wrong, Edward?" He shook his head again, his eyes fixed on the table. "I-it ssssssnowed." I smiled, even though I knew some shit was wrong with him. "It did. October seems early, but whatever." Edward's body tensed up as he tried to speak, but all the came out were a few stuttered syllables. I didn't know what I was supposed to do when he got like that. It always seemed to help when I touched him, especially when I ran my hands through his hair, but before I could do so, he was moving. He sat back in the chair, his hands disappearing into his pockets. In a flash, he was shoving something towards me. Brown fabric was gripped between his hands and I really looked at the musician's hands that had Jessica Stanley all riled up. They were nice hands with long fingers, but as I had before, I noticed the small white raised skin and the curved indentations next to them that marred his otherwise perfect skin. I wondered what happened to create those scars. "Hhhhere," he said once more, his hands moving away from the fabric once it was close to me. A matching hat and gloves sat on the table before me and I looked back at him, quirking my eyebrow up. In answer to my silent question, he said, "I-i-it's c-c-cold outssssside and I d-d-didn't know if you hhhad a hhhat. I d-don't w-w-want you to get sssssick." I didn't know how to feel about Edward buying me winter outer wear. On the one hand, it was considerate as fuck and on the other, he was getting way too vested in me. I would probably end up ruining him, despite his words that he was already ruined, and then after he was gone from my life, I'd still have these fucking gloves and hat to remind me that he knew what my favorite fucking color was. But none of that was his fault. "Thanks, Edward." He finally looked up at me and smiled. ... Motherfuck it was fucking cold, but we were in the little meadow he'd taken me to before. There were even a few of those little flowers sticking up out of the snow. The feel of the place had changed somewhat with the change in weather, but it was still the peaceful and calm spot Edward had shown me. "Now what?" I looked over to find Edward, but I was greeted by something cold and wet hitting my shoulder. "What the fuck was that?" My eyes finally found him and he had that sexy motherfucking lopsided smile on his face. "Did you just throw snow at me?" He shrugged and nibbled his lip a bit nervously. I wondered if he thought I was going to get mad at him or something. It was actually kind of cute the way he looked, I just wish his eyes weren't trained

on my boots. I didn't want to drag out my reaction to him throwing a snowball at me. He was obviously a little worried that I wouldn't be happy with him. I'd never had a snowball fight in my entire life, but I wanted to try it out. I reached down quickly and scooped up some of the fluffy white snow and packed it together with my hands. I wasn't a good aim and I ended up hitting him in the side of his face. "Sorry, Edward, I" My words were cut off by another snowball grazing my left ear. So that was the beginning of my first snowball fight. After I grew tired of getting hit by snowballs and having snow fall down into my coat and shirt, I made a snowman with Edward. He was kind of lopsided, had no face, and was crazily proportioned, but I guessed he fit in Forks. It was after that when I lay back in the snow and looked up at the gray sky. The woods were quiet and the snow that continued to fall down on me tickled my face. I was aware that Edward had lain down next to me. "D-d-do you liiiike the ssssnow now?" I smiled. "It's alright." It was simply fucking awesome, but I couldn't bring myself to show that much excitement in front of him. My teeth started chattering involuntarily and I felt him take my gloved hand. He stood up, pulling me up with him and even though our hands were covered, the pure prickly electrical current still surged between us. It was a scary connection and instinctively, I pulled my hand away from his. I wiped at my face with my fuzzy gloves. "Y-you're c-c-cold." I nodded. Without saying anything further, Edward grabbed my hand again and started walking back out of the clearing. I let him keep a hold of my hand until I nearly tripped over a fallen tree limb. Then I just shoved my hands into my pockets as we finished our hike back to his silver car. He revved the engine and turned the heat up high and we sat there silently until I pulled the hat off my head. "That was fun." He smiled at me, his eyes brighter than I'd seen them before. "I-i-it'll p-p-p-probably mmmelt tomorrow, b-but" "It was fun for today." ... I stirred the big silver pot on the stove, making Edward chili as I had promised to do, while he sat at the table, his hand wrapped around a coffee mug as he looked at the peanut butter and apple slices I had set down before him. "You're not allergic, are you?" I asked. His brow furrowed and I nodded to the plate. "To nuts or whatever."

He shook his head. "N-no," then nodded toward the green, leafy balls on the counter that didn't go with chili, but I was making them anyway. "W-why do you liiiike b-brussel sprouts?" Why did he need to know that? I mean, who asked why someone liked a certain vegetable? "Because they're good for you," but that was a cop-out answer and I knew it. It felt cheap and hollow and not at all the answer that he deserved. I sighed, knowing this shit with Edward was entirely too deep for my own good. "Because at first they're green and chewy and slightly bitter, but when you get down to the center of it, they're actually kind of sweet." I was completely high. I'd dropped a pill when we got home just to take the edge off. My lips were just slightly open and my eyes were probably a bit glassy. Every once and a while, one of my knees would buckle under me, making my body sway as I locked them tight again. "W-w-why do you g-get high all the time, B-B-Bella?" I narrowed my eyes at him. "Damn!" I cast my eyes towards the living room where Charlie sat in his recliner watching some kind of sporting event. "Tell the whole world, why don't you?" "Why do you get so fucking anxious around people, Edward?" I wasn't pissed or defensive. It was my way of letting him know that for every thing about me that was rough and raw, he had an unpolished area of his own. "W-why don't you like sssspicy f-food?" I could have taken that question one of two ways. It could have been an innocent question. Just Edward wondering about my likes and dislikes, but I knew his underlying motive for asking. He wanted to know because to him everything had meaning. So I called him on his questions, not directly but by asking him a blatantly burning question in return. I could see through all of his disguises. "How can you not hate your mother after what she did?" This was a game of who would crack first. Somehow we had silently agreed that he would push me and I'd push him right back. And like the night I danced with him, one of us was going to get tired of the shields we'd built around ourselves and one of us was going to let the our guard down just long enough to let the other one in. The night we danced, it had been me. I had a feeling that tonight it would be too. Despite my unfortunately very obvious coping mechanisms of drugs and brashness, I knew that somewhere inside of me, I wanted a friend. Otherwise, why would I be here with him now? "W-why do you l-like the color b-brown?" I shook my head. "Why do you have to be so difficult, Edward?"

"I'm n-not being difficult, B-Bella. I j-just w-want to get to know you." I knew he would just keep asking until I told him all of the things he wanted to know. I glanced out to the living room and then walked over to the table, sitting down across from him. Working really hard to regulate my breathing and wishing that I was higher than I was, I stuck out my tongue flat, showing him the deep red circles that were seared into the soft flesh. "Doctors call it a geographic tongue." I sighed, my eyes fixed on his hand as it tightened around his coffee mug. "But I wasn't born with it looking this way." "W-w-w-what d-did she do?" I sighed again, hating that he wanted to know about all this shit and hating that in order to know, I would have to fucking tell him and think about it. "Pepper can burn just like fire. Chili sauce left on the skin for a long period of time can burn a hole right through it. Hot sauce on cuts stings like a bitch, and smoked Thai dried peppers stuck under or on your tongue can hurt more than a broken bone or being stabbed with a fork." I risked a glance up at him and found him staring back at me, his eyes incredibly intense. Too intense. I pulled my tongue over my top teeth, feeling the unnatural texture that way. "Those were made with habaneros," I whispered. I hadn't been able to eat for a week and when I finally could, even applesauce tasted like shit and still hurt like a mother fuck. I stood back up, and moved over to the stove to stir the chili again. My back to him, using as forceful a voice as I could, I said, "Now answer one of mine." I was growing weary of answering his questions about my mother and if I was going to reveal something to him, he was going to do the same. "I-I d-don't know w-why I g-get" He was going to answer the question about being anxious around people, but that wasn't the one I wanted to know at the moment. I could figure that shit out on my own. "Not that one, Edward." I heard the rush of air release from him and I glanced around. His hands were pressed into tight fists on the top of the table and his jaw was tight as his teeth clenched. I immediately felt bad for challenging him like that. "I-i-it w-w-was her only w-w-way out, B-Bella." I could understand that. Most people didn't blow their fucking brains out for shits and giggles, it was to leave something behind, but most people didn't do it in front of their young child. "But she did it in front of you, Edward." He swallowed hard, so hard I heard it from across the kitchen. "M-my d-d-d-d, fffather said that the d-demons h-hhhad t-taken hhhher." I turned to look at him, wondering if he knew and understood just how fucked up that shit sounded. "And that sssssshe w-w-w-was too w-w-weak to" His words stopped, but he was still trying to speak. Maybe this shit should've been covered in an e-mail instead. His cheeks were ballooned out as he tried to push whatever word was in his mind from between his lips. His face was growing red, and Edward's hands gripped the coffee mug so tightly that

I was afraid it might shatter in his hands. Finally, he took a deep breath. "Hhhe said that they w-w-won." His dad was a fucked up freak. But I couldn't very well say that shit to Edward. Maybe he loved his dad or believed the shit the man spewed. Edward mumbled something and I had to look hard at his lips to make out the rest. "Then He will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devils and his angels.'" What. The fuck? Was that shit from the Bible? And more importantly, how the fuck had he said all that shit without stuttering once? He looked fucking lost and in pain and I seriously thought he was going to break that fucking cup. "Edward?" He took a deep breath, as if he'd been holding it for hours. His eyes moved up, looking at me briefly before shifting to look out of the window. "D-d-dssssssssorry." I couldn't help but eye him carefully. The entire air around him had changed so completely. "What are you sorry for?" He didn't answer. In fact, all he did was release his hold on the mug, so I spooned out some chili for us and told Charlie that dinner was ready. I watched Edward closely until he left. His face was stoic and unchanging, his eyes dark and cloudy. I was sorry to be the reason the light had left him. ... Sunday brought with it an interview at the Thriftway. The manager had called at nine in the morning and so at a little after one in the afternoon I was sitting in his cluttered office, answering questions about why I wanted to work there. I was high, like totally blown. My logic had been that if I went the first time higher than fuck, that they'd never know I wasn't sober. Their baseline data would be that I was fucking buzzed out of my head. Obviously, the interview was probably more subdued than the manager was used to because this new weed of Jacob's was smooth as fuck, and every time the guy would ask me something, I took a really long time trying to formulate the answer. "Tell me about a time when you saw something that needed to be done and just jumped in and did it." Was the guy fucking serious? His questions were worse than therapy. My mind supplied all sorts of sexual answers to that.

Sex was absolutely on my brain. I hadn't gotten laid since that thing with the kiss happened with Edward last Wednesday. I'd fucked Jacob in his Rabbit before school that day, but I couldn't really get the details right in my head. I'd been pretty fucking out of it, fairly toasted and sleep deprived. I felt like I was going crazy because I wanted to get laid, and Jacob wanted to get laid but I hadn't fucking fucked him for whatever fucking reason. So I was wound fairly fucking tight. And while the short little man who seemed to want to conduct the interview with my boobs kept asking questions, I kept supplying stock answers that people like him wanted to hear. I barely paid attention to the whole process. I didn't focus until I heard him say, "Since you're underage, the record was closed and without knowing what the crime was, I can't give you a money-handling job." I creased my brow. He was talking about my background check. "That's okay. Stocking's cool too. I don't want to handle money." He took a deep breath and another long look at my boobs for good measure before saying, "Since you're Charlie's kid, we'll give you a shot." He paused, his eyes dipping lower for just a moment before he reddened a bit. "Your father's a good man. He's done quite a lot for" I tuned him out again. I'd pay attention when he stopped thinking about fucking me and covering it up by going on about how fucking awesome Charlie was. I was going to start on Thursday after school, provided I got all of the work permit bullshit in line first. I took the bus to Jake's. I needed to get more pot and I wanted to get high again before heading back to Charlie's. "I'm out." "You're out?" I stared at him. "But I've got money." "Well, you'll have to save it until my shit gets here." "When's that supposed to be?" I felt a little panicked. Tyler didn't sell weed. "Probably tomorrow or the next day." Jacob tossed the piece of wood he'd been carving down on his dresser and stood up, towering over me. "I've got some ReddiWhip if you want to do some whippits. "What are we, twelve again or what?" He smiled at me. "It'll be fun. Like the first time we did it." I smiled, remembering how spaced I'd been after we'd done it. There was nothing like killing brain cells by huffing the gas out of a can of spray whipped cream. "Fine, whippits it is then." It was only after nearly asphyxiating my brain that I realized I'd stayed at Jacob's house too long. As I exited the bathroom, trying to keep my overly sex-deprived brain from thinking about being fucked on that bathroom vanity, I heard Jacob's dad yelling at him.

