Chapter nineteen

Aro Vouch died of a heart attack in prison.

For me, the news was an odd mix of relief and disappointment. I'd wanted him to rot forever in a dingy, dank cell, and the darkest parts of me wanted to hear reports of violence and pain and attacks on him- but I suppose the hell he will be in for eternity is fine, too.

We found out via the local channels. No big deal was made this time around; it was simply a small blurb of a story right before the weather. No cable stations picked it up, and no one huddled together for support or to celebrate or commiserate, which was fitting. He didn't deserve one more moment of notice, one more second of our lives.

"Huh," Edward uttered, long limbs splayed on my couch when the news filtered from the television, a background distraction. He snapped his gum twice then changed the channel.

I kept still and looked at him from the corner of my eye. His phone pinged, a text from his mother asking if he'd heard and whether he was okay. He quickly texted a response and tossed his phone on the coffee table.

"You alright?" I asked, wedging my feet under his legs.

"Yeah," he said slowly, then he lolled his head in my direction and his brows furrowed before he smiled, "Yeah," he said again, almost surprised to be saying it and meaning it. "I am. It's…whatever."

"But is it?" I asked.

"I guess it has no bearing on me either way. I mean…I'm glad we're no longer breathing the same air and all. Other than that, he wasn't going to affect me any further anyway. I decided that already. I'm dealing with the damage he inflicted, and I'll be damned if I take anymore. I guess if he had the possibility of parole or something I'd be a lot more relieved, but he didn't. So. Whatever."

The thing was, his words and his demeanor weren't withdrawn or passive-aggressive or even laced with dark or sad. He meant that- whatever.

"Listen to this," I said, sitting up. I slid my feet out but he caught them by the ankles.

"Listening," he said.

"You know you're amazing, right?"

"Yes. I've always known that."

"No, seriously." Both of my palms were on his cheeks now. I could tell he was going to look away from this moment; he was prone to looking away and denying shit whenever I started in on him, and I wasn't going to let him this time.

"Please don't call me brave or strong," he said, shaking his head, still sandwiched by my hands. "Trust me, I wouldn't have gone through that willingly. It's got nothing to do with strong or brave. I hate when people say that. It happened to me. I didn't pick it—I wouldn't have. Who would? And I sure as hell wouldn't go through it again. And as far as his death…I knew I'd outlive him. Once, one time in particular…" He looked over at me, gauging my face before speaking again, "I thought he for sure he was going to kill me."

"You did?" I breathed. I mean, I'd figured as much, but for how much Edward and I had talked about it, he never went there. To actual things that had actually happened.

He nodded and sat back on the couch, toying with my fingers.

"It was a weird time. Well. It was all weird but in that weird context, it was weird. It was awhile in to it—I'm not sure, my time perception when I think back on it isn't great. But I'd stopped physically fighting him. I was just…you know. You kind of go to a place of what-the-fuck-ever. I was always physically stronger than him, but he had guns and knives and shit, so it was never much of a physical fight. He'd usually end it as soon as it started—whatever," he said, flinching, shaking that line of thinking off. "I think when this happened he thought that I'd reached a place of- complacency? I guess I did. He wasn't so aggressive when he talked to me. He would like, make conversation about movies or the news or baseball, so I think he thought that I'd just…given up. And then he comes at me one day, and I was just so fucking done. So over it. And just…pissed. When someone just does what they want to—pffff. I was done. I told him that. And that's when he told me, he said, 'if you're done, I'm gonna fucking kill you.' And he meant it." It was all recited stoically- not in an emotionless way, but more like it was something he'd said or maybe just thought over and over, something he had lived and just now re-lived. He held his fingers to his temple like a gun for emphasis.

I recoiled in on myself, but he reached out to grasp my fingers tightly, and I knew I didn't know the whole story of his everyday with that guy. I wondered if I ever would, and I wondered if I wanted to. But then…I wanted to know whatever he needed to tell me.

"You know something weird? I thought about it. I was almost relieved. I thought, 'oh my god, there is a way out of this and I fucking want it.' I wanted to die," he said, his lips pressing into a thin line before continuing, "but at the same time, there were so many things I wanted to live for. Things I didn't have anymore but knew were still out there.

"Then one day, it was sort of... different? I looked at him. Like, really looked at him, not just through him as I'd been doing for however long. He was old. I think he must've had liver problems because his eyes were kind of yellow and obviously, his heart was shit. That's when I started calculating? Like, I just knew…I'd just have to outlive him. It became this thing where I had to keep on going longer than he could. That's how I got through it all, like it was some competitive game.

