A lot of mixed feelings on the last chapter. I understand. I didn't start out planning any angst in this story, but it was started on a whim, so once I began developing their back stories, it happened that way. The hints about Edward having a less than desirable past have been popping up since chapter three. That said, I don't have any more angst planned. :)

If you're still with me, thank you so much! I didn't get to reply to all the reviews this time, but I truly appreciate all of your feedback.

Huge thanks to Twilly and Sophiacorgi for being all around amazing.

SM owns all things Twilight. Everything else is mine, including any mistakes.


Chapter 10 - Open Book

"B…" One blond eyebrow is cocked much higher than the other, wrinkling Riley's forehead. He sits across from me, his blue eyes boring a hole into me as he speaks slowly, yet emphatically. "Please, please tell me you're not giving that asshole another chance."

Studying the bowl of chips on the table between us, I squirm under his gaze. "I'm not giving that asshole another chance?"

He sighs. Loudly.

Riley and I have dinner together every Sunday night, partly so he can fill me in on his wild weekends while I live vicariously through him and partly because neither of us really has family anymore. I haven't talked to my mom in years, and his parents disowned him when he came out, so we've become each other's family in a lot of ways.

This particular Sunday dinner is one I was dreading, knowing I'd have to come clean about Edward.

After he doubled over laughing about my hitting and injuring Edward, almost shooting margarita out his nose, he got down to business.

I peek at Riley before dunking a chip into the mild salsa and crunching away like he's not still giving me his patented double bitch-brow.

"You were a complete mess for a month over that guy."

"Hey." I have no problem looking him in the eye at that comment. "I was not a complete mess. I was sad, yes, but I mostly held it together. It sucked, but it's over now. I went to his house, and—"

"You went to his house?" Riley practically shrieks.

"He's basically bed-ridden, Ri. What the hell else was I supposed to do?"

"Oh, I don't know. Maybe talk to him on the phone." He slaps the table with an open palm. "Or better yet, don't talk to him at all!"

"Would you stop this?" I hiss at him. "Look, I know I don't always make the best choices when it comes to dating." He snorts, but I ignore him. "You've gotten me through some tough times, and I appreciate that. But I needed to know what the hell was going on with him. I deserved to know."

Riley sighs again and sits back, taking a long sip from his margarita. "I just hate seeing you get hurt," he says finally.

"I know." I pat his hand. "You're the best friend a girl could ask for, and I know you're just looking out for me. But Edward really opened up to me when I went over there, which surprised the hell out of me, considering how tight-lipped he was that day at my house." I take a sip from my own margarita before continuing. "He's been through a lot, and once he told me everything, I mostly understood why he acted the way he did. It feels like we have a clean slate now after getting everything out in the open, and I just…" I shrug. "I really like him. It's worth it to me to see where this goes."

Riley takes a deep breath and studies my face, something he does often. He knows me better than anyone. "Well… I guess I can get behind that."

I snort, my mind immediately going to the gutter.

"You would go there." He smirks. "So you're giving this guy a do-over, huh?"

Nodding, I swipe my finger through the condensation on my glass. "Something like that."

Riley sits forward with an all too familiar conspiratorial look on his face. "But you're gonna torture him first, right? At least a little?"

"Torture him? How?"

He grins. "You know. Wear super tight clothes, and make sure you bend down and stick your boobs in his face and stuff. I don't know what all the fuss is about with those things." He waves a hand toward my chest, and I glance down automatically. "But I'm willing to bet it'll kill him."

"Dude. That's fucking mean. Even for you."

Riley cackles while I ponder my wardrobe.

.

.

.

The next day, I have a small break between work and class, so I decide to go see Edward. It's been a few days since our big talk, and we've texted and talked on the phone some but haven't seen each other again. I've texted some with Alice as well, so I know she and Jasper have been helping Edward out with things around the house and providing meals for him. She's this crazy ball of energy and has taken a half-dozen casseroles over for him to freeze and eat off of, which will probably last him several weeks.

The only thing I take over is a sandwich and coffee from work.

"It's fresh this time."

Edward smiles and winks at me. "Thanks. It's great to see you."

My heart flutters as I take a deep breath—a mistake, I realize as soon as I inhale his clean scent. "Are you able to take showers?" I blurt out, instantly flushing a deep crimson when his smile transforms into a smirk.

"Wouldn't you like to know," he replies, gesturing for me to walk ahead of him to his room.

I really would.

One point for Edward.

Settling onto his bed, we unwrap our sandwiches, and he eyes me.

"What?"

"You gonna take off your coat and stay awhile?"

Curling in on myself, I shake my head. "It's fucking freezing out there. I'm still trying to thaw out."

Edward chuckles at me and then gazes at his pastrami sandwich like he's about to make love to it.

Holding in my laughter, I instead ask him how he's feeling.

"Mm." He finishes chewing his huge bite and swallows loudly. "This is good. Thank you." I smile. "I feel okay, I guess. It hurts like a bitch to sit or stand for very long, but I'm getting by."

My shoulders deflate, and I sigh. "I'm sorry."

"Hey." He reaches over and jostles my calf. "Enough of that."

How can his touching me through denim shoot tingles up my leg like that? Ridiculous.

I shake my head and go back to my sandwich. The silence isn't awkward like I thought it might be while we finish our lunch. Our eyes connect several times, and it feels like a whole new person is lying here in front of me, smiling my favorite smile as he chews. Edward's an open book for me now, full of pages I can't wait to read. He told me over the phone that he doesn't want any secrets between us anymore, and it brought me intense relief. Although he'd already spilled some of the darkest secrets he'd been holding on to, I still hadn't fully trusted him to not close himself off again.

Once our lunch has been devoured, I get up and throw our trash away, letting Bree in from the back yard on my way back from the kitchen. Deciding I don't want to go back to Edward with dog drool all over my face, I don't bend down to her level this time. Her tail thumps the floor as she sits and lets me scratch behind her ears for a moment, though. She gets a good lick in on my hand before following me into Edward's room and settling down on her dog bed in the corner, so I wash it quickly in his adjoining bathroom.

"Thanks," he says as I climb back up onto his bed.

"No problem." Feeling too warm now, I shed my coat and lay it on the floor behind me. When I turn back toward Edward, his eyes go wide and fixate on my chest.

I may or may not have taken Riley's advice. Just a little bit.

My sweater is fitted but not 'super tight'. It's a v-neck, and it dips low enough to show the very tops of my breasts in the middle. Just a little cleavage. Totally acceptable.

Edward's deep green eyes narrow and then focus back on my face. "You're not playing fair," he says in a low voice that causes a tremor to roll through me.

In our text conversations, we agreed to take things slow this time around. Partly because sex is off the table anyway due to Edward's injury and partly because we feel it'll help us build a better foundation for our relationship.

I flick my hair over my shoulder as nonchalantly as possible. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

He cocks an eyebrow at me. "Uh-huh."

I have to bite my lip to contain my smile. "So…" I clear my throat. "Your tattoos?"

Chuckling, he shakes his head, giving my breasts another pointed glance before adjusting himself. A moan almost escapes my mouth at seeing his hand touch his dick, but I hold it in. He leans back and pushes his sleeves up to reveal the ink on his muscled forearms.

"I chose lettering that would be tough to make out unless you're right up close."

I huff. "No kidding."

Edward laughs softly through his nose, and his eyes get all happy. I sigh like a girl at the sight.

"This one here," he says, running his finger along the script on his left arm, "is for me."

I turn my head to read it clearly. There's a star at each end—U.S. Army stars, I realize. Where there is no struggle, there is no strength.

Knowing what I know about his past, it makes perfect sense.

Edward clears his throat. "I thought I was strong, but it turns out I was wrong about that." His eyes burn into mine, and I get the message. He feels as though he was weak when it came to me.

"You are strong, Edward. You've been through a lot."

"So have you." He shakes his head. "So have a lot of people. It's no excuse."

I shrug. "Well, we can't undo what happened, but we can make the best of our do-over."

His eyebrows shoot up. "Do-over? Is that what this is?"

"Well, yeah. I mean, two people are supposed to get to know each other before sticking their hands down each other's pants, right?" I'm trying to lighten the mood a bit, and thankfully he laughs.

"Probably."

We smile at each other a moment, and then I touch the angel wings on his right arm. "For the firefighter?"

He clears his throat and nods. "Yeah. And the quote is for my mom."

I run my finger along it as I read. Nothing can dim the light which shines from within. My eyes sting as I stare at it, my index finger lingering at Edward's wrist. "That's beautiful."

He grasps my hand when the first tear splashes onto my cheek. "My mother has a beautiful heart, even after everything. She could easily blame me, but she doesn't."

Nodding, I wipe my eyes with my free hand and squeeze his with the other. "These are amazing. Thank you for telling me about them. They're obviously very personal, and I feel bad about pushing you so much to tell me."

Edward tugs on my hand, and his eyes stay on mine as I get closer and closer until I'm lying right up against him. He wraps his arm around my back and heaves a deep sigh. "That's better."

I know exactly how he feels—like a missing piece of myself was just slotted back into place when our bodies made contact. It makes no sense. We still don't know each other that well, but there's no doubt about how I feel. I've never felt it with anyone else.

Edward's hand rests on my hip, and his thumb caresses the skin just beneath the hem of my sweater. "I don't want you to feel bad, Bella. I was uncomfortable with you knowing so much about me because you're so amazing, and I never in a million years thought you'd want anything to do with me past that day, but now…" He lays his hand on top of mine, eclipsing it. "I want things with you that I've never wanted with anyone before. Things I never felt like I deserved. And it scares the fuck outta me, if I'm being honest." My head rests on his bicep, and I lay a kiss on the side of his pec, earning a smile.

"What kinds of things?"

After a deep inhale and noisy exhale, he shifts to face me, his hand splaying across my back. "I want to take you on dates and hold your hand." He plays with my fingers, lifting each one from his chest and caressing it before moving on to the next. "I want to see you in my clothes every single day." I smile, remembering how I felt wearing his huge white t-shirt. "I want you here with me all the time, Bella. No one has ever made me feel the way you do."

My smile stays firmly in place. "So you're saying I should move in tomorrow?"

His eyes dip down, just for a second, to my cleavage, which is much more pronounced in this position. "God, if only."

"You wouldn't be able to stand my messiness."

Edward's hand glides down my side and comes to rest on my waist. "That's probably true. But I'd put up with a lot if it meant I could have you here and not be missing you every second you're gone."

I love that he says exactly what he means. "I miss you when I'm gone too."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah."

"I wish I'd had the balls to tell you how much I liked you back in high school. We might just be living together by now." He smiles and winks at me.

"You really liked me that much?"

"As much as I could for not actually knowing you, yeah." He chuckles, and the backs of his fingers skim down my cheek. "I knew how unbelievably smart you are. I knew you were sweet and kind. You never looked down on me like the others. Just seeing your bright smile in the halls was the highlight of my day. And even though I fucking hated those bullies, I almost looked forward to them tripping me in the cafeteria just so there'd be a chance you'd come and smile directly at me."

Tears blur my vision, and I bury my face in his chest.

He sighs and runs a hand down the back of my head. "I wish a lot of things had turned out differently."

Sniffling, I pull back and look into his eyes. "I think some things happen the way they do for a reason. Maybe we weren't meant to be back then."

"And now?" he asks, hope lighting up his eyes.

"Now… Well, I don't have all the answers, but I know I wouldn't be here if I didn't think it was worth it. If I didn't think you were worth taking a chance on. Plus… you're kinda hot."

Edward laughs a deep, hearty laugh and curls his other arm around me. He squeezes me against him and buries his scruffy face in my hair. "Thank you."

My head shakes slightly. "For what?"

"For being here. For thinking I'm worth it."

My hand moves to cradle the back of his head. "You are. Please don't doubt that." I scratch my nails down to his neck, and he lets out a low moan. "I know you don't want me to treat you with kid gloves." He told me as much during one of our conversations. He doesn't want his past to keep affecting our relationship. "But don't forget that I'm choosing you. My feelings for you are real, and I'm here. I'm not going anywhere."

Hearing a sniffle from him makes a tear leak out of the corner of my eye, sliding into my hair. "My feelings for you are real too, Bella." His voice is muffled by my hair. "My track record isn't so great, but I'm not going anywhere either. Ever." His fingers press into my flesh where he's holding me. "Not unless you want me to."

"Just don't pull any more stupid stunts like you did, and I won't." We both chuckle through tears, and the need to be even closer to him overwhelms me. I sling my leg over his hip, forgetting about his injury until he yelps and pushes me back.

"Oh, shit. Sorry, sorry, sorry."

Edward's eyes are squeezed shut, his whole face scrunched in pain, and his hands bunch up into fists.

"You okay?" I squeak out.

One eye cracks open to peek at me. "Maybe those kid gloves are a good idea after all."


Thank you so much for reading! xoxo