|A Little Less Than Before
Author: Burrberry Bugsy PM
Bella learns to deal with rejection the hard way by having to watch the man she loves marry her best friend. Who better to help her out than the provocative best man, Edward Cullen? "Your feelings for me are there, Bella, you're just ignoring them." E/BRated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Hurt/Comfort - Bella & Edward - Chapters: 16 - Words: 89,767 - Reviews: 3,186 - Favs: 2,344 - Follows: 2,719 - Updated: 08-03-10 - Published: 04-07-09 - id: 4976805
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Author's Notes: I'm going to either get a lot of hatred sent my way for taking so ridiculously long, or I'm going to get welcomed back happily. I'm hoping it's the latter. I can throw out excuses, but I'd prefer to just be honest with all of you and say that school and reality got in the way. You want the truth? I was dating a guy for a while, got caught up in that, and lost time for a lot of other things. The boy and I now, though? That fell to pieces (sadly), and I've gotten the inspiration to write again. Channeling my emotions through writing was always my way of getting over it all.
So if you never knew until now, the emotions in this story? The heartache, the pain, the angst? All from personal experience. Now you know my secret. Shh, please :)
On another note, you all blow me away with the positivity. Thank you everyone for the constant love you've been sending my way! It makes me happy to know you're all still with me on this ride! I may not be able to reply to every single review, but I read each and every single one, and I appreciate them more than you know. I promise (for real this time!) I'll do my best to update more often.
My to-be constant updates are also an early birthday gift to my fabulous friend, Erica, whom you all know as IcelandGirl812. Told you I was trying, Twinkie! *muah*
But enough rambling. You wanted to read, right?
Disclaimer: I do not own.
A Little Less Than Before
My Beautiful Rescue
"I've been jumping from the tops of buildings for the thrill of the fall, ignoring sound advice and any thought of consequence. My bones are shattered, my pride is shattered, and in the midst of this self-inflicted pain, I can see my beautiful rescue."
As soon as the word "together" slipped through my lips in a completely different way than I'd wanted it to, I immediately regretted it. It was wrong of me on so many levels and I knew Edward was probably dying to ask me what the hell was up with my head.
Even I wanted to know what the hell was up with my head.
I closed my eyes and basked in Alice's warmth, doing everything I could to avoid the piercing stares I felt from both sides of the room.
As much as I hated to admit it, Jasper's reaction made me feel pretty good about myself. In all honesty, I was still very angry with him and wanted nothing more than to kick him in the shin and declare that if I wanted to date Edward Cullen, I'd damn well date Edward Cullen and didn't care what his Texan ass thought of it.
But, with people like Jazz, the silent treatment worked better.
I refused to acknowledge the fact that he was even there and promised Alice we'd talk details as soon as she and Jasper unpacked and rested a bit. They left the two of us alone, and the guilt rushed at me like an angry bull.
I knew Edward was upset just by the look on his face. It hurt me more than I'd like to admit to know I'd upset him, so I was willing to back out of what I'd said and take any whiplash Alice or Jasper decided to give me just so he'd stop looking at me like I'd stomped all over his chest.
Just so he stopped looking at me like he was so disappointed in me... because I knew very well that he definitely was.
But, once I opened my mouth, he surprised me.
As he always did.
He, too, wanted to avoid any kind of conflict my stupid slip-up would bring and agreed that we should just pretend to date for a while so they'd leave us alone. The thought of Edward and I being something more than what we already were both thrilled and scared me at the same time.
It excited me because a window of opportunity to free myself of years of unrequited love was finally in my path.
But it also scared me... because even though I was angry as all hell at Jasper, I still loved him like I had for so long.
So to say I was surprised when he was the last thing on my mind all weekend would be an understatement. Edward and I spent so much time together, just being ourselves while doing laundry and washing his car. I laughed, I smiled, I kissed, and damn it all, I was happy. Simply knowing it was actually possible for me to be so happy even though I'd just experienced the worst heartbreak of all time, was what thrilled me most.
The possibility of someday letting go... I held onto that small glimmer of hope with every ounce of strength I had in me.
Edward and I parted when he had to go have dinner with his family, but not without promising to see each other again soon. He kissed me once on the cheek and drove off when I made my way inside my apartment building.
I looked down at the nicely wrapped gift Alice had handed me earlier, remembering I told her to get me something pretty. Curiously, I ripped the paper off the box and lifted the lid, knowing very well Alice would definitely not disappoint when it came to shopping.
It was a silver bracelet with only a single charm dangling from one end of it—a book. I pulled out the note underneath the material supporting the bracelet and smiled.
You said to bring you back something pretty, and so I'm hoping this is pretty enough. Huge sale at Neiman Marcus! In case you didn't know, it's a charm bracelet with a book attached because that's how we met—in Political Science. Remember how we had to lug that book around all the time? Thank goodness college is over.
I love you, Bells. And I really hope you'll forgive me for everything I've done.
I bought myself one to match. I couldn't resist. :)
I laughed while I fastened the bracelet onto my left wrist and decided to send Alice a message to let her know I loved the gift. She was probably still having dinner with her family, but I figured she could get back to me whenever they were finished.
Something pretty, indeed. Thanks Ali, I love it and more so you for getting it for me.
I pressed send and since I had nothing better to do, started on the semi-huge pile of dishes accumulating in my sink. As I scrubbed and rinsed, I looked over at the lovely arrangement of wildflowers Edward had brought me the other day, which was situated next to Jasper's wilting one. With my hands still wet and soapy, I grabbed his bunch of flowers and tossed them into the metal trashcan beside me. It wasn't out of spite that I threw them out. I did it more towards the point that seeing them just reminded me that was his way of apologizing.
I didn't need the material things as a form of kissing up, and I honestly thought he knew that. All I would have wanted was for him to come over and talk things out with me.
There was still a part of me that was bitter at him for deciding to keep everything a secret, but I was slowly letting it go since I was, even now, keeping a secret from him.
After the dishes were washed and my stomach was cupcake-happy from snacking on one, I went into my room and pulled out a booklet filled with Sudoku puzzles. As nerdy as it was, I loved solving those things. It gave me something to do and was challenging at times, so why not?
I'd only gotten one row filled out before my phone rang, flashing Edward's name on the screen. The little swarm of unexpected butterflies fluttered within my stomach as I picked it up. "Hello?"
I laughed at how relieved he sounded and wondered if Hurricane Alice finished with the gifts. "Edward," I teased, using the same tone. "What are you up to?"
"Look, I know it's kind of late... but, do you think I could come over?"
"Come over?" I asked, slightly shocked that he hadn't just shown up at my door as he had done the past two days.
"Yeah," he said. "I just really need someone to talk to."
I tossed my Sudoku puzzle to the side and was suddenly glad I'd tidied up a bit beforehand. I couldn't decide whether or not I wanted to put on some jeans or just stay in my yoga pants, but went with the latter. I was comfortable whenever Edward was around, so I felt no need to spruce up my wardrobe.
"Bella?" he asked.
Crap, I hadn't even realized that I hadn't replied to him yet. But he should have already known the answer was yes. "I'll leave the door unlocked for you."
He sighed, and I heard the jingle of his keys as he spoke, "I'll be there in a bit."
I combed my hair down and brushed my teeth just to be safe. Edward and I kissed up a storm on his parents' couch, so if it happened again, I just wanted to be prepared. I exhaled in minty satisfaction once I finished and suddenly became very curious as to what could have been eating at Edward's mind.
Not only did he not sound like the typical, flirtatious Edward I was used to, but he usually never really liked to talk about things involving himself. Whenever we were around each other, he tended to turn all our topics into things about me. The fact that, for once, it'd be about him made me all the more eager for him to arrive. I walked to the front door and unlocked it quietly, then went to the couch with my Sudoku puzzle I'd retrieved from my room and waited.
I was humming in thought as I stared at the grid of squares, trying to figure out where I could put the numbers so it'd match out evenly when a knock came at the door. I turned in that direction and smiled when Edward let himself in. With my insides suddenly very jumpy, I stood up and smiled when he took me in his arms like I was hoping he'd do.
We stayed like that for I don't even know how long. I snuggled my face into his chest and inhaled the scents of Downy and fresh, Seattle nighttime air. There was also a slight hint of mint, and not the kind that lingered on my taste buds, but the kind you picked up in sprigs at the grocery store. It was different and still very much Edward at the same time.
After we finally managed to pull away, we sat on the couch and he pulled my legs into his lap as he did earlier in the day. "So, what's on your mind?" I asked, relaxing my legs against him as he traced patterns into the fabric of my yoga pants.
"A lot," Edward admitted, leaning his head back against the couch. "I don't even know where to start."
I nudged him with my elbow and tried to let him know he could talk to me about whatever he needed to talk about. "Start at the beginning?"
He looked over at me then, his once luscious green eyes now pooled with frustration and disdain. I didn't know what could have happened in a few hours to change his mood so drastically, and now I was even more curious than before.
With a shake of his head, he held out his wrist to me. The tattoo of the "T" stared back at me as I thumbed it gently, waiting until he finally found the words to tell me what was bothering him. I knew it used to stand for Tanya at one point, and that they were engaged some time ago. Other than those two details and a bit of what Edward had told me before, I really knew nothing about her or the tattoo. As curious as I was when she was first brought up, I chose not to ask since it seemed to be a personal matter.
"Tanya and I," he started, "like I mentioned before, dated for a while. A long while. Five years to be exact. And I've known her practically my whole life. My parents were really close with her parents. We were kind of like you, Ali, and Jasper."
"There was a third person involved," I said, remembering him mentioning it.
"Yeah. His name is James. The three of us were the best of friends. We seriously did absolutely everything together. Even when Tanya and I began dating, James always stuck around since we were so used to it that way. I mean, it was weirder not having him there than it was having him there when we'd hold hands and kiss and stuff, you know?"
I nodded, waiting for him to continue.
"Everything was going so well. I mean... before I knew it, we were all on our way to graduating and going to college together away from our parents. The thought of it excited all of us like hell. I mean, the fact that I was leaving for college with the same best friends I'd had since I was ten was mind blowing. I couldn't wait to up and leave with them by my side. I proposed to Tanya before our five years because I was too fucking eager. She said yes, and we agreed a ceremony wouldn't be held until we finished college. It was all going exactly the way I'd wanted it to. And then I decided I wanted something else to prove my love for her. The ring she wore wasn't enough for me. I wanted something for me. Something I could show off and be proud of."
"And that's when you decided to get the T?"
"Yes," Edward sighed, placing his palm flat down on my thigh and shifting his gaze to the ceiling above us. "I made sure it was healed by the time our anniversary came along."
"So, what did she say?"
"She never really got to say much of anything about it, I suppose." His free hand rubbed over his face, and I couldn't help but notice the slight scruff along his chin and jaw line. How I hadn't noticed it earlier completely baffled me, because I was an absolute sucker for slightly rough-to-the-touch jaw lines.
"Since she was too busy fucking James and all to even notice I had come through the door."
My focus snapped back to his voice, and my heart went out to him as soon I saw the look in his eyes. He had told me this already that day at the park, but hearing it again was just like hearing it the first time. I was still just as shocked. He was avoiding any kind of eye contact, hands scrubbing over his face roughly as his mind assumingly played out that horrid scene before him once again.
I remembered feeling like I'd been kicked in the stomach repeatedly when I'd found out Jasper and Alice had been dating a year prior to me finding out. That hurt. I mean it really, really hurt... but I doubt it was anything compared to what Edward had had to go through.
Getting cheated on was bad enough. But, getting cheated on by your fiancée on your anniversary with your best friend of all people? I couldn't even process how much Edward had probably gone through after witnessing something so devastating.
"I told you, right? That originally, I lived here. I had lived here my whole life prior to the Tanya and James incident. When I was still in high school and doing college apps, my dad told me to sign up for as many colleges as I could, including ones in the East Coast. The plan was to stay in Washington with James and Tanya. We were all shooting for UW or SU. UC Berkley in California was another alternative if we weren't able to get into the other two. But, I listened to him and applied to other schools just to have options for myself.
"Once I found out about them, I threw my UW and SU admittance letters into the trash. I ripped up the one from UC Berkley, too. It was kind of stupid because I know I could have gotten a good education at either school while still being close to my family, but my mind was made up at the time. I wanted nothing to do with them afterwards. I didn't even walk the stage, did you know that? They mailed my diploma home, and I never got to do the thing where you lift off your cap and throw it into the air once they say 'Congratulations class of whatever, whatever'. Instead, I was packing and leaving everything and everyone I loved behind because I was too much of a coward to face my shit head on.
"And it's like... fuck. You know? Looking back on all the shit I did and didn't do because of Tanya. To look back and realize how much she was able to mess with my life... it's just..."
I let out a heavy breath through my nose and moved my legs out of Edward's lap. He looked over at me confused and before he had a chance to question my actions, I pulled his body close to mine and leaned back against the side of the couch so we were both lying down. His head rested on my shoulder blade and he shifted his weight off to the side so he didn't crush me.
I placed a kiss into his soft and messy hair and wrapped my arms around his shoulders because it was the one thing I knew would comfort him more than anything. To have someone there to listen, and to just hold you, and let you know without the use of words that everything would be okay.
"Edward, you may think you were a coward for running away, but you are braver than you think by coming back here. Regardless of the time it took you to return, the main point is that you returned at all. You need to give yourself more credit."
He turned his face at an angle where his breaths hit my neck exquisitely, though I tried to ignore it because now was not the time to try and make out. "I can't even be civil with her after all this time, Bella. I mean, I'm not in love with her anymore. At all. I swear I'm not." I believed him and waited until he went on. "But I mean, she's married and happy and all that shit, and I still can't find it in me to tell her congratulations for getting the life she's always wanted. I want to tell her that it's okay, that I've moved on and that I'm happy for her, but every time I see her, all I feel is... spite."
I inhaled and exhaled at him mentioning the fact that Tanya was already married. It was eerie how much Edward and I had in common, and it almost made me believe our meeting was not simply by luck. "When someone is living a life you were supposed to be a part of, I can imagine it being difficult to pretend you're entirely okay with it."
"Yeah," he sighed. "When I went to meet her that one time, I couldn't even look at her fingers. I was so scared... So fucking scared I'd lose my cool if I saw her wedding ring. Scared at how I'd react. Scared at how she'd react. But really," he paused briefly, "I just want to move past whatever happened. I want to be able to hang out with her and James again. I miss them a lot. Before all of this, we were so close. I miss being around them, but I know it'd be too stressing on my part. Is that... Does that make me a shitty person?"
I held him closer.
How could he ever think something like that would make him a shitty person?
"No," I spoke honestly. "They were your best friends, so of course you're going to hold onto something that huge. But, maybe what you need from Tanya and James is closure. Sit down with them when you're ready to tackle the problem again and talk to them like you're talking to me now. Hold nothing back. Let them know they hurt you, but give them the opportunity to apologize because you know they'll mean it. If they're true friends, they'll understand that you needed the time away."
"What if I can't find it in me to forget what happened?"
"No one's telling you to forget, Edward," I said, "but what you can do is forgive. It doesn't have to be today or tomorrow. Or a week from now, or a month. But you'll never be able to be around them if you can't learn to forgive the mistakes they made."
He nodded in understanding against my shoulder. "...She told me the reason why she did it was because she felt it was all moving too fast. And that the thought of already being tied down so soon scared her."
"It doesn't make it alright that she did it, but that actually makes a little bit of sense."
"It does," he agreed. "I mean, I never really thought about the fact that if her and I did continue with the engagement, that I would have never ever been with another woman except her. At the time, I just knew I loved her and that I wanted to be with her. Was that so wrong?"
"There's nothing wrong with knowing you love somebody."
There was a comfortable silence between us, with Edward's breaths on my neck and my fingers in his hair.
"I just wish... she went on about it differently," Edward sighed. "Like if she just ended the relationship telling me she wasn't ready to commit herself, I'm sure things would have been vastly different. At the very least, I doubt I would've have run off."
"Do you regret moving to Chicago?"
"In some ways yes, and in some ways no. No because it was the experience of a lifetime for me. Being so far away and in a place where I knew no one molded me into the person I am today. And yes, because I left everyone behind for my own selfish reasons. Threw everything important away for my own desire to move on."
I nodded in understanding and closed my eyes when his lips kissed my neck ever so gently.
"...The whole Jasper thing," he mumbled softly, "is it difficult for you?"
I kept my eyes closed and remained silent. Like always, he somehow managed to turn everything around so it came right back to me. "It is," I admitted. "It's hard because even though he is a self-righteous, lying prick... my heart still wants him."
"And isn't it so fucking annoying that even though he hurt you like no one else ever has, you still care?"
"And that even though they did you wrong, you still wish them the best?"
"And even though they'd never love you the way you'd want them to anymore, you can't help but think 'what if' sometimes?"
I felt tears burning the backs of my eyes upon realizing Edward was just as heartbroken as I was. He'd healed, of course, and covered up the once gaping wound left there and managed to move forward with his life like I so desperately wanted to do.
Like I so desperately needed to do...
I envied him for that. Though I knew it took not months, but years to heal, I still envied him.
"Bella," Edward murmured into my skin, brushing my neck with the lightest of touches. "Please, don't. It's okay. Everything will be okay." I didn't know how he knew I was hurting without even looking at me, but somehow he just knew.
Somehow, he always just knew.
Even when no one else did.
No one else fucking knew.
I shook my head and let the tears roll down my cheeks, feeling pathetic in thinking I was finally becoming even just a bit stronger.
Yeah, biggest lie of the century.
I wanted to point and laugh at myself because it was so hilariously sad.
My heart continued to ache as I sobbed in Edward's arms. "You don't understand how much I wish I could escape all this. I want to tell Jasper to fuck off and I want to beg Alice not to marry him, but I can't. I wish I could go to Chicago. Or anywhere far, far away from here. I wish I were strong enough to not care. I wish I didn't care at all. I wish more than anything I could leave until I was over everything, but I can't. I can't... Because they're getting married and because they're my best friends. I wish Alice knew from the beginning how I felt about Jasper. Hell, I wish he knew. How could they both be so blind? Sometimes, I wish I could come clean because maybe it'd make things easier. Maybe, right? But I can't. I can't... I'm scared and selfish and horrible and I, I just can't.
"Because, Jesus Christ, Jasper looks at her like she's the world, and she loves him more than anything else in existence... It hurts. Oh god, it hurts so much. They're so happy together, I can see it, I can feel it, and damn it all, because even though they hid things and lied and hurt me so fucking much, I could never hurt them back, even though I really, really want to sometimes... And it's like... it's just... shit..." I was blubbering and hiccupping by the time Edward pulled my face into his chest, wrapping his arms so tightly around me I thought I'd suffocate within his grasp.
In a good way though. His warmth surrounded me and provided just the right amount of comfort I needed to relax my aching heart and calm my flow of tears.
"Shhh, it's okay," he whispered into my ear, rubbing gently up and down my back to ease my body. "I'm here, Bella, don't cry."
I thought everything was getting better.
I thought I was finally letting it go.
With Edward by my side, I was honestly beginning to believe things were going to be okay.
But like so many times in the past, I thought wrong.
Of course it wouldn't be that easy.
I cried into his chest, feeling just as stupid as I always did every time I would shed tears over Jasper. I fisted the material of his jacket in my hands as I chastised myself for having such a huge breakdown in front of Edward yet again. This night was not supposed to be about me. My tears rolled freely, and I was suddenly very glad I'd decided to go without makeup for the evening.
"Bella, you may not believe me, but I know exactly how you feel," he murmured to me, continuing with the comforting up and down strokes of his hands against my back. "It's like a black hole. Pulling and pulling and pulling and you just can't get away? Sometimes, you smile and think you've conquered it, covered it up and made it a thing in the past..." He paused. "And then you look at a picture, or you hear a song, or you pass by a certain place, and every bit of hard work you put into masking that hole just falls apart, right before your very eyes."
I closed my eyes and cried a little more just because the pain I was dealing with now, was the pain Edward had dealt with for years.
"You ask yourself, 'why me?' You beg within to just let go. You feel like it's inescapable, impossible to ever get away. Like this shit is never ending and it'll only be a matter of time before that same black hole opens up again? Your mind tells you you're pathetic. Your heart calls it being broken. But either way, you just feel terrible and weak and the only thing you can do... is fucking hope it all gets better."
Once again, spot on. I clung to him, desperately needing his voice and his warmth to keep me grounded and away from the tears threatening to spill over.
"And someday, it will get better. I can guarantee you that much. I know it hurts, Bella. If anyone knows, I do. But, if I can do it, so can you." Edward kissed the trail of dampness along my cheeks and brushed away the strands of hair sticking to my face. "You are stronger than you think. Stronger than I ever was for sticking around when I took the easy way out by fleeing. No one said it was going to be easy, but you'll be okay, I promise."
After that, he just held me and hummed softly, peppering my face with light kisses every now and then until my eyes were slightly puffy, but dry.
"I'll be here. I didn't have anyone in Chicago to tell me things would be okay because I didn't trust anybody enough to let them know I was heartbroken. But you won't go through the same thing. I'm here. You've got me. Okay?"
I mumbled a quiet thank you, relieved beyond belief that he'd tell me such a thing.
Edward's hand glided slowly over my stomach as he pulled me on my side so we were chest to chest and eye to eye. I should have been self-conscious being that close to him after just having a mental meltdown, but I wasn't. "You good now?"
I nodded, unsure of how my voice was going to sound.
He smiled. "Good."
"Sorry," I mumbled, clearing my throat a bit to rid myself of the sadness still lingering within my vocal chords.
"Don't be. You're only human."
I nodded again.
"One question though," he trailed off before quickly starting up again. "Has it... gotten any easier?"
My level of sight was now aligned with his, his forest green trained on my red-rimmed chocolate brown. "Slightly," I admitted softly. "You help immensely."
His gaze softened before me as he wiped any traces of my breakdown left on my cheeks, tracing the outline of my lips with his thumb. "Let me kiss you."
It almost sounded like a question that I wished he'd stop asking me. Permission should have never been a factor but, he was enough of a gentleman to still consider asking since I'd just cried my eyes out over another man.
I placed my hand on the nape of his neck and, without a word, closed my eyes.
The answer was always going to be yes.
Slowly, I felt him lean in and press his lips to mine, moving with gentle strokes and tender nips that had my stomach aflutter.
He and I were so in sync not only physically, but emotionally as well. His pain of the past was my pain now.
I knew. He knew. We both knew now that we were almost one in the same. His heart had healed, and mine was still in the process. Without even realizing it, we were helping each other in ways so much deeper than anyone could have ever even thought of.
It was, without a doubt, the one thing I needed.
So, with Edward pressed so closely against me, I closed my mind off to any other wandering thoughts and focused only on the way his mouth moved with mine.
I didn't cry the rest of the night.
Author's Notes: Thoughts? Review, or don't. Either way, thank you for reading :)