"When I knew he was gonna take some kid, I knew I couldn't let him do it to someone else; I just couldn't, which was kinda selfish, too. Because I knew that as soon as he replaced me, he was going to kill me. There was no way around it. He couldn't snatch up another kid and then just let me go. I mean, no way was I gonna let him kill me, not after all I'd been through would he just kill me. I didn't go through all that for nothing. If it ended that way, I may as well have let him shoot me the night he took me. I guess I could've died trying to get out? I knew it was a possibility, but then I figured…I figured…it'd be on my terms, whatever happened. By that point, I was so done that I saw it as either get out or die."

I slowly moved closer to him and he lifted his arm, letting me under it, then put his chin on top of my head. I thought back to that boy- not the boy from before, not the man sitting here now, but that boy in between. The one who I launched myself at when he came home. The wild-eyed, sad, scared and angry boy who had been returning from things like what he'd just said. So fresh from that terrible fucking fight for his life and his hope.

He had come so far.

"I didn't mean to freak you out," he said. "I've told that one a lot, so I can be kind of-"

"I'm glad you told me."

"Okay," he said. We heard the name Aro Vouch on the television again, and Edward shifted. I looked up at him as he blinked at the television in some kind of revelation that I was aware of because he told me, but I'd never known the gravity of until just then. "I outlived him," he said, staring at the TV. "I won."

"Of course you did. You're the best," I told him.

He let go of my hands and raised both of his fists in the air, followed by a wryly triumphant, "Yesssssssss."

I gave him a slow clap while he celebrated his victory over my unprompted admission, then he demanded I say it again, holding my ankle as hostage. I cackled, mostly because of the wonderment of what we could do together. Of what we were capable of now. Talking and going on. Taking things as they came up, but still able to return to us.

"So now that I took my turn sharing secrets, are you gonna tell me what you're hiding in there?" he asked, poking the front pocket of my shirt, where a piece of paper crinkled under his touch.

"How did you know?" I asked, incredulous, sitting up straight and turning my body to face him.

"You're like, the worst hider of things ever."

"I am not!"

"Yes, you are. You look down at your knees and your face gets red at random intervals throughout the day whenever you're hiding something."

"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. I do not," I said…looking up from my knees.

"Right. Are you gonna tell me or…"

I sat back and sighed, pulling the paper from my pocket. I made a show of unfolding it and splaying it between us.

I held it there with one hand and with my other stuck my thumbnail between my teeth, watching him from the corner of my eye.

He hadn't applied to any schools.

There was no draft for him either.

Turns out he was right years ago when he said "anything could happen."

Edward's eyes flicked at the paper, back to me, then the paper again while I held my breath.

My first reaction when I realized I had to tell him was guilt. Because it almost felt like bragging? Or maybe rubbing it in his face that I wasn't robbed of opportunities the way he was. Then it occurred to me…Edward can still do anything. He can make choices. He still has opportunities and decisions and all of that.

I wouldn't lie to him. No one should ever lie to him or treat him like he cannot handle things—he can handle anything.

"No shit?" he asked, a smile, the big one, the real one, unfurling on his face.

I nodded, nail still wedged in my teeth, but my heart started to speed up when he yanked the paper from under my palm and held it closer to his face.

He read it once, the entire thing, then flipped the paper over to make sure he hadn't missed anything.

"Where's the whole thing?" he asked.

"It's this huge packet. I just wanted to show you…I got in. And where and all of that." He looked down and read it again, quietly, but when he looked up, he was beaming.

"Congratulations," he said brightly, then shook his head, looking down again. "Look at you. I'm proud of you."

"Stop it."

"I am," he insisted. "Be proud of yourself, too. This is…" he trailed off and then gazed at the television a second, still grasping that letter.

"Bittersweet?" I whispered, but his eyes quickly snapped back to mine.

"No," he said vehemently. "Only sweet."

"But you…okay. I'll be blunt. You've got to be thinking that it could have been you reading a college acceptance letter, too. I didn't want to like, rub it in or-" He laughed at the caution on my face, then ran his fingertip between my brows, smoothing the furrow there.

"Maybe it's a thought…but it's not a bitter one. Just a passing idea, or whatever. I try not to think in terms of what could be…when it's simply not."

"Edward, how can that even not be-"

"Easy," he shrugged. "There are a ton of kids- people- out there who are like me, but who never come home. There are some out there right now, going through…hell," he said simply before flinching and flicking up the brim of his hat. "That fucking bothers me. But I'm here," he said, then patted his own chest, "I mean, here I am."

"Here you are," I said, smiling softly at him.

"So, like- how can I feel bitter about stuff like that? I still get a chance to go and do that. Or anything I want. I have that, and it might be more work or not what I planned, but so what? The point is, I can. And there are a shit-ton of people just like me who cannot. Who never will. So awhile back, I decided that I'm not gonna take any of it for granted. I can't spend one minute feeling like that when there are people who'd give anything- anything- victims, parents, friends, girlfriends—to be here. To come home. I'm not bitter. I'm lucky."

"I didn't know you felt like that."

"For a long time, I didn't. Because it just seemed like…why me? Why does everyone else get to escape this hell and my life was chosen to be fucked over, you know? There was therapy and all that, and it helped. But Bella, do you wanna know what really slapped me in the head?"


"There but for the grace of God go I."

"What now?"

"I notice those kids. Pictures of missing people, like... everywhere. Fliers, little stories on the news, on cans at grocery store registers with nothing but pennies inside," he said, rolling his eyes, giving a disgusted laugh. "It used to be nothing, a blur or 'oh that sucks'- but now, those people on cans? They're me. The only difference is some of them- most of them- won't come home, and I did. So easily, they could be me. How could I feel bitter? Who the hell am I to be bitter about it? I am the miracle they all hope for, every second of every day, and I won't waste it. Feeling sorry for myself- wasting the very thing they all pray for- would be like kicking them in the face. Like, how dare I even…"

"Because you went through it and I think that if you wanted, you'd have every right to feel pissed off about everything taken from you," I countered. I admired his viewpoint, I was blown away by it, but I didn't want him to think he'd been through hell so he should never again feel justified in feeling…shitty.

"I did. I did do that. I can't do that forever! I don't want to. I have a second chance, in a way, and that's not how I want to use it. Stop begging me to be angry and depressed," he said with a laugh, tugging my ponytail.

"I just can't wrap my mind around how much better you are than I am," I said, and I laughed, because it was true.

"Don't worry, most can't. I am awesome. My therapist tells me so."

"So awesome that I can't leave you. I'm not going. So. I mean, a long time ago, I accepted or whatever but you know what? I Googled it, and do you have any idea how many incoming freshmen just don't show up? It's crazy, but-"

"You're going to Dartmouth," he said, pushing my feet away from him.

"No. I thought about it. I'm not."

"You are going to school."

"Listen, Dad. I get what you're trying to do here, but it's my decision. I am not ready to go to school. I've got a… therapist here."

"That bastard isn't wiping out your future. No. Fuck no," Edward said, shaking his head.

"He isn't doing shit. I am," I said, pointing to my chest. "I've lost a lot of time with you and I—me—for meI'm not ready to leave you."

"If I'd never been gone, you'd be going. If I never came back, you'd be going. I am the common denominator here. And I get that you're entitled to your feelings and decisions and all that—but B. You're going to school. You're fucking going."

"Are you going to put me on a plane and make me sit in classes?" I laughed. "I'm not going."

"Fine," he said, "Stay in Forks. But I'm not going to be here."

"What?" I asked, my brows furrowing. "What are you saying?"

"I told you. I told you I can't stay here. I can't live at my parents' house forever. I've got to start living, too."

"Where are you going?" I asked, but it came out this weird, desperate mewl, making me into the girl I did not want to be.

"I have no idea," he shrugged. "But I'm pretty sure I can coach little league in any of the fifty states. That's the thing about community colleges. They're in every community."

I snatched the remote, nearly knocking down a glass of water in my haste, and flipped the television off, my heart pounding at the insane notion of having my cake and eating it, too.

"They have community colleges in New Hampshire," I said carefully.

He ran a hand down his face and pulled his upper lip into his mouth.

"Just…think about it for a second," I said. "You want to leave here anyway. I've got somewhere to go. I think given the circumstances, I can get out of living in the dorms-"

"Whoa," he said, holding a hand up. "Just. Stop."


"Don't take this badly," he said. He tilted his head to the side, this action of sympathetic expression he's taken to giving right before he says something that he thinks will hurt my feelings. "But I don't want to live with you."

It stung. How could it not? Those kinds of statements generally do. But he has to say them and I have to hear them because we both know that we can't afford lying or side-stepping. Not if we want…us. More than once, I've nodded along or listened and went home and cried or ended up yelling at my own therapist about how I know it's not him rejecting me, I know that—but still. My very original feelings remain in a very unique situation and sometimes, even though I know it's not me he's pushing against—it hurts.

"Oh. Right, no. Of course," I said, waving my hand, my cheeks turning red at my ridiculous, so far off, runaway idea.

"I'm sorry," he said quietly, his knee bobbing quickly now, his face turned away. "I'm sorry."

"No, don't be."

"Okay. I won't be. I'll just add it to the list of one more thing Bella loses because-"

"I'm not going there right now," I said. "If you want to, go ahead. But you told me and I'm cool with it, so."

He sighed and cracked his gum, twice and hard.

"I have to try it on my own," he said. "I have to know I can. Because me and you? If we did that and it did work out, it means I will have never been on my own. Maybe not such a big deal before, but now? Like. I have got to know if I can do it. I just do. It's kind of a big thing for me to just…know I can do that. And you, too. We're already too young to be living together. Add our super special fucking circumstances and…" he trailed off, then bumped my knee with his. "Besides, when we do that, I want us to really be able to do that. All of that. And I want it to be because it's time, not because you were leaving and I wanted out of here."

"I know," I sighed, and I did. "It was just…I got ahead of us. Sue me," I said. "You're right."

"For what it's worth," he said, "it did enter my mind."

"Ah. To be a blip on Edward Cullen's radar," I sighed dreamily.

"Don't make me feel bad for you," he said, tugging the ends of my hair.

"It's just…I want this more than I want school. Or anything. And it's like what you said before, about wasting second chances or whatever. I got you back, so how do I walk away from that? I'm not going. I'm not leaving the only thing I've been waiting on. That's dumb. And I thought we were doing really well. I don't want to-"

"What about not together but…close?" he asked.

"How close? Neighbors close? A bike ride close? A six hour car ride close?"

"Somewhere around Hanover close. I have no problem with that. It'd be like how it is here, you know?"

"You'd do that?"

"I'm going to get your ass to school one way or another," he grinned.

"Not for me. You'd do that for you and be okay with it?"

"I told you I was going anyway, I told you I didn't know where. It doesn't matter much where, and I definitely don't want to be far from you. I'm not like, trying to end us. Believe it or not, I like to be around you, too. I'm not ready to be so far, either. I just don't want to be sharing a bathroom with you."

"Where the hell is Hanover again? So like, we go to Hanover and then what?" I asked, my stomach rolling and the future was so wide that I wanted to know all of the plans, from now until forever.

"I don't know," he laughed. "Figure out what we're gonna be."

"And you'll do that in Hanover. With me," I said again, slowly.

"I think I promised Siberia once a long time ago, even. I feel like I'm getting off easy with Hanover."

I couldn't even laugh, though the giddiness was wound and coiled in my chest, just on the brink; all I could do was look at him and me. Look at us—having made it and now, with the world in front of us so vast and huge and scary. Terrifying and heart-splitting. But look at us.

Look at him.

I lurched myself at him, probably too hard because he made a noise and splayed his limbs out but I kissed his face all over until he finally caught my mouth with his own.

We'd mastered kissing by then; our kisses didn't leave the proverbial bruises I thought they might. They didn't snag on wounds or end in shouting or tears or aloneness. But- we're not ready for much more than that.

Then Charlie swung through the living room and didn't even pause as he said, "Get your hormones off of my couch."

Edward and I laughed, heaving ourselves up and nearly out the door. As for hormones, they rage on and on. We haven't exactly appeased them. And it's okay. Almost one time, things went a bit farther but it basically ended abruptly and turned into shouting and tears and hurt feelings which I tried to mask and Edward going from pissed off to guilt-stricken—but it's something I'm working on in therapy. It's not me he's rejecting is what I have to learn to fully believe. Clearly, we're just not ready for more than what we have now. But what we do have is pretty wonderful.

We'll get there, though. We will and, be both know it. We're on this tenuous, tension-filled brink and ironically, for my part, it's kind of exhilarating to proceed with patience and caution. It's like making the effort not to peek at Christmas presents, or maybe it's more accurate to say it's a build-up of not only the usual thing-like sexual frustration-but cultivating and gradually getting closer means to build up trust and a whole different kind of intimacy.

Our kisses aren't what they once were. We aren't on some kind of zooming path to progress, to rounding first base and stealing third or whatever. When we touch, when we kiss, it's not really with the intention of going further…more just with the intention of showing…I love you.

When it does happen- when we make that leap or transition or jump that hurdle or maybe just slip right into it in the back seat of my car, it will be with liberating lift of a giant, invisible weight. It will be this conscious and aware, so aware thing. Behind us, we know how devastating life can be—ahead, we know how wonderful it can be and we know, now we know, not to take a single good moment for granted. When we're together that way, it will be with the fight for us left way behind and we will know how lucky we are and how momentous the moment is.

In a weird way, I'm relieved, even grateful that it didn't happen before. I will always love the boy he was back then, but I want my first time, I want us to start together with him being the man he is right now. I want him to have no doubt that he, exactly how he is, with what he's been through and how he came out on the other side of it, is exactly who I want.

A lot of him is the same, but some of him isn't. He's slower now. Not in action, but in thought. He goes off into quieter spaces all on his lonesome now. He has strength and confidence that I think he's always had—it's just that he found it; he's concentrated on it and made it more concentrated. If he can pull himself through that hell- and he did- he is, in fact, the strongest, bravest man I know.

Who wouldn't want their first time to be with someone like that?


"You cannot be serious," Esme said, the warm smile she had when she first spotted our conjoined hands turning into a blank stare. She leaned against her running dishwasher, legs crossed at the ankles and