Then I heard Jake yell back. "It's not my fucking fault your wheelchair broke again, Dad." "Don't fucking yell at me, Jacob." "Don't fucking yell at me." "Just help me to the couch." I snuck a peek around the corner and watched as Jacob hauled his father out of the wheelchair and set him down on the tattered couch. He ran his hands through his hair and then stood up straight. "Do you need anything else, Bella's" "Sorry I yelled." Jacob shrugged with a sigh. "What do you want for dinner?" Jacob was like his father's fucking parent or something. I'd known that Jacob's dad was disabled, but it never occurred to me that Jacob would have to take care of him so much. I went back to Jacob's room and grabbed my coat, wanting to leave. When I turned back around, he was leaning in the doorway. "You taking off?" I nodded. "I have to get dinner and all that." "Me too." I started to shrug on my coat, but before I could, Jacob took it away and lifted me, pressing me into the wall. His mouth on my neck was heavy and wet and it felt so fucking good. The way his arms were behind me, his hands in my hair, set me alight with heat. My legs automatically wrapped around his waist and his hips thrust upward, driving his very obviously hard cock against me. I thought about Edward and I felt fucking awful because I'd kissed him on Wednesday and now I had Jacob's raging hard-on pressing into me. I'd been trying not to do this shit. Jake breathed out against my ear and I instantly froze. The rush of air brought memories of being quieted. Shhhh! I pushed against him, then opened my eyes and straightened my legs. He let me down, but only after trying to hold me closer to him for a split second. "What the fuck?" he asked, his breath coming out in spurts. "I have to go, Jake." He said something, but I didn't listen. My mind was racing with thoughts of things I didn't want to think about. "But, Bella" "No, I have to go. The bus will be by any minute." "I can take you home." I shook my head and licked my lips. "You have to make Billy dinner." Sighing, Jacob gave me a half nod. "Fine, but I'll see you tomorrow morning."

"Actually, I'm getting another ride tomorrow morning." "Who the fuck from?" It wasn't hard to hear the jealousy in his voice. I worked really hard not to get pissed at him. "Edward." "Why?" There was no reason why Edward was going to pick me up for school. He just was, so I shrugged. "So no wake and bake then?" I shook my head and he followed suit. "That's fucked, Bella." "We can burn before class." He eyed me carefully. "Why don't you just ride with me and we'll clam bake like usual?" As appealing as I always found getting fried first thing in the morning inside of an enclosed vehicle, I'd already told Edward he could pick me up. "Not tomorrow, Jake." "Whatever." He moved to sit down on his bed and then nodded towards the door. "You're going to miss your fucking bus." ...

Chapter 33: Riverbed E POV One might think Mike would take a weekend off from being a dick, but as he followed me through his father's store, letting loose with a steady stream of taunts, I realized that he was a full-time prick. I had to keep reminding myself that I was only there to pick up a few things for Bella. I'd noticed that she didn't have a hat or gloves and if we were going to go out in the newly-fallen snow, she would need them. "Tyler didn't say, of course, but I bet she's a screamer. Or at least, she will be with me." I grit my teeth and wondered if he really thought that anyone believed his boasts of prowess. "Are those for Isabella or your brain-dead, space cadet sister, C-C-Cullen?" It bugged me that he called her Isabella when she so clearly wanted to be called Bella. I had to work really hard to have compassion for Newton. I wondered what had happened to him that was so bad he had to be such a dick to people. He needed therapy more than most of the kids who saw Esme. "Now there's a fucking thought, C-C-Cullen." He drew in a deep breath and smiled. "Your mental sister has a tight fucking body. I think Bella'd look so fucking hot with her face between your sister's thighs while I fuck her from behind." My eyes closed for just a moment while I fought against the urge to defend them. I really wanted to, but I knew anything I said would only make him laugh. If only Jasper was here.

Then, as if Mike could read my mind, he said, "Run and tell her idiot boyfriend. We all know that the next time Chief Swan gets a call about his uncontrolled anger, he'll be locked away." He sighed exaggeratedly. "I wonder if he'd mind me fucking your sister while he's taking it in the ass in prison." My breath caught and I felt sick. I heard him laugh again. My eyes only focused again when his mother came into sight. "Good morning, Edward. Ready to ring those up?" I swallowed hard and looked at Mike, watching as his posture changed now that his mother was around. "Y-yes, MMMM-MMrs. N-Newton." I handed over my money and took the hat and gloves in exchange. "Tell your father hello for me, will you?" I nodded my answer and left as quickly as I could. I stopped at the store to pick up Bella's favorite juice. I knew that she didn't want me to be her boyfriend or anything, but there was nothing to stop me from taking care of her a little here and there. She was still sleeping when I got to her house and as Chief Swan tried to wake her up, I hoped that I hadn't gotten the time wrong. However when she came downstairs, saving me from being alone with her father, I couldn't help but be relieved. She was completely beautiful in well-worn clothes that were too big for her and hair that looked more like mine: all over the place. I was rewarded with a smile at the Pom juice but thought for a moment that she hated the gloves and hat. Then she seemed to compose herself and thanked me. I wasn't trying to overstep any boundaries or anything. I just wanted to make sure she didn't get sick on her first outing in the Pacific Northwest winter. Then we played in the snow. I could count the number of times I had 'just played' in my entire life on one hand. When I threw that first snowball at her, I knew that I was taking a risk and just for a moment, she looked like she might've been upset. Then she lodged a poorly-made snowball back at me and all my fears melted away. She would have to work on that aim, though, before getting into a battle with Emmett. As she cooked chili, I'd asked her a question and true to form, she'd ask me one right back. I'd been so happy at the thought of her cooking chili. How ironic that she was making that particular dish when she told me about her mother using peppers to burn her. I hadn't known that the tongue could scar and I wondered if it still hurt her. It was during the discussion of my mother that the unparalleled sadness settled down upon me. I was happy that I wasn't panicking in front of her, but I couldn't help the quick-sand of despair as it swallowed me whole. So much that I hardly even tasted Bella's food when it was time to eat. I was barely able to say a proper goodbye to Bella and her father before driving home in what could only be described as a daze. Emmett, Alice, and Carlisle were all eating dinner when I returned. I avoided speaking by answering all their questions with a shrug, a nod, or a shake of my head. Instead of just having sad thoughts running through my mind, I kept reciting various Bible passages. All it did was manage to keep me on that amazingly thin edge of being normal, or what normal was for me, and a complete freak-out. Sleep was difficult and I found myself unable to work on my speech or pick up an instrument. My body was as heavy as my mind and I found myself bound to the bed, my arms wrapped around my legs. ...

I didn't speak at all on Sunday. I wouldn't have come out of my room either if I hadn't wanted coffee so badly. Carlisle had been at the hospital overnight and slept until four in the afternoon, only to be called in at five on what was supposed to be his twenty-four hour rest period. However, Emmett filled him in Monday morning on my not having said a word since before I left for Bella's on Saturday morning. "Edward, please," he said as he looked deeply into my eyes. I looked away, the intensity of his gaze too much for me to handle. "You can't keep shutting down like this, you know." I could and I would. I didn't have to talk. There was no stipulation in the adoption papers stating that I had to talk I had nothing to say and it made me angry that everyone wanted to turn it into something major. It wasn't like I was silent because they did something wrong. I wasn't punishing them. I just didn't want to talk. Not only did I not get much sleep, but my brain was still a little warped from last night's random thoughts. It wasn't so much that I was thinking about my mother, because I did that a lot. It was more that I was thinking about why she did what she did. I knew Bella didn't understand. I knew that she thought I should've been angry at my mother, but I didn't blame her. Not for her addictions and not for how she chose to escape. I would have thought Bella would understand that. She got high everyday as her means of escaping the pain she didn't want to feel. My mother just took it a step further when the addiction became a source of pain as well. And she would've taken me with her. There are many days that I wished she had. Being so young, it would've been difficult to truly understand what that gun pointed at me really meant. But I knew now. She was going to save me. And then she didn't. Instead, she turned the gun around. I remembered how her hand shook. Her face was pale and she had tiny beads of sweat forming on her forehead. Addiction had clouded her eyes for so many years. So many, in fact, that I wasn't sure I had ever seen her eyes clear until that day. She had taken a deep breath and I had risen up onto my knees, my lips pressed together. I remembered wanting to ask her if she would just stay with me for a little while longer after she had said she had to go. I hadn't realized then what she meant. Then there was blood and brains on my door, on my walls, on my carpet, on my things, and it clued me into the fact that she wasn't going out to the store or to her dealer. The last thing she said, right before, "I love you, Eddie-bear," was that there was a half of her tuna salad sandwich left in the refrigerator for me. But I couldn't understand it. And I couldn't get out of my room. She was lying in front of my door and I couldn't bring myself to step over her. The door-knob was dripping. "Edward?" I brought my eyes back to Carlisle. "You don't have to talk, Edward," he said as he pushed a pad of paper and a pen towards me, "but please let me know what's going on."

I looked at the paper and scowled. I wasn't deaf and I wasn't mute. I just did not want to talk. Carlisle's hands moved towards my face and I leaned back, hoping to get away. I flinched when his fingers touched the hollows under my eyes. I knew there were dark bruise-like circles there. My hands came up to his forearms and I pushed him away, forcing him to stop touching me. "I-I-I-I-I'm gg-g-g-ggg-gg-ggoing t-t-to sc-school n-now." "Edward," Carlisle said again, his tone making me feel guilty about the fact that I didn't want to talk and didn't want him to touch me. I felt bad that he always seemed like he thought he was a failure because of it. "W-w-w-what?" I tried my hardest to convey through my eyes that I wanted him to back off and leave me alone. I didn't understand why he thought after five years of near-silence that this would be the morning I would come clean, giving up every hidden secret to him simply because he 'wanted to help.' When he didn't speak, I stood up and grabbed my bag. "I-I-I'm p-p-p-picking up B-B-Bella." I let out a heavy breath, upset with myself for butchering a simple four-word sentence. It was no wonder Bella kept me at a distance. I couldn't even say her beautiful name without turning it into an ugly, stunted sound. ... I pulled up at her house and fought back my body's response to hyperventilate. She was waiting for me out on her porch. The snow from the weekend was nearly melted, but it was still too cold for her to be waiting outside. I checked the clock. Carlisle had made me ten minutes late. The panic wore off when she smiled at me. She was wearing the gloves and hat I'd gotten her. A part of me wanted Mike Newton to see them on her and know that I had, indeed, gotten them for Bella. The other part of me didn't want him to see them at all. My torso was still sore and bruised from last week. Despite my poor overall mood, I smiled back at her. She slipped something into her coat pocket before picking up her bag and making her way to the car. I probably should have gotten out and opened the door for her. That would have been the nice thing to do. Once she was inside, I realized quickly that she was high again. I didn't care right now because she was inside the car with me and that simple fact made me feel better. The lingering sadness from the weekend faded until it was almost gone. Almost. "Hey, Edward." But just because I felt better in her presence, didn't mean that I wanted to hear myself butcher her name again. So instead of giving her an actual greeting like she deserved, I smiled at her and pointed to the travel mug filled with coffee. "Thanks," she said as she wrapped her hand around the mug. I nodded back at her. Her mug paused mid-air as she looked at me, her eyes narrowed in scrutiny, "What's wrong?" I shook my head, my eyes slipping closed for just the briefest of moments. "Why aren't you talking, Edward?"

I sighed. Although it warmed me that she knew within the first minute that there was something wrong, I couldn't force myself to speak. My teeth clenched together as I wished I could just talk. There were so many thoughts that I wanted to share with her. Her hand moved to my hair and I closed my eyes again. "You don't have to talk," she whispered so low that I wasn't sure if she'd really said it. When my eyes opened, I made the mistake of trying to touch her. Just my fingertips brushed her cheekbone before she turned away. Her hands gripped her coffee mug tightly and the only sound beyond the squeak of the leather seats was my sigh. I swallowed back my disappointment and waited until she'd fastened her seatbelt before shifting into first gear. When we parked at school, she turned back to me, her eyes narrowed, studying me like Carlisle or Esme did. "S-ssssstop." Bella turned back around, grabbing the strap of her bag and the mug of coffee with one hand. "You going to be okay?" I nodded. Her free hand moved to cover my right hand, still resting on the gear shift. "I'm sorry forwhatever's wrong." She didn't need to apologize for anything. It wasn't her fault I was the way I was. Her hand was still on mine so I figured I'd risk touching her again, just in case this was the time she'd actually let me touch her the way she touched me. She moved away again, her hand no longer covering mine. "W-w-w-why c-can you t-touch m-mm-mme but I c-can't t-touch you?" Bella's eyes widened for a moment before she turned them away. She ran her hands through her hair, and bit her lower lip. "I want you to touch me," she said quietly. If her words were true, then it was no longer a risk, so I tried to touch her cheek again. She sucked in a deep, shuddering breath and moved away, practically pressed against the door. "Not like that," she said. "You shouldn't want that." She was so confusing. "I shouldn't want that?" Her eyes grew dark before she closed them. "You shouldn't what that from me." "B-B-B-B-" Her eyes flew open and she reached for the door handle. "I have to go, Edward." I shouldn't have done it, but I did. I reached out and grabbed her wrist. For just a moment, she froze. She didn't blink. She didn't breathe. Then she pulled her arm free. "Don't want what you can't have, Edward. I'm not capable of giving you what you need." "W-w-what do I n-need?" It was a serious question because I honestly had no idea at this point, and if she did, I wanted to know. "Someone who is good for you. I'll fucking ruin you. I won't even mean to do it, but I will." Were we back to that again? "B-B-Bella, I think" She scrubbed her face with the palm of her hand. "I got a job," she said, her voice much lighter. I wanted to congratulate her, but before I could even think of something to say, she was nodding towards the school, her bottom lip between her teeth. "I'll see you in Bio." Again, I wanted to say something to stop her from leaving, but my mouth wouldn't cooperate and she was already out of the car. This was not how I had wanted this morning to go.

After a few more minutes, I got out of the car. Glancing over, I saw that Emmett's Jeep was already parked in its usual spot, but no one was around it. I would have liked to have walked in with them like usual. It would have taken away the slight terror that hummed in my head, causing my heart to race just a little faster than normal. It was completely illogical to be frightened of walking into a building that I'd walked into hundreds of times before. I felt stupid. "C-C-Cullen!" My stomach knotted as I saw Mike run up to me, a smile on his face. If I hadn't known better, he would have looked like a friend coming to greet me. "She looks fantastic today. Her ass makes my dick ache." I hoisted my bag up higher on my shoulder. "Did you at least feel her up on the way to school? Maybe a finger or two in her tight pussy?" If I hadn't stuttered so badly, I would have told him to shut up, but the only recognizable sound to pass my lips were 'sh' sounds and ta, ta, ta sounds I winced as his fist connected with my already bruised side again. "You're a fucking retard, C-C-Cullen. Even if you did manage to get her to spread her legs, she couldn't have been that satisfied," he chucked his thumb behind him. "She's already in the woods with Black. I guarantee you that they're not just getting high." I was already doubled over, so the elbow he shot into my side did nothing to help me breathe. "What do you think he's doing to her right now? I bet he's fucking her mouth, coming on her face. I bet she fucking likes that shit." I tried not to listen and when I failed, I tried to remind myself that he was a moron who was only saying this stuff because he wanted to try to hurt me for some reason, but I really wished that he would just stop talking and hit me again. That would have been easier to take. I stood up just waited on Mike. "Come on, C-C-Cullen. I know you've thought about it. She's so fucking small, right? I'm going to pick her right up and fuck her against a wall and when I'm ready to shoot my load, I'm going to drop her and come all over her face, just like Jacob's doing right now." Mike put the palm of his hand against my face and pushed. "Aw, don't fucking cry, C-C-Cullen. You don't honestly believe that you have a shot at her, do you?" He laughed his wicked laugh and again I wondered what was so deficient in his life that he had to be so cruel. I just looked away, trying not to let his words take purchase in my head. When Mike started to walk away, I felt my body relax just a little. I swallowed hard, wondering if the whole week was going to go like this. I passed Bella in the hall just before the first period bell rang. Although she smiled at me, I wondered if she actually saw me at all. I wondered why no one else could see how high she was. Didn't the teachers care? My feet automatically carried me through the day as I felt like my mind had taken a vacation. At lunch, I watched at as Bella talked to Tyler, the look in her eyes resembling something I'd seen before. I watched as she left the cafeteria early, following Jacob Black. Mike's words echoed in my mind and I wondered if they were just getting high. No matter how much I tried to remind myself that she wasn't mine, it still hurt to think about her like everyone else did. I didn't want to picture that in my head. I didn't want her do those things. But she wasn't mine, and according to her, I shouldn't want what I couldn't have.

Still, I knew that even though she thought she wasn't emotionally available to me, somewhere deep within her, she wanted to be. Otherwise the back and forth nature of our relationship wouldn't be there. She wouldn't run away from me only to come back, ready to expose herself and the deep riverbed of secrets within her just a little bit more. She was so high in Biology. She teetered on the edge of moving too much and not moving enough. I didn't know what she was on, but it wasn't just pot. She reminded me of my mother. I'd known early, very, very early, that my mother never really 'lived.' Her life was nothing more than one high after another, her addiction driving her every move. Her eyes were never right. All they did was change from one cloud to another. When she was really high, they were frantic, and when she was coming down, they were heavy, like sludge. When she really needed a fix, they were panicked and frightened and more than just a little crazy. Bella's eyes shifted back and forth dangerously between a quiet calm and raging panic. Her hands kept moving, and at one point she was drumming her fingers so hard against the edge of the table that Mr. Banner kept glaring at our desk and the other students looked like they were about to shoot daggers at the annoying rhythm she was tapping out. Even though I knew she didn't like me touching her, I reached out and stilled the fingers of one hand, bringing our joined hands down from the table. I expected her to withdraw again, to pull away like always, but she sighed deeply as her fingers curled around mine and gripped them tightly. Her breathing slowed until it was almost what other people would call 'normal'. The bell rang, ending Mr. Banner's lecture, but Bella didn't get out of her seat and she didn't let go of my hand. We sat there until everyone in our class was gone and the new students filed in. I stood up and grabbed my bag with my free hand and nudged her to get up. When she finally moved, she dropped my hand. Out in the hallway, she turned towards the gym and mumbled a goodbye, but I couldn't just let her leave. Even though she'd shown me time and time again that she didn't want to be touched, I reached out and curled my hand around hers, only letting it stay for a moment before dropping it a little and keeping a hold of just her pinkie finger. If she was scared or worried, she would be able to pull away and break the connection easily. I wanted it to be comforting to her. I didn't want to take the choice away or make her think that I was forcing her to be touched by me. "Have to go," she said while never trying to remove her finger from my hand. If she wound up going to P.E., she probably wouldn't do much more than stand there. She was pretty out of it. "D-do you w-want to go?" It was a loaded question. She shook her head in response. I should have been more clear, for her, but also for myself, because I didn't know if she was saying that she didn't want to go to P.E. or that she didn't want to go some place with me. "Can we go to your house?" Relief washed through me and I nodded. It took less than ten minutes to tell Mrs. Peters that I wasn't going to re-stock the books for her today and get Bella into the car. After she buckled herself in, she drew her feet up and wrapped a protective arm around her bent legs. "Are you o-okay?" She shook her head, but I couldn't see her face. "I feel sick."

As I drove, I thought. Was she sick like my mom was when she was coming down? Was she sick because everyone else in school seemed to have the stomach flu? Or was she sick because she hadn't eaten much? Bella was thin. A little too thin. When I thought about her during lunch today, I realized that she hadn't even nibbled on a PopTart or eaten an apple like she usually did. "You d-d-didn't eat." Bella's head snapped up. "Yes, I did." I shook my head, forgetting that I hadn't wanted to talk today. "N-n-not at lllllunch you d-didn't." "Fuck," she exhaled as her whole body launched itself into motion. I watched her out of the corner of my eye as she grabbed the blood sugar monitor out of her bag and tested her glucose level. It was only moments after her machine beeped that she asked, "Is it okay if I eat something at your house?" I didn't even try to respond verbally, instead, I focused on driving and nodded. Bella wasn't taking very good care of herself. The instability of her blood sugar seemed to pop up more and more often. I was sure it was the drugs that made her forget to eat. I couldn't exactly bring it up to her now, though. When we got to my house, I led her straight away to the kitchen where she flung open the refrigerator door and grabbed the orange juice. I got her a glass and set it down on the island. She filled it up, gulped it down and filled it up again. After a few minutes, she looked better. The color came back to her face and she wasn't visibly shaking anymore. "I th-thought d-diabetes w-was high blood sugar, b-but you k-keep eating th-things w-with a lot of c-carbohydrates." She finished off the second glass of orange juice and moved to rinse out the glass. "Diabetes is about high blood sugar, but I'm on insulin, so it's also about low blood sugar. If I take the same amount of insulin and don't eat, or if I eat the wrong foods, my blood sugar drops." "W-w-why d-didn't you eat?" Just like I thought she would, she said, "I guess I forgot." "You sssssshould sssstop." Bella looked up at me. "F-f-ffforgetting." She sighed, running her hands through her hair. "Yeah," then closed the dishwasher as she stood up and chewed on her lower lip. "Can we go to your room?" "You hhhhaven't eaten yet." "I'm okay, Edward." "You ssshould eat." She sighed again, and began rummaging through our cupboards until she held out a granola bar. "Can I have this?" I nodded. When she was finished, I was going to take her up to my bedroom like she has asked, but when I passed the grand piano, the pull proved to be too much. "D-d-do you w-w-want to hear the Chopin p-piece now?" "Sure," she said, moving to sit down on the chaise lounge that Kate used to like. I sat down at the piano and played, hoping that she would like it and wishing that I had enough courage to play her the song that played in my head every time I thought of her. ...

Chapter 34: Hypothetical Girl E POV "Is everyone going to come here?" I knew exactly what she was talking about. "Yes," I answered, knowing that Emmett, Alice and the Hales would be here shortly now that school was out. "Can we go to your room then? I don't reallyyou know, want to hang out with anyone else." When she was sitting on my couch I asked her, "Ar-are you feeling b-better?" "Yes." At first the silence was awkward and my mind raced to try and fill it, but I could think of nothing but deep questions that would put her on edge. I wanted to see her smile like she had in the meadow and in the bookstore. I wanted to kiss her again, but I had no clue how to make that happen. The thought of just going for it made me feel slightly dizzy. Her eyes were closed and her body was sort of swaying and before I could really do anything about it, I asked the question that I had asked before, even though I already knew the answer. "W-w-why d-do you get hhhigh w-when you know it's n-not good fffffor you, B-Bella?" Bella's eyes drifted open and she let out a breath before giving me a slow smile. "Let's talk about something else." "Liiiiike w-what?" I was so tired of being confused. I wanted whatever was going on between us to be out in the open. That way if she was going to reject me, she could just do it and get it over with. But I didn't think she was going to reject me, which was almost just as bad since I figured she would cover everything up like she always did: She would run. "W-why can't I t-touch you?" It boiled over because I felt like I needed to know. I needed to know if she felt anything at all for me or if it was just sympathy. I needed to know why she kept running from me. "I told you." I shook my head, indicating that she hadn't really told me anything other than that I shouldn't want to touch her. Sighing heavily, she ran her hands through her hair wildly. "Being touched is kind ofI mean, it's notTouching is fine, but the way you do it is" Bella closed her eyes again and the pain etched across her face reached out and burned me like the lash of a leather belt across my skin, "uncomfortable," she finished in a breath. "I-I-I d-d-do it w-wrong?" She shook her head and her body seemed to fold into herself even more. "No, it's justwhy do you do this shit, Edward?" "W-w-what do I do?" I asked, wondering why she sounded so breathy. She didn't answer me. I really wanted her to. I deserved to know if I was imagining things or if Mike Newton was right. "B-B-Bella, w-why" "Why, why, why, fucking why? Why do you ask all of the questions that no one else has ever fucking asked?" Here was the moment that I had to say it. I had to be deadly honest or everything would continue on in the same fashion, leaving me somewhere in between.

"B-b-because I liiiiiike you," I whispered. She exhaled sharply but I forged on. "I w-w-want to kn-know you." I saved the most important part for last. "I w-want you to kn-know m-mmmme." Bella continued to run her hands through her hair as she drew in measured and even breaths. I was still standing by my door, watching her closely, when she stood up. Panic gripped me as I thought she would run for sure now. I couldn't swallow, just as I couldn't breathe. I wanted her to stay with me just for a little bit longer. I wanted her to open up and show me the little bits and pieces inside of her that had broken so long ago. I wanted her to let me touch her face so that I could smooth away those little lines on her forehead. I wanted her to let me make her smile and let me shoulder just a little bit of the pain she tried so hard to mask. I didn't understand why she held onto it so steadfastly. It wasn't fair for one person to have so much weight pressing down on her. If I could just take a little piece of it and carry it for a while, she wouldn't need to do all of the drugs she did. Because no matter what she told me, I knew that she'd been doing a lot more than smoking pot on a daily basis. I knew that this girl, this broken girl whose pain too closely mirrored my own, didn't want me as a boyfriend. She'd been clear about that, but I couldn't help but want to protect her from all the bad that seemed to live inside of her. I wanted to protect her from herself; I wanted to keep her safe from the demons that had consumed my mother. "D-don't go," I whispered, desperation clearly present in my tone. "I don't have anything to give you, Edward." I moved towards her and I kept my motions slow. I knew what it was like to feel caged and out of control of the situation and I didn't want her to feel like that with me. Ever. "I don't w-want anything, B-Bella." That wasn't entirely true, since I wanted a lot from, with, and of Bella. But I would take what I could get from her. I needed her to stay. I took another step forward and tried to keep her wild eyes locked with mine. The charge that was between us, the unspoken energy that surged and zinged between us, spurred me on. As awkward as it was and as much as I thought Newton might be right, I had to do this. "You don't hhhhhave t-to run aw-way from me, B-Bella." I was very close to her now and very aware of how her body was reacting. Reaching out, I let my fingers brush the back of her hand. I wanted so badly to feel her comforting touch, but in this moment, I also wanted my touch to be comforting to her. Her eyes were cast down to the floor as I took my last step to her, bringing my body so close to hers that I could feel her pulse tapping out of her, singing a song to the blood that flowed within my veins. I needed her. I needed her in a way that was foreign and uncomfortable. I needed her in a way that would make me take chances that I would have never even thought about before. "I w-won't hhhhhurt you," I whispered to her, knowing that she'd hear every minute nuance in my tone. Her fingers gripped mine tighter and I could see her body visibly tense up as I raised my other hand, slowly bringing it towards her face. Bella's breath caught, her lips slightly parted as the pads of my finger tips grazed her cheekbone. My eyes slipped closed as I concentrated on the feel of the smooth skin until I heard her gasp. I nearly jumped, my eyes popping open when she move away quickly. The fact that she still kept her hand

within mine was not lost on me. Her chest was heaving, her leg buckling and straightening rapidly as her lips pressed together. I felt horrible as I realized that she was on the verge of tears. "I don't like" When she didn't continue, I felt the need to prompt her. "You d-don't liiiiike w-what?" Bella's eyes came up to meet mine and the pain welling within was almost too much for me to stomach. "My face. I don't like it when you touch my face. It'suncomfortable." "B-b-but I can t-touch your hhhhands?" It took her a moment to respond. It looked like she was deciding her answer right then and there. Finally, she nodded and so I wasted no time and took her other hand. "I-I-I d-don't liiiike to be touched either, b-b-but it's niiiiiice w-when you d-do it." She gave me a little smile, but her body was still tense. "I d-don't w-want you to get high ssssssso m-much, B-Bella," I admitted quietly, hoping it wouldn't upset her. "And I want you to beat the shit out of Prick Newton, Edward." She always did that. She always threw it back to me. She sat back down after a while and pulled me down on the couch next to her. "I want to" she whispered, but let the thought hang in the air. "B-Bella?" I asked, unable to stop myself from doing so. "Yes," she answered in a whisper. "W-w-will you d-do me a fffffavor?" One of my hands broke loose from hers and I carefully brought it up to run through her hair. It was like silk, soft and smooth between my fingers. With a gulp, she nodded. "Hhhhhide from e-e-everyone else, b-but not from mmmme." Bella's eyes widened and her breath was shaky. "I w-worry about you, B-Bella." Her breathing was raspy as she shook her head. "I w-won't hhhurt you," I promised again. There was a sound and I realized that I hadn't been looking directly at Bella. I'd been focusing on her lonely ear and now that I shifted my eyes back to her face, I could see the pain my words had caused. And I understood it. A promise like that cut deep because she didn't believe it. A girl like Bella expected pain. She expected every person she met to contribute to the deep well within her that housed that pain. Since my hand was already buried in her hair, I scooped it up and pulled it to one side, exposing her neck and the four tiny scars. My thumb brushed over it and I felt the shiver that ran through her. "I hhhhate your m-mm-mmmother, B-Bella." "I shouldn't have been late." She swallowed hard as she shook her head. It felt like she was trying to get me to remove my hand, but I kept it there, in her hair. "I was the one who loaded the fork with the tines up, Edward. She didn't" "You c-can't defend your m-mother to m-me." My words were honest and true. There was nothing she could say that would make me hate her

mother less or could make what the woman did to her okay. I had only heard two incomplete stories behind the pain reflected in Bella's eyes, but I knew that there was more. I knew that there was an endless list of occurrences that she didn't speak of to anyone. "You can't" she began to say, but I brushed my thumb agains t her scar again and her words stopped. "D-don't hhhide from me." Bella took in a deep breath and let it out in measured intervals before her eyes moved to lock with mine. Her hand still gripped mine tightly, and as her other hand moved to press against my chest, her body relaxed just slightly. Even though I had a clock in my room, there was no way for me to tell how long we actually sat on my couch like that. The room darkened as the fall sun set outside of my window. Faintly, I could hear Emmett's booming voice downstairs. It was getting late and Bella would need to eat. I wanted to take care of her, but I knew if I told her that, she would just struggle against it. Before I could do anything else, Bella had shifted on the couch, her whole body coming to rest on top of mine. Now my eyes widened as my body instantly reacted to hers. She sat upon me, knees to either side of my hips, her hands threaded through my hair as she buried her face in my neck. If I wasn't hard at the feel of her breasts pressing against my chest, the feel of her tongue against my skin definitely made me stiffen. It was pretty much all I could do to keep myself from whimpering like a frightened puppy as her body rocked just slightly against mine. It was my breath that caught now and for as much courage I'd thought I'd had just moments ago, it fled the moment so much of her body connected with mine. It left rising panic in its wake. I didn't want Bella to know. I didn't want her to know the outright terror of my body's reaction. I wanted her to think that I was strong and capable of being normal. My entire body pulsated for her and every throb was very acutely centered in my pants. Her lips moved from my neck to my jawline and from there, they moved against my own lips. And they felt so good, so indescribable, against mine. But I didn't want her to know how incapable I was, so I had to get her to stop. Maybe if it was just her lips on mine and not her entire body, I could have let myself linger a little longer. My hands carefully and gently encircled her wrists and pulled them from my shoulders and chest. I tilted my head away from her lips. "B-B-Bella, p-p-p-p-p-p" Her breath was warm against my cheek and it did nothing to subside throbbing pulse in my groin. "What?" she exhaled. I took a moment to try to compose myself. Music flooded my mind as I tried to think of something to say to her without stammering my way through it. "Y-your ffffather w-w-will b-be w-w-worried." "My father?" I nodded. Her tongue darted out against her lower lip before she sucked it into her mouth. I almost missed the shake of her head before she pressed her lips against me again, her body shifting, almost painfully, against mine. "B-B-Bella," I tried again. She stopped. "You don't want me?" she questioned as she sat up straight. "But I can tell that you want me," she said, accentuating her words with a rock of her hips. "I-I-I do," I said quickly, not able to edit my thoughts very well. "B-b-but I"

"Then I'll be yours," she whispered. Her arms moved, wrists still encompassed by my hands. She tried to weave her fingers through my hair again and as much as I wanted her to, I couldn't let her. "Justjust take it, Edward. Just take me. I won't say no to you." I leaned back as far as I could, trying to break the physical connection as much as I could. "J-just b-because I w-want you, B-B-Bella, d-doesn't mean I c-can have you." She tried again to press against me, but my hands tightened on her wrists. I hated how delicate they felt in my hands. I hated the strength I had to use to get her to stop. Letting out a harsh breath, Bella pulled away from me, standing up and yanking her hands out of mine. She looked so angry and hurt as I looked up at her. I sat there awkwardly, wishing that my erection wasn't straining so badly against my jeans and wishing that she wasn't so angry at me Her teeth were clenched together as she just stood there, staring at me. After a few measured breaths, she said, "I have to go make Charlie food before he succumbs to malnutrition. Give me a ride home?" I nodded, hating that the softness between us had given way to this calculating coldness. She gripped her bag tightly and didn't speak at all as I stole as many glances as I could the entire ride home. She didn't look angry anymore, but more like a worried child. "B-B-Bella," I tried as I pulled up to her house. I reached out for her hand and it actually hurt when she yanked it out of my reach before I could actually touch it. "I have to go." She wouldn't look at me as she popped open the door and swung her feet out. It took me a few moments to get the words out, as they all seemed to get stuck in my throat. "C-c-can I p-p-p-p," I stopped and breathed, "pick you up ag-g-gain t-t-t-tomorrow?" With a sigh, she said yes before moving out of my car, slamming the door closed and running up the stairs of her porch. ... The erection, while no less painful and embarrassing than before, had resolved itself much quicker this time. I was hard for hours after dropping Bella off, but there hadn't been that pressing need and urgency. At least I didn't have to resort to going to Carlisle for medical help, and I hadn't needed to think of anything horrible to make it fade away. I was grateful for that. While Bella had let me pick her up from school the next day and the days following, she wouldn't let me drive her home and she flat-out refused to spend any extra time with me. She let Jacob drive her home after school. She hadn't e-mailed, even after I e-mailed her on Tuesday. It was on Thursday evening when I finally downloaded the instant messenger system that went along with the e-mail program. It said that she was online, although I had no clue if she really was or not. Maybe her computer was just on. Into the small white box, I typed, "I'm sorry," and pressed send, waiting, preparing myself for no response, for whatever reason. Imabell: Why are you sorry? ECullen123: For upsetting you.

Imabell: You didn't upset me. We're cool. ECullen123: It doesn't seem like it. It was a full minute before she replied. Imabell: You take shit too personally. We're fine. I didn't know what to type. She said we were fine but would tomorrow be any better different than the past few days? ECullen123: I can pick you up tomorrow? Imabell: Sure. When I picked her up, she smiled at me when I handed her coffee. I felt childish, then actual joy that she liked coffee too. She was incredibly high again. Apart from saying hello, the ride to school was silent. I couldn't think of anything to say much beyond asking her not to get high ever again, and she wouldn't like that, so I kept quiet. Bella was in her own head. Her leg bounced slowly as her head rested back against the seat. Her expression was blank, except the slight smile playing on her lips. The vacant look in her eyes seemed so sad. How could I be the only one who could tell she was so high, so often? "Bye, Edward," she said as she pushed open the door and clumsily collected her things. "W-w-will you sssssit w-with me at lunch?" Bella stopped all her movements, her body facing away from me. "I hang out with Jacob at lunch." The way she said it was strained and I knew that she was telling me that she would rather go get high on her lunch break. The ever-present prickling fear that started deep inside my chest and then crawled up the back of my neck burst into metaphorical flames that rose from the arches of my feet to the crown of my head. The fear was that I was not, nor would I ever be, enough for Bella. Bella would choose getting high over me every time. Just like my mom. I hadn't realized how worked up I had gotten until I felt her hand in my hair. My eyes had been pressed shut and I let out a stunted breath when I opened them. Despite her wildly high eyes, she looked at me softly, much softer than anyone had ever really looked at me. The hand in my hair was sending small charging volts of electricity straight through me and I wondered, not for the first time, if she even felt it. "B-Bella," I began, wanting to say so many things to her, but she wouldn't let me. "We'll hang out tonight, okay?" I wished that I could've kept my mouth shut, but I didn't. Instead, I found myself whining to her. "B-but you're g-going to g-get hhhhigh w-w-w-w-with JJJJJJ" No matter how hard I tried, I could not get his name out. "Quit trying to change me, Edward." Her hand slipped from my hair. "I'll see you in Biology." Again, I sat in the car for a moment and watched her walk away from me again, wondering if it would ever be less painful and if I would ever be enough for her. Obviously, Mike Newton was upset that I was spending time with Bella and that she'd ridden to school with me every day this week, because he was practically waiting for me as I got out of my car.

In addition to being punched in the same spot each day, he had a new comment every day this week about one of Bella's body parts and what he wanted to do to it. It was disgusting. And today when his fist connected with my ribs again, I winced in pain. But when he said, "I'm going to fuck her until she's raw and begging for more," I'd had enough. "Sh-shhhhhhut up." He laughed, like I knew he would. "Aw, that's cute, C-C-Cullen, but you know that she's really only hanging around with you out of pity, man. She'll definitely" "Y-you k-keep sssssaying you're g-going to f-f-fffff" I couldn't make myself say it so I switched it before I looked like I was having an epileptic seizure, "have ssssex w-with her b-but you fffforget that she hhhhates y-you." Mike yawned exaggeratedly half-way through my stunted speech and was smiling widely now. "She doesn't have to like me, C-C-Cullen. She's the kind of girl who'll fuck anyone." He licked his lips. "Well," he said with a low chuckle, eyeing me as if I were a speck of dirt on his expensive white sneakers. "Maybe not anyone. She probably won't let you touch her, will she?" While it was true that she wouldn't let me touch her face, she had practically dry humped me on Monday. I bet that would have shut Newton up, but as soon as I had the though, I felt horrible. I didn't want to use her as some kind of pawn in a game of one-upmanship with Mike. "You really fucking like her, don't you?" I wished now that I hadn't said anything at all. If possible, the smile on his face widened further. "She's going to look so fucking hot with her lips wrapped around my dick." I really wanted to hurt him. The warning bell sounded and I was grateful for the physical pain that accompanied his parting blow to my already damaged ribs. The physical pain at least meant he was leaving. Mike leaned in close, menace in his eyes for me alone to see. "Just wait, Cullen. Just wait until your big brother's fucking gone next year. I will fuck your shit up every day." My mood didn't improve when I watched Bella follow Jacob out of the cafeteria again. Mike caught my eyes and I felt like I'd been caught looking at something I shouldn't have. He made an obscene gesture. My mood continued to sink when she wasn't in Biology. I practically had to drag myself to the library to re-stock books for Mrs. Peters, but I wasn't there long. I was putting away a book about the Bolshevik Revolution when I found Bella sitting on the ground, her eyes closed as she leaned back against the book stack. My heart ached and my chest clenched at the sight of her. While she looked still, her body was continually moving, rocking, shaking, trembling. She sniffed loudly and then shook her head as her fingers picked at the old carpeting. "B-Bella?" Her eyes were open and suddenly too wide. A smile spread across her face. "It's Edward. Give it back, Edward," she murmured. I set the book on the shelf and then squatted down next to her. "G-g-give w-what back?" Her hand captured mine and she closed her eyes again. "The air." Her other hand pressed against her chest, clutching at her shirt as the hand inside mine squeezed tighter. "I can't breathe," she said. The way she continually squeezed and released my hand frightened me. There was a desperate need to it and I began to really worry that she might not just be really high, but have entirely too much in her system. Without really thinking about it, I scooped her up and stood, bringing her very close to me.

She smelled so good. The library was empty and when I told Mrs. Peters that I was taking her to the nurse, Bella sighed against my shoulder, but once we were out of the library, she mumbled something about a good cover and I shook my head as my feet propelled us forward. "I-I-I'm r-really t-t-taking you to ssssee the n-nurse." Bella stilled in my arms for just the briefest of moments before her whole body began to move, pushing and pulling against me. "Nope." She shook her head exaggeratedly. "Not the nurse," she said. Her breath was hot against my face as she struggled away from me. "They'll see and she'll know." She had managed to get her feet on the floor, but I kept her standing, pressed up against me. "Don't tell my mom," she begged, her voice nothing more than a child's. I wanted to tell her that I would never say anything to her mother, but also that her mother wasn't even in the state, so she was safe. "I w-w-won't." Her hands pulled at her hair as she pressed her face against my chest. I managed to lead her outside, forgoing the nurse's office because she was right and I didn't want her to get in trouble. I didn't want her to be taken away from me like that. Bella's body was moving constantly, her hands wringing together as she nibbled on her lip and bounced on her feet. "I need to smoke," she said, refusing to move any farther. "I need to come down a little." "W-w-what are you on?" She shook her head and I knew that she wasn't going to tell me, so I watched her smoke pot through a straight pipe that looked like a cigarette as we knelt down behind my car for cover. ... "W-w-why w-w-would someone w-want to do that? T-to fffeel like that? W-why would she choose those things o-over mmme?" I looked up at Esme, knowing that I gave her next to nothing to go on. I didn't want to tell her that Bella had gotten so high or that I watched her get even higher in an attempt to not be so high. "Are we talking about your mother or Bella?" My eyes narrowed. "Y-y-you kn-know ab-b-bout B-Bella?" "She's not subtle, Edward. And apart from that, there's not much more I can talk to you about." "B-b-but if you kn-know, w-w-w-why aren't you d-doing sssssomething?" Esme took a deep breath, looked out the window for just a second and then turned her eyes back to me. "First, I've had no concrete evidence that anything like that was going on, and if you have concerns about it, you should've told someone." I shook my head, never wanting to break Bella's trust like that. Perhaps Esme was the same way. Maybe Esme did with Bella what she did with me, push just enough in certain areas until the boundaries had been formed and tested. Maybe Esme was working up to making Bella stop using drugs. "Hypothetically, let's say that there's this girl and I knew that she was using drugs as her coping mechanism. I might choose to allow her to continue until I could find the root cause." "B-b-but she c-c-c-could" "Get hurt?"

I nodded. "There are some really deep issues with this girl, Edward. Putting her straight into a rehab program would do nothing. People have to want to give up their addictions, otherwise it's all wasted. Everything an addict goes though is deeply personal and unless the decision to change is one they come to on their own, it'll never stick. This fictional girl needs to come to an understanding that she's not really dealing or coping with anything by doing what she's doing." I tried to regulate my breathing, but I didn't know if I could stave off the impending panic. "B-b-but w-why w-would she choose th-that o-over ssssomeone w-who w-wanted to hhhhelp hhher?" "Because she's hurt, Edward and you make her feel that. Ripping layer after layer of bandages off an open wound hurts before it feels better." I felt Esme's eyes on me, studying me. "She's been shut down in survival mode for at least fifteen years. It's not easy for a person to flip a switch and change just because they want to. We all have different reactions to things. "Our fictional girl shut down. "She found things that dulled the pain and the emotions until they were manageable. She learned how not to deal. "And don't forget, Edward, no one saved the girl when she was twelve years old like when you were removed from your home. No one saved her when she was seventeen either. She had to resort to getting caught doing something illegal." Esme paused and looked at me hard. "Do you understand? No one saved her. No one. The only person the girl's been able to trust is herself. You have Alice." "B-b-but I w-want to be her Aliiiice." Smiling at me, Esme said, "I know and I'm sure she wants that too, but she's never trusted anyone enough to let them in. That's not an easy thing for her to do. Now she's met you and she likes you. I can see that," she paused, shaking her head before continuing. "The hypothetical girl likes you, but she can't make it easy on herself. She has to keep herself closed off, her emotions very tightly controlled. "However, her control is slipping, because along with all of the good feelings she can experience with you, the floodgates are opening and letting in every negative thought she's been running from for years." It made sense and I was thankful to have the time with Esme to make the puzzle pieces fit. "She's having to deal with everything she never wanted to. The small cracks in her giant wall of armor are growing bigger and she can't fix them quick enough, Edward. She's finally being forced to look at what happened instead of shoving it in her back pocket and trying to forget it." "And, Edward?" she said my name seriously. "We don't even know what happened to her, and even if we did, we haven't lived this girl's life, so we'll never know what it was like for her." Esme's smile and her eyes softened as she finished. "She doesn't get high because of you, Edward. The girl gets high because it's one of her very few defenses against a world that has shown her nothing but pain and she's frightened to let it go. Just as she uses her anger as a shield, she wraps herself in a world where no one can hurt her again." Esme's eyes narrowed at me. "Do you understand? Sometimes we are all victims of our natural instinct to avoid pain and suffering. She's cutting it off at the pass. A pre-emptive strike, if you will." So I made up my mind right there. I was going to help her let it go. I was going to give her myself as an alternative to doing whatever drugs she was doing. Because she wasn't a fictional girl. Bella was real and she meant more to me than anything else in my life.

...

Chapter 35: Nine Days B POV I hadn't had sex in nine days and it was about killing me. All I could feel throughout the day was the delicious left-over feeling of Edward's body underneath mine. But he fucking cockblocked himself. What guy does that? I hadn't meant to get so fucking high, but I'd snorted a line before lunch and then smoked pot with Jacob, and that brought down my cocaine high, so I snorted a little more before Biology. Well, I snorted a lot more. I ended up in the library and not Banner's classroom. It was quiet in there and I found a little spot that was comfortable. Suddenly Edward was there and he was comfortable and felt really, really nice, but then he said something about a nurse and it didn't matter how nice he felt, I had to get out of his hold because my mother would find out that I saw a nurse. Of course, it was the cocaine that had me paranoid because logically, my mother wouldn't find out that I'd seen a nurse and even if I had, I'd been away from Renee long enough to not have any fresh, visible marks that would raise suspicion. But Edward didn't take me to a nurse. I smoked enough pot behind his car to stop freaking the fuck out and then went to his house where I laid on his couch until Dr. Cullen had knocked on his door, to say that Hale wanted to see him. Dr. Cullen invited me downstairs so that he could take my blood pressure, blood sugar, and whatever the hell else he thought about taking. He mentioned that Edward told him that I hadn't been feeling well. I was definitely crashing now, so I sat in the Cullen kitchen letting him stick my finger with a lancet and put a cuff around my upper arm while kids started filing in now that school was out. "So, Bella, your father mentioned that you got a job at the grocery store." "Yeah." "Have you started?" He placed a drop of blood on the meter and waited for me and the machine to respond. "Yeah. Wednesday. Lots of training videos and papers to sign." I felt like a lump. A tired lump that needed to sleep. The meter beeped. "Your blood sugar is elevated. Is that normal with the amount of insulin you take?" I thought for a moment, my brain sluggish. "I've been a little low lately, but" He quirked his eyebrow as he waited for me. "I can't remember if I took my insulin today or not," I admitted.

"Does that happen a lot?" I shook my head, wishing that I hadn't said anything. "Not usually." I'd done a bump of coke around four this morning, so I must've missed it. "Do you feel like your diabetes is being properly managed?" "Sure." I knew he had a million doctor questions that he'd keep asking to keep me occupied until Dr. Hale wanted me, so I took a offensive measure. "How did you know to give Edward a guitar?" Dr. Cullen looked surprised at my question. "What do you mean?" "He said you got him a guitar even though he'd never played. So how did you know he was going to be good at it?" He smiled and even in my drugged state, I nearly swooned over that shit. "I didn't." His voice was low as his eye took in the other Fuck-Up Club members milling around. "Edward used to bite his hands." He frowned, his eyes clouding a bit. "Not just his fingernails. He would just bite down on the meat of his hands until he drew blood and even then sometimes he wouldn't stop." Dr. Cullen paused and pulled off the blood pressure cuff from my arm. "It was clear that he did it when he was upset or particularly stressed. His hands were so mangled that I wondered how he could use them in his day-to-day activities." Dr. Cullen backed up and crossed his arms over his chest, his eyes looking far away. "So I bought him a guitar as a more peaceful, less painful way to channel his frustration. I lucked out because not only did it work in occupying his hands and helping with his stress and anxiety level, he was really gifted. It has become a source of peace to him and it seems to be a preventative measure. He can use it to help stop himself from becoming even more anxious." Damn. It was hard to imagine Edward even more on edge than he was now. I did my best to put that information to the side in my head. I didn't want to think about Edward's hands all bloody and torn up. I didn't want to imagine him being the one who did that to himself. ... "Let's talk, Bella." I didn't have the energy to do anything but roll my eyes. "I thought that was mandatory." Esme smiled at me. "Talking is not mandatory, but it is helpful. We can write if you prefer, or use sign language. Or since you're a photographer, we can use pictures." "Are you fucking with me?" Was she antagonizing me? Was she saying that I was stupid? My fucking mind was like sludge and it did not appreciate this wicked come-down. I'd been too fucking high at school today. Absolutely insanely high. That was something even I knew I should not do again, but I was pretty sure I would anyway. The more and more fucked up thoughts I had, the more and more shit I did. And the fuck of it all was

that I knew I didn't need any more after that first bump this morning, but I just wasn't high enough. "I'm serious, Bella." I put my focus back on Dr. Hale, trying to remember what the fuck we were talking about. "Not everyone can verbalize, especially when they've been trained not to." "Trained?" I asked, my eyes sliding away from hers. I wasn't high enough for this shit. I didn't have enough energy to get angry, as I was nothing more than a Bella-shaped puddle of mud, flowing so slowly that I forgot what the beginning of my own internal chatter was about. "Yes, trained. Being shown or told over and over until it is ingrained." "I know what the word train means." Dr. Hale waited a moment before speaking again. "I know you do." She uncapped her bottle of water and took a sip. "I'd like to see some of your photos some time." "Yeah." She'd said that shit before. "Have you given any thought about our discussion from last week?" I sighed heavily. "I haven't fucked anyone in for-fucking-ever." I ran my hands through my hair. I knew that it hadn't been all that long, but it felt like it. "Has that been difficult for you?" I could have lied to her, or said nothing. "Yes," I admitted. I wasn't quite sure when I'd made the decision to talk to Dr. Hale about this shit, but here I was, just handing out information about myself. "Why do you enjoy sex?" "Seriously?" "Seriously." "Because it feels good. It's fun." She just looked at me. "What?" I asked, not happy with her just staring at me like that. "Do you think it's normal or healthy for a seventeen-year-old to have as much sex as you do?" I really wished that I wasn't presently the owner of a leaden body because if I'd had the energy, I'd have gotten up and left, but because I was too tired to really do anything else, I responded. "First, you don't know how much sex I do or don't have. Second, if this is some kind of 'sex is bad' speech you can save it. You and I both know your twins are getting the shit fucked out of them left and right by Emmett and Alice, so don't go all high and mighty on me." Hale cocked an eye brow at me. "And third?" "Third, if seventeen-year-olds want to have sex as much as I have sex, what the fuck is wrong with that? I don't get it. Somehow in ten months when I turn 18, it'll magically be okay to fuck?" "You indicated that you had sex with men who were older than you. How many of your partners were

over the age of eighteen?" I sighed. "One, I'm not giving numbers, because that's a shady-ass way of trying to get me to tell you shit that's not your business, and two, why is age important?" "Fine, we'll take the number out of the equation. Were the majority of your partners older than you?" "I don't know. Why do you want to talk about this?" "Because it's important. It's not healthy for a young woman to engage in such reckless behavior." I couldn't suppress my laugh. "Who the fuck cares?" I was suddenly very energized and very upset. "Who the fuck cares if I'm healthy or not? You? You get paid to spew shit at me. And Charlie? Yeah, Charlie doesn't fucking care, he just has to fulfill his obligation." "What about Edward?" I swallowed hard and I looked away from her, all the fire I'd felt a moment before rushing out of me. "He cares." "Well, maybe he shouldn't," I said, my voice deflated. I knew he cared about me, but he damn well shouldn't. And I shouldn't have given a fuck about him, but that wasn't how it went. No, for whatever reason, some unseen force pulled me to him, like fucking Romeo and Juliet, the stars crossed or some shit. So now as I was stuck wanting to feel fucking good, but I was trying to be good so I didn't hurt Edward and for whatever reason, he wasn't interested in getting off with me. That shit fucking hurt when he basically rejected me completely, and it wasn't fucking fair that it hurt. Jacob was almost always hard and I could have fucked him so easily, but no, I fucking let these people mindfuck me into thinking that not having sex was a good idea. "Will you answer the question, Bella?" Right. The fucking question. "I don't know. A lot of them have been older. Who fucking cares?" "I do." I looked up at her. "Yes, and as we've established, you're getting paid good money to 'care,' so I repeat, who fucking cares about who I fuck?" "You should care, Bella. What do you get from these men beyond fleeting physical pleasure? Do you get some kind of validation or feel some sort of love from the" I sighed heavily, effectively cutting her off. I forced my lethargic body to move and hoisted myself out of the chair. "I'm not talking to you about this shit. Who and why I fuck isn't your fucking business, so write what you want in your shitty little notebook and leave me alone." As I moved to the door, Dr. Hale didn't give up. "Why haven't you had sex this week?" Jesus motherfucking Christ. It wasn't because there was no one fuckable around, that was for sure. It took everything I had in me to not screw Jacob daily.

The real reason was probably sitting downstairs looking all uncomfortable and pained. I didn't know which was worse; not having sex, or not having sex because I liked Edward. Instead of answering, I walked out, slamming the door. ... I lay on Edward's couch, my head filled with stupid thoughts spurred by Hale's questions about the men I'd fucked, as Edward fiddled with his iPod trying to find some music for us to listen to. I was no more energetic now than I was an hour ago talking to Dr. Hale, but everything just felt better now that I was in his room. As I looked at the ceiling, I tried to find something else to think about. I had no more pills, so I wouldn't be able to get high until after I got home and probably not until after Charlie had gone to sleep. I looked at Edward's walls and wondered why he had no pictures, no posters, nothing but instruments hanging there. "Do you have pictures of your family?" I turned my head towards him, finding myself lusting after his sexy back. He was wearing a gray button-down today and it was pulled tight across his shoulders and then loosened at the middle of his back. "What was your name before Cullen adopted you?" Pain swept through me as I saw his shoulders slump forward just slightly at my question. Maybe I should've asked those things in an e-mail, but I was here with him now and it seemed like I should be able to ask him something like this now that we werewhatever the fuck we were to each other. "M-M-MMMasen." "Did you have to change your name?" He shook his head as he turned around, apparently satisfied with this depressing-ass piano music, and moved over to his bed. "You wanted to?" He nodded and took in a deep breath. Instead of sitting down, he moved to his bedside table and opened a drawer. He lifted a million fucking things before pulling out something small, and then walked over to me. I sat up and reached for it, shivering slightly as our fingers brushed and the usual zing of current pulsed between us. When I looked at the paper, I found that it was a small photograph of four people. The red-haired woman held a boy with rusty auburn hair, standing next to a very severe-looking man with his hands very awkwardly resting on a brown-haired boy's shoulders. Edward had handed me the photograph face down and he had moved away before I had turned it over. He was currently sitting on the edge of his bed not looking like he owned the fucking thing, while his eyes were steadfastly fixed on one of his guitars. He obviously didn't like this picture or anything that it represented. I wished that I hadn't asked about it. But it was in my hands now and I looked at it closely. Little boy Edward was fucking cute with crazy long eyelashes and amazingly bright green eyes and hair that obviously no one could tame. No one's smiles seemed right. They were all wrong, fake or forced, and the guy who was apparently Edward's father didn't even try to smile. He looked like an amazing asshole. I looked back at the younger version of Edward. He was small and his face was different, but I could

see the Edward I knew in there. I sucked at guessing ages, but he looked like he could have only been five at the time. I wondered what his voice sounded like when he was that young. I wondered if when this picture was taken he had begun stuttering yet. "Do you miss your brother?" I asked. I hadn't even looked at his brother really, so as I asked the question, I studied the photograph. He looked fairly unremarkable, but not in a bad way. He just looked like every other kid in the world. He seemed quite a bit older than Edward. If Edward was five, he would have been nine or ten. When I looked back up, he wasn't perched on the edge of his bed; he was standing right next to me. His fingers gently plucked the picture from between my fingers and then he turned silently to replace it in the drawer. I wished that I hadn't looked up at him in that moment and seen the unmasked sadness on his face and some kind of fresh fear in his eyes. So Edward didn't want to talk about his brother. "Do you want to do something this weekend? His eyes, suddenly brightened and sparkled like usual. "Y-y-yes," he answered immediately and I couldn't stifle my smile. I was more excited than I cared to admit that he was still so happy to spend time with me. "You should come over then. Like tomorrow or something. I think Charlie has to work. I was going to make a roast, but I work Sunday so we can't hang out until after three." I stood up, feeling somewhat over-exposed, and crossed over to his book shelf. Gliding my fingers over the spines of the books, I added, "Or I can come over here if we have to do shit with the brussel sprouts or whatever." "W-w-what do you w-want to do?" I sighed. "I'll come over here," I answered quietly. "The HHHHales m-might be hhhhere." I figured that, so I shrugged. "It's okay. I like it here." "Ssssso tomorrow?" "Yeah." I heard him take a deep breath. "W-w-will you n-not get hhhhigh?" I spun around at his question, ready to be absolutely and completely pissed off at him. I could be high if I wanted to be, and I certainly didn't need his permission. Then I saw his face and how absolutely torn he looked, and I couldn't be upset with him. When I thought about it, I was pretty damn sure that Edward wasn't happy at the prospect that I might've gotten angry with him for asking me. I was oddly proud of him for asking. "Yeah, fine. I mean, sure." I swallowed hard, wondering how the fuck I was going to get through an entire day without getting high. Well, I would try anyway. I felt like the fucking Grinch looking at Edward and his all too hopeful smile, my heart growing two sizes bigger or something. All this shit was scary. I've never really wanted to try for anything and here I was making this pledge.

He moved towards me and I turned back around, reaching out for some green chunk of rock on his shelf with my right hand. I squeezed it tightly in the palm of my hand and angled my face away from Edward. His presence was like the sun on my left, his body radiating heat and light and energy into me. His hands slipped around my left hand and I squeezed the rock tighter in my right. My breath caught as I felt liking giving up everything I'd been holding onto so tightly. I wanted to give him everything inside of me. I wanted the light of his sun to stamp out the coldness of the dark night in my heart. It was in these moments that my time with Edward was the most dangerous. It was at times like these that he made me feel safe and secure and it was in these minutes that were ours alone where I gave him everything I never wanted to. My hair fell like a shield between us. One of his hands released mine and I squeezed the rock again when I felt his finger tips brush my cheek. I'd told him that I didn't like that and I wanted to get upset and angry, but I couldn't. "D-don't hhhide, p-please." I didn't understand him at all. Why wasn't he trying to fuck me? Why would he give a shit if I hid? I turned, moving the hand that held the rock to his ribs. I wanted to press myself to him and undo the buttons of his shirt, but as I pressed my fisted hand just lightly into his side, he took in a sharp breath, and his eyes closed tightly. "What's wrong?" I asked him quietly. "N-nothing." Bullshit. Edward was a terrible liar. His eyes told the truth when his mouth did not. "Why does your side hurt, Edward?" His hand dropped mine and he moved away, but not far. "I-it's o-okay, B-Bella." Liar. "Why can't I hide if you do?" "I'm n-n-not hhhhhiding." He stepped back to me and retook my hand, I squeezed the rock again. "M-my sssside is fine." I twisted towards him again. It seemed as though my body was going to do whatever it wanted, instead of listening to what I was told it to do. It was because of my mutinous body that I found myself pressed against him, breathing in his orange earth scent. Careful of his seemingly injured side, I allowed my hands to slide around his waist and I hugged him. Measuring my breaths, I kept telling myself that it was okay, that I could be this close to him. I felt like I was moving, even though I was pretty fucking sure I was totally still. I felt his chin come to rest on the top of my hair, and my heart started racing as I fought desperately between wanting this comfort from him and needing to be very far away from his touch. I wasn't stupid. I recognized the want, the need, for him that had been created within me. But like I told him, it was stupid to want what you couldn't have. And although he was so incredibly willing to give himself to me, what he offered came at such a high price. If this continued, I'd let him see me; I'd let him know the things about me that even I didn't want to

know. Once you knew something, you couldn't ever not know it. And once he knew, he would leave, so he shouldn't even try. I pushed away from him, still mindful of the pain in his side. I wanted to move to the other side of the room, a safer place where he wasn't, but his hand curled around mine again and I found myself bound to him once more. He kept me close to his body. "Edward," I exhaled, not entirely sure why I was saying his name like that. "D-d-don't get hhhhigh tomorrow a-a-and I'll tell you ab-b-bout mmmy r-ribs." ... Saturday morning was the outright worst fucking Saturday morning known to man. I woke up after only a few hours of sleep, wishing that I had never made that stupid promise to Edward. I had the perfect opportunity, as Charlie was gone by the time I left my room and I had plenty of pot. It would have helped me fall back to sleep, but the stupid nagging voice inside my head wouldn't let me disappoint Edward. I nearly fell to my death on the stupid, slanted stairs in Charlie's old-as-fuck house. I burned my finger on the coffee burner since, the carafe wasn't the correct one to be used with that model and it took me longer than ever to get my blood sugar read so that I could get my insulin into me, and when I did, I fucking jabbed the lancet in the finger that always fucking hurt and it bled like fucking hell. A small red drop found its way onto the knee of my jeans. I took the bus to the strip mall about a mile from Edward's house. I could've let him pick me up and now that I was hoofing it the rest of the way, I wished my stupid, prideful mouth would have let me ask him last night. I held the rock from the night before in the fist of my right hand. I wondered if he missed it or if he even knew that I had it. He looked so good in jeans and a light blue t-shirt when he opened the door. He was so much more comfortable in his own home than he was at school. Edward grabbed his coat as we went to the quiet greenhouse and I was amazed at how warm it was inside. I looked at the plants, which were no longer sprouts, but actual plants, and I immediately felt like shit. If I'd been high, I wouldn't have felt like the worst person on the face of the planet. "I'm sorry." "Ffffor w-what?" "I'm not really fair to you, am I?" He quirked his eyebrow at me questioningly. "You give more than you get from me." Edward shook his head. "Y-you g-give a-a-a llllot." His eyes said he was lying. "Your lies make baby Jesus cry, Edward. I'm a bad lab partner."

I almost regretted trying to lighten the mood just a little when his eyes lowered, but then his lips twitched just a tad and I found him smiling at me. "I haven't gotten high all day, you know," I whispered. What the fuck did I want? Diabetic cookies and a gold fucking star that said 'Edward Cullen approved'? Then I realized that my reward was the beautiful smile that rarely graced his face, and I wanted to bask in it forever, but I remembered he promised me something in return. "So what happened to your side?" The smile faded and he shook his head. "M-M-MMMike N-Newton." "What the fuck did he do?" Again, Edward shook his head as he held up a hand as if to tell me that his ribs didn't hurt that badly. "Hhhe j-just hhhhit me." "Why?" My teeth were clenched. I wanted to hurt Mike Newton. "D-does hhhhe n-need a reason?" No matter how much I yearned to beat the shit out of Mike for hurting Edward, we spoke no more of it. It was obviously not a subject Edward wanted to talk about and I was pretty sure that was because he was embarrassed. I wished he wasn't embarrassed. I wished he'd just kick the shit out of Newton and get it over with. We went inside and started cooking dinner. "You made your own barbeque sauce?" Emmett's loud question shook me out of my quiet thoughts as I stared at my food. I'd been trying to avoid too much talking. I wasn't high at all and I found it incredibly difficult to hold much of a conversation with anyone. I cleared my throat. "Uh, yeah, all you really need is tomatoes, hickory smoke, molasses and a couple of spices." I wanted dinner to be over so that I could go back up to Edward's room with him. By ourselves. Rosalie gave me the stink-eye while everyone else ate. "You have a very artful eye for plating, Bella," Dr. Hale said, obviously taking note that I had plated each dish instead of having everyone serve themselves. "The colors and the shapes are actually quite sophisticated and beautiful." "Yeah, whatever." She could stop saying shit like that now. "She's right," Alice agreed, "And trust me, Bella, I know beautiful." It wasn't until I was in the solace of Edward's room that I was comfortable again, and it was with that comfort that I was sitting on his couch with him beside me. It was incredibly new to me because every single cell in my body was directing me to fuck him. The only things that kept my hands off of him were how incredibly nervous he looked and the fact that he hadn't touched me.

It was ridiculous. I could be riding him right now, but no, I was stone-motherfucking sober, sitting next to him with no part of my body touching his. Fucked up. When Edward took a deep breath, I focused on his entirely too-beautiful face. I could feel his hand on my cheek, brushing my hair back before it was actually there. "Y-you're sssso b-beautiful, B-Bella." And suddenly, I was very far from Edward's room. It was dusk and my room was hot, too hot after baking in the Arizona sun all day. Although Arizona was a dry heat, it was humid in my room. It was stuffy and uncomfortable. He was touching my face and it was almost painful. I felt like I couldn't breathe. I didn't want him to touch me because the very nearness of him caused my blood to grow icy. So it was hot in my room but so incredibly cold within my body. Shivers involuntarily assaulted me and I swallowed hard against the fear this man created by simply touching my cheek the way he was. His seemingly tender action would only shift into its polar opposite soon. It confused me and I had no idea if I was supposed to feel comfort from him or if I should anticipate the moment when he would change. Because it was going to come. When he spoke, it was like millions of fire ants crawling up my back. I hated his voice. I hated the feel of his breath across my skin. I wanted to move, I wanted jump off of my bed and run for the door. I wanted to hide in the closet or under the bed, even though I knew that I was too big and that he would find me. I wanted to run out the front door and never come back. I wanted to run all the way to Washington. I wanted to make him stop touching me like that, but I couldn't move, because, as usual, my body had shut down and it was all I could do to keep my heart beating and my lungs breathing. So I was trapped inside my body as I waited for him to do what he always did. But I so desperately wanted him to stop touching my face. "Mmm. You are so beautiful. Did you know that, Bella? Do you know how simply beautiful you are?" I shook my head, my mouth unwilling to move to talk even if I had the voice to speak. "Smile for me, Bella. There's nothing to be sad about." I smiled like he told me to, but it wasn't real. I didn't even remember what a real smile felt like. His thumb rubbed over my lower lip and my eyes slipped away until I found the crack in the dry-wall. A small spider had set up shop there, its webbing covering the corner. "There, that's better." Both of his incredibly large hands cupped my face. Two thumbs stroking my lips. "Now open your mouth a little." "Please," I finally whispered, not knowing exactly where the courage to speak had come from, "I don't

want to." He shifted my face so that I couldn't look at the happy little spider hidden away in its little crack. My eyes had to focus on his mouth. "Don't make me tell your mother how bad you've been, Bella. You know she doesn't like it when she finds out exactly how bad you really are." My body tensed and I held my breath. "But it" my words stopped as his hands found my hair, his fingers tightening. I blinked rapidly, my hand immediately moving up to bat Edward's hand away from my face. "Stop fucking touching my face, Edward." He moved forward, sitting up straight when I did, looking panicked and scared. "I-I'm sssssssorry." I felt so sick. I didn't want him to look like that. I didn't want him to look at me like that, but I couldn't stop it. My stomach churned and clenched. All of my muscles ached and I realized how tightly coiled they all were. With every ounce of energy I had, I launched myself off of his bed and flung open the door. It was quite tricky because Edward always locked his door. Across the hall, I found the bathroom and emptied the dinner I'd just eaten into the toilet. Even after my stomach was empty, I kept heaving When it finally stopped, I rinsed my mouth with water, then swished several times with the mouthwash I'd found on the counter. The burn of the acid felt good against the raw portions of my tongue and cheeks. Then for whatever reason, I opened up the medicine cabinet and found the fucking Mecca of prescription drugs. There were shitloads of brown fucking bottles packed into this tiny little cabinet. I searched through them until I found some with names I knew. Then I played eeny- meeny-miney-moe for which one I would actually take. When I had the two large white pills in my hands, I downed one, not even needing water get that shit into my belly. The other one I crushed up with the handle of someone's green toothbrush and snorted that shit as quickly as I could. I pocketed a few more pills, not enough for anyone to notice they were missing, and then I sank down to the floor to wait for the numbness to kick in. It was going to kick in hard. I knew that. I wanted that. I fucking needed that. As he whispered to me in my ear to be quiet, I vaguely felt bad for breaking my promise to Edward. But I needed that man's voice to get the fuck out of my head because I didn't want to be quiet and I wanted to stop feeling his ghost fingers tickling my cheek and rubbing over my lips. ... I sat in Edward's car, staring at Charlie's house for far too long. Whatever the fuck I'd snorted hit me like a ton of bricks and all I wanted to do was sit still and become a tree. My body rooted itself to the expensive leather interior of Edward's Volvo. That shit had effectively taken away all thoughts of whatever it was that I didn't want to think about at the moment. But as I turned to look at him, knowing that he knew I was high now, the disappointment pushed

through that blissful numb. I was trying to be good for him but I wasn't good. I wished he'd just go away. Why couldn't he just figure me out and decide that I was too fucked up for him? I'd broken my promise and I knew that Edward would never break any promise he ever made. Especially not to me. He didn't hide from the bullshit, he saturated himself in it. He was so much stronger than I was. "I'm ssssssorry." "What?" I asked, my chest feeling heavier than it probably should have. "What are you sorry for?" Holy shit, his eyes made me want to cry and then I wondered if I'd actually be capable of crying. I'd stopped that shit a long time ago and I wondered if I had any tears left to shed. "I'm fucked up, Edward." I nodded slowly while I said it. "I'm fully aware of that. Are you?" "Am I-I-I fffffff" "Are you aware that I am fucked up?" Edward's eyes danced around my face until he nodded, looking ashamed at his admission. "Then you should be running and fucking screaming away from me." He shook his head. I took a deep breath. "So what are you sorry for?" I bit the inside of my cheek. "I upset y-you. I shhhhouldn't hhave t-t-t-t-t" If it was possible, I felt even shittier because someone like Edward was worried that he'd upset me because he'd touched my face. If only I'd been a normal girl! He deserved a normal girl. A girl who could let herself be touched. Who wanted to be touched. A girl who didn't think about fucked shit all the time. A girl who wasn't too fucking wrapped up in her own pain to give a shit about anyone else. He deserved more than me. He deserved better than me. "Edward," I said, trying to calm down so that he wouldn't get upset himself. I hated when he looked so lost and panicked. "I'm the fuck-up here, okay? You didn't do anything to cause me to" I licked my lips, not really wanting to talk anymore. "I have to go now." "W-w-w-why did you get hhhigh?" I wasn't about to tell him about the feel of that man's breath on my cheek. I wasn't going to talk to him about the way my skin crawled when I thought of that man with the short brown hair and the skull tattoo. "Will you come over tomorrow after I get off of work?" He nodded. "Good," I said softly before forcing my lethargic and sedated body to move, getting out of his car and shutting the door behind me. As much as I wanted to be with Edward, it was sometimes too much. He made me feel good and sometimes it was just too much. ...

Chapter 36: Spiders in the Corners B POV

Before I hopped out of Charlie's car in the parking lot of the Thriftway, feeling like a total schmoein the god-awful uniform and getting out of a police vehicle, I turned to him. "Edward's coming over tonight, so be nice, okay?" Charlie looked at me, eyeing me closely. "Sure, okay. Of course I'll be nice. I like the kid just fine." I just looked at him for a moment, wondering if he knew that by calling him names, it didn't convey the liking him 'just fine' part. "You call him a delinquent, Charlie." He sighed and looked away. "You don't have much of a sense of humor, do you?" "Say something funny and maybe I'll laugh." Again, Charlie sighed. "The kid had one parking ticket, not arrests or citations. I was being sarcastic." "Oh." I could have pointed out that had I known him better, I might have caught the sarcasm, but I left the conversation where it was. "Have fun today." "It's work, Charlie." "You can't have fun at work? It's a part-time job, Bells. Doesn't the Stanley girl work here?" Nodding, I already had my hand on the handle, eager to get out of the cramped car. "She's a cashier though. I stock." I pushed open the car door. "So you promise you'll be nice to him and won't try to intimidate him, right?" Charlie sighed, but wore a smile and drew a circle around his head with his index finger. I supposed it was meant to be a halo. "I promise." I'd only worked one other day and that was nothing but computer training and safety videos. My fat, balding manager who kept looking at my boobs assigned me to work with this guy named Riley. I really wish he hadn't, because Riley was fine, all blond hair and scruffy beard. He had to be in his early twenties and I had no idea how he got stuck in Forks stocking the dairy department of this crappy grocery store. So needless to say, I had to keep myself in check because I kept thinking about how fucking sexy he was and how easy it would have been to pull him into the dairy cooler and jump on top of him. Instead I stocked some shit, watching him out of the corner of my eye, and thought about Edward. It was because of Edward that I wasn't jumping on Riley-the-hottie-stock-boy. I wanted to be good for Edward, but I was growing incredibly frustrated at the lack of humping in my life. I'd taken to masturbating. A lot. And while the physical ache would lessen to some degree, I was not satisfied. "I can't use the baler," I said as Riley waited for me to shove the cardboard into the big machine. "It's fucking stupid. I don't think a few months will make a difference, but they seem to think that I shouldn't operate the baler or use a box knife until" He looked at me, his hazel eyes moving over my body. "You're not eighteen?" I shook my head, wishing like hell that I was. "Fuck," he said quietly. "That's too bad. You look like fun."

The only thing I could do was give him an embarrassed smile because he looked like fun too but he thought I was too young and I was somewhat attached to Edward in some weird, entirely too involved sort of way. So the fun wouldn't be happening. Which was really a shame because Riley's hands were sexy and I wanted to see what they looked like cupped over my tits. "Yeah, I used to be fun, but, um, I'm reformed." I shook my head and chuckled a little. "Or at least, I'm trying to be reformed." I glanced at his watch, which was upside down from my perspective, and I could see that we'd been working for a few hours. "Do you party, Riley?" He finished throwing all of my cardboard boxes into the large brown container, slammed the cage door closed and pushed the button, causing the whole back room to grow loud with noise. "I've been known to, Bella." "I have some bud. We could go burn one. I can get an apple from Produce and make a little pipe out of it." Riley smiled, swiveled his stocking cart around and came to stand next to me. Leaning down a little, he said, "You're bad girl, aren't you, Bella?" I bit my lip. I was trying to be good. "You should work harder on the reforming thing before you can claim to be reformed, yeah?" Like I needed this hot guy to tell me that I was a fuck-up at trying to be good. "So is that a no, Riley, or are you just?" "Maybe after work, but I need this job and I can't lose it because I went and smoked weed during my break." Fine. I didn't need him to get high with me. "Whatever, but I'm going, so I'll see you in fifteen." When I got back, Riley and I stocked the baking aisle. I was covered in flour and had I not been high, it would've pissed me off. We talked on and off about random things. He was a surfer, only stocking shelves to save money to move to California where he wanted to surf professionally. He rolled his eyes at me when I asked if there was such a thing as a professional surfer or if he'd really just be a waiter at some crappy restaurant who surfs on his off days. Jessica was working today as well and so I found myself in the break room with her at lunch. "Oh my God, you get to work with Riley. He's totally hot." "Yeah." "You are so lucky not to be a cashier and to be trained by Riley. I got trained by Martha, the lifer." "Lifer?" Jessica laughed and took a bite of her sandwich. "Yeah, the people here that you can just tell will work in this store for the rest of their lives." "Why didn't you go work at Newton's?" I knew that despite sometimes saying nasty things behind his back, Jessica really liked Mike. I didn't understand the draw, but to each her own I suppose.

"Mike would've thought it was an open invitation to touch my ass all day." "I thought you liked him touching you." "Eh," she said with a shrug of her shoulders. The rest of work was stupid and boring and I was completely overly excited to get back to Charlie's. I took a quick shower and did some food prep before Edward came over. I'd taken another one of those pills that I lifted from Edward's medicine cabinet. I really just wanted pot, but it was freezing outside and Charlie would have thought it was weird if I had just decided to go for a walk in the twenty degree weather. The meds kicked in right before Edward knocked on the door. It was a good thing, actually, because the second I saw Edward, the night before came crashing in around me. Edward had touched my face and I had flipped the fuck out. I could see the ramifications in his eyes. They seemed to gut me with their intensity. I couldn't just stand there with the door open, staring at him all night, so I grabbed his hand and pulled him inside without verbally greeting him. His fingers were cold and his free hand pulled off the stocking cap that had been covering his wild and rusty hair. Dear god, he was beautiful. His body was tense and I looked around, only to find Charlie standing there just looking at him. I narrowed my eyes, figuring that even if he wasn't meaning to, he was intimidating the fuck out of Edward. I huffed and then heard Edward try to push out a hello to Charlie. It was painful to listen to and I could only imagine what it felt like for Edward. As I told him before, his stuttering didn't define him, but it certainly wasn't comfortable to listen to him stumble over such simple words as 'hello, Chief Swan.' Charlie's eyes were focused on where my hand was still connected to Edward's and I immediately felt self-conscious and dropped his hand. I mumbled a "let's go," and moved towards the stairs, fully intending on enjoying Edward's company in my room with less of Charlie's eyes to make me feel weird. "Make sure you keep your door open," Charlie said and I shook my head as I led Edward up to my bedroom. Charlie wanted to be a parent now. I supposed he'd heard that shit on TV one time and thought that was what he needed to say in order to be a good father. Once inside my room, I closed and locked the door. "B-b-but your d-d-d, f-fffather said" "It's my room, Edward," I said, cutting him off a bit more sharply than I meant to. I always shut and locked my door and I would continue doing so whether or not I had Edward in my bedroom. I contemplated shoving my computer chair under the knob like usual, but thought Edward might think it was strange. He sat down in the rocking chair like last time, and I sat down on my bed. There was entirely too much physical distance between us and I wondered if he'd panic if I asked him to sit on the bed with me. Then if he did panic, I could run my hands through his hair like I knew he liked and breathe in his orange earth scent. I subtly pressed my thighs together. It had been too long since I'd had sex to start thinking about Edward's sex hair and his fuck-me smell.

"Hhhhhow w-was w-work?" I smiled at him, I ran my hands through my hair, wishing it was his. "It was good." "D-do you lllliiiike it?" "Yeah, it's alright." Although I didn't really want to talk about working at the grocery store, I also didn't know what else to talk about. "I put shit on shelves." I felt tense as I warred within myself. I enjoyed Edward far more than was safe. I wanted to put my hands all over him and fucking feel him, but I also wanted to do all of the things I had never allowed myself to do before. I wanted to kiss him. Not just like kiss him because he was sexy as fuck and I wanted to do a laundry list of things to him, but because he was sweet and smelled good and was quite possibly the only person in the world worth spending time with. It wasn't that I'd never kissed before because I'd kissed too many people too many times, but it all led to fucking and I hadn't actually ever wanted to just kiss someone. I wanted Edward in every way, that was true, but there was a part of me that wanted to know him in the most innocent ways. I wanted to kiss him to know what the inside of his mouth felt like and whether the energy that flowed between was heightened when it was our tongues touching and not just our hands. Kissing Jacob or Tyler or James or whoeverthefuck was different. With them it was a lead-up to fucking, to feeling good, to having some kind of physical release to mask my mental chaos. But with Edward, my physical need for him was overshadowed by my emotional need for him. And I wasn't sure how much I liked that. I feared it. Because I knew that it was this attachment to him that made me feel things I didn't want to feel. I didn't want to remember things, but Edward had a way of pulling them out of me and quietly pushing me to the point of breaking. I knew it was stupid for me to like him as much as I did. It broke almost all of the carefully-constructed rules I had placed upon myself a long time ago. It invalidated my entire mission in life which was to just slide through the cracks unnoticed. He knew shit he shouldn't fucking know about me, and I was the idiot who handed it to him. But I couldn't say no to the way my entire being ached for him. I'd known people on heroin, or at least been around them, and the fucking aching need they had for that shit was what I felt for Edward. I fucking needed him in uncontrollable ways. He was like my own personal brand of heroin. He was like me, wounded and scared. We were two little lambs lost from the herd. I needed him in ways that I probably shouldn't. I was overcome by the need to suck his lower lip into my mouth and test its fleshiness. "Can I kiss you?" I asked before I was even aware I opened my mouth, but I couldn't help myself. "Please?" His breath caught for a moment before his eyes moved to the door. Was he scared of me? Should I not

have asked that? Was he scared of Charlie? "He's not going to come in," I assured him. Charlie never came into my room. "And I just want to kiss you," I admitted quietly. "It's" I paused and said the next word a little too breathily, "innocent." I sat perched on the edge of my bed, just waiting for him to give me some kind of answer. If it was a yes, I'd fly to him, but if he said no, I didn't know what I would do. It would be uncharted territory since I'd never asked a guy if I could kiss him before and had him say no to me. Then I wondered if he was panicking right now and just disguising it really well, so I stood up and started for him. His breathing increased. When I was near enough, I gave in and threaded my fingers through his hair, my eyes slipping closed as the silky perfection tickled my skin. "You have to answer, Edward," I whispered. "Otherwise I'm going to assume that the answer is yes." He nodded. "Is that yes, I can kiss you or yes, you'll answer?" I was pushing him and I knew it, but he relied on head nods and shakes far too much and I enjoyed his voice, regardless of his stutter. "Y-yesssssssssssssss," he dragged out the word, his voice shaking. I forgot about the fact that I was pushing for a reason because once I heard his voice and actually let myself look at his eyes, I knew he was saying that I could kiss him, but he was sitting and I was standing and any way it went down, it would be awkward. So I took awkward and ran with it. I sat down on his lap, my body angled away from his, my hand never leaving his hair. He was freaking out. I could tell by his rapid breathing. I felt a crazy amount of tension in my body as well. I'd kissed him before. Three times in fact, although that first time shouldn't count. I leaned in and breathed deeply, savoring him before I would taste him again. My lips brushed his lightly at first and I couldn't help the involuntary shiver. His lips moved against mine and I found my bottom lip between his. Opening my mouth a little wider, I slipped my tongue out and traced the bottom of his top lip until he took in a deep gasp of air. That was all the opportunity I needed to push my tongue into his mouth, trailing it along his tongue. I knew that the energy would be there and instead of the crackle of electricity, I felt the heat sing a sweet song between us. It clouded my mind, making it hum with intensity. The hum swiftly transformed into a pulsating drum and the beat of it spurred me to want more of him. I shifted until I was basically straddling him. He smelled so good and tasted like a fucking orange cupcake. And then both of my hands were running through his hair and I pressed myself closer to him as if his body could just open up and swallow me whole. I needed his warmth. He grew hard beneath me and the thought played in my head that he was probably a quiet fuck and Charlie would never know. I could be a silent rider. I would be careful with him. I wouldn't make him scream or shout. Moan, maybe, but I would be good and keep his mouth busy. But his dick wasn't the only thing that stiffened. I became aware that his whole body had gone rigid. Edward's hands had made it to my hips and they tightened. It felt fucking wonderful. His hands were strong and that made me want him all the more.

But before we went any further, his hands stilled my writhing hips and he pulled away, moving his neck until his lips were no longer accessible to mine. "What?" I asked in between pants of breath. "W-w-w-w-we sssssshould sssstop, B-Bella." No, I was pretty sure we should continue and progress. "Why?" Couldn't he see that I wanted him? Couldn't he feel that I needed him? "B-b-bec-c-cause yyyyyyyour f-f-f-f-faaa" My hands that had grown still immediately moved to soothe him. As I rubbed his scalp with the tips of my fingers, his eyes closed and I sighed, my brain finally working. I was still very aware that his hard-on was pressing up against the places that I wanted it to, but I forced myself not to rock on top of him. He was upset and I had been the one to make him upset. "Charlie's downstairs." Shit. That wasn't what I wanted to say. I didn't want to make him feel like I was pushing him on this but I really wanted to fuck him and my mouth was speaking automatically. "He won't know, Edward." "B-b-b-but I-I-I c-c-can't." I tried to lean back into him to start kissing him again, even though the logical side of me told me that it wasn't going to happen. "But I want you," I whined when he stopped me from pressing myself against him again. "And I know you want me too." "I-I d-d-do, B-B-Bella." He sounded out of breath and I knew that I needed to get off of him so he could be comfortable, but the pouty little girl in me wanted to stomp my feet and hold my breath until I turned blue and he gave in to me. He could fuck Jessica Stanley but could barely kiss me. I moved off of him quickly, ready to be done with the entire confusing thing. "Are you staying for dinner?" He didn't answer as I moved to the door. I had my hand on the doorknob. "D-d-don't b-b-be mmmmad, B-Bella." "I'm not mad," I answered him after a moment. And I wasn't. I was incredibly disappointed and felt foolish, but I wasn't angry at him. "Are you staying for dinner?" I asked again and watched as he took the easy way out and nodded his answer. "I worked all day, so it's not going to be awesome or anything." ... Mike was incredibly annoying. He was singing at the lunch table about his dick in a box and I wondered, not for the first time, why the hell I sat at this table. Yeah, Angela sat here and so did Jessica, but I could take or leave Jessica and I was about to leave Angela on her own. Before I could grab my bag, someone asked Mike a question, to which his reply was, "I'll be doing a lot better once my balls are resting on Isabella's chin."

There were a few 'oh's' and a couple of stifled giggles. I turned to look at him, and he had one eyebrow raised as his disgusting tongue licked his disgusting lips. I wanted to tell him exactly how much that would never happen, but since he wanted to play public games of sexual harassment, I smiled at him "Why would they" I pretended that I had no idea what he was talking about. "Oh, you want my mouth wrapped around" I took the faux-shocked look off my face and steeled it. "Actually, Mike, I have a six inch minimum." I glanced to Jessica and then back to him. "And from what I hear, you're about four inches off the mark. Sorry." Everyone snickered at that, even Lauren, who was usually too big of a bitch to even smile. The smirk was completely wiped from his face and was replaced with anger. "Well, I guess I forgot that I had to be a fucking thug or a retard to get time with you, soconsider me not interested." I ignored his hateful names, knowing that they were directed at Jacob and Edward. "Thank god for small favors." Mike's smile reappeared. "One day you'll beg me, Isabella." "I thought you weren't interested," I countered. "What would I beg you for, Mike? To do the world a favor and slit your fucking wrists? To finally get that nipple rot checked out by a doctor?" His face reddened and his jaw tensed. I didn't wait for him to say something even more dickish. I mumbled a goodbye to Angela and then headed out to the woods early to meet Jacob. If ever there was a time I needed to burn, it was in this moment when I could've killed that stupid motherfucker. ... It was at the Friday Night Fuck-Up Club that I broached the topic of Lauren's party with Edward. The night had been fairly uneventful, aside from Dr. Hale pissing me off in my individual session and trying not to listen as Seth Clearwater told everyone in group about how much he missed his dad. "Did you hear that Lauren's throwing a party tomorrow?" I asked after he had set his iPod down on the dock and made music flow from it. Edward's brow creased and he shook his head as he moved to sit next to me on the couch. My body tingled from his nearness. I knew that whether he'd heard about it or not, he wouldn't want to go. But I did. Jacob had already shown me his party favors, which included some really amazing B.C. bud that got me so fucking high from just a few hits off his water bong. But I wanted Edward to go with me. He could use some fun and I wanted to be with him. "Will you go with me?" He shook his head and I frowned. I hated that shit. I wanted him to use his voice. "Why not?" "B-B-B-Bella," he said softly, as if the answer should've been so clear to me. And it was. He had anxiety issues and wasn't comfortable around large or small groups of people, but I wanted him to go with me. "Th-there's t-too many p-people, B-Bella."

"But you could keep me out of trouble." "I w-would llllove t-to go, b-but I c-can't." I pouted, sticking out my lower lip a little. "You c-could ssstay w-with me." Dammit! I didn't want to stay in, but I wanted to be with Edward as much as possible. But Jake was bringing the fucking Chronic. That shit tasted like blueberries - fucking blueberries! It didn't come around that often and he was just going to smoke people out with it. "I want to go to the party," I whined quietly. "Please come with me." Edward looked down and shook his head as he squeezed my hand which he'd been holding since he sat down. "P-please stay w-with me." I stood up, slipping my hand out from his, and moved to study his books. He needed some new ones. I'd already memorized each and every title on his shelf. I tried to focus on the spines of the books again, my hand moving up to touch the worn spots of a few. It was impossible to focus on anything other than Edward as he got up and came closer to me again. No matter where I went, he seemed to follow. Except to Lauren's party. His very presence next to me set my body alight, but it wasn't just a physical response to his nearness; it was a warming in my mind, a softening of my thoughts. It was beautiful and real and terrifying all at once and I felt like my head was not attached to my body as thoughts swam through my brain. Edward's earth and oranges swept over me in waves just as the heat of his body crashed upon me like water on rock. It was insanely erotic and intense and he wasn't even touching me. His eyes were locked on mine and the rapid rise and fall of his chest mirrored my own. My whole body ached for him and yet I didn't know how to get him. I felt vulnerable and weak. I was powerless to the need for him. I hated that feeling. I moved away again, this time to study the strings of his guitar and hoped that he'd grant me the safety of this physical distance. "Well, maybe we'll hang out on Sunday then." I was telling him that I wasn't going to stay in with him. I was going to the party. Feeling fingertips at the small of my back, I turned, facing Edward, but I couldn't bring myself to lock eyes with him, so I stared at his mouth. He licked his lower lip and again I was struck with the urge to suck on it for him. I moved to do just that, but Edward's arms stopped me from plastering myself onto him. "Ssstay with me." ...

The music was loud and obnoxious, but I was feeling no pain since I'd smoked out with Jacob to the point of not being able to get any higher, but even though I felt safer sticking by Jacob, I couldn't just sit there while he smoked out more people. There was just no way I was going to turn down bong hits of that shit and I really didn't need more of it. It wasn't any better leaving the cramped little room because being as high as I was, I drank whatever alcohol Jessica put into my hands. I hated alcohol. But I kept drinking. I wished Edward had come with me. I completely understood why he wasn't able to, but I couldn't help but miss the fuck out of him. I kept drinking until I felt sick. This alcohol was going to fuck with my blood sugar. I tried to find my way to the bathroom, but I couldn't find it. I felt sick, my head swishing this way and that. I felt myself leaning against the wall as I kept propelling myself forward. I took a deep breath and then it felt like I was sleeping. When I awoke, I was moving. Not much, just up and down. When I opened my eyes, I realized that I wasn't moving up and down, I was moving back and forth. I was heavy, something weighing me down. I felt a warm, moist air against my cheek. My hands moved up to my chest and I pressed the weight away, but it wouldn't budge. It moved back and forth with me. I blinked, my brain clogged and sluggish. The weight on top of me moaned low and deep. Fuck. I was fucking someone. No, someone was fucking me. I felt sick again. The weight was a body. I looked down to where the body's hips were between my parted thighs and then my eyes traveled up the shirted torso. And then I saw that I was fucking Mike Newton. I closed my eyes, knowing that I should've tried to pushed him off of me, but my body wouldn't respond to my brain. He would be done soon. I turned my head and tried to focus on breathing. My eyes opened again and I was staring at the corner of the wall next to the toilet. There were cobwebs, but no spider. I wondered if the spider was out spinning more webs or if it was stalking its food. Maybe it had left

that web for a new home. Maybe it was dead. The cobweb looked old, sort of frayed. One of Lauren's blonde hairs lay across it. She needed to clean. Her bathroom was clean-ish, but it had a cobweb and hair and I was sure if I really looked, there'd be soap scum in the tub that everyone in the house just ignored and eventually grew to not even see. "Fuck me." I let out a breath and involuntarily turned my head to look at Mike. I swallowed hard. Thankful that he was almost done, I stared at him blankly. His face contorted and his hips thrust at me in an irregular, quick rhythm. When he pulled out, I rose up onto my elbows, scooted to a semi-sitting position and pressed my legs together. I watched as he pulled the condom off and threw it in the trash. He stood over me, pulling up his boxers and jeans. Bile rose up in my throat. "I told you," he said, leaning down and licking my top lip. My body had no choice but to move into action. I scrambled to the toilet, lifting the lid just as the bile overflowed. As I emptied my stomach, I felt my hair being pulled back. I could feel his breath on my neck as one of his hands rested on my shoulder. I wanted his fucking hands off of me. When my body stopped heaving, I pushed at him as I stood up. I wished I knew what the fuck had just happened because I was pretty sure Mike's dick had just been inside of me. I felt sick again, so as I rinsed out my mouth, I splashed water on my face. What the fuck just happened? I froze again when I felt him come up behind me, pressing against me, his hands on my hips as if we were lovers. I spun quickly and pushed him back. "Quit fucking touching me." I shrugged on my pants and pulled down my shirt and left the bathroom quickly, trying to ignore the fact that I was sharing space with him and found Jacob. "Will you take me home?" He was looking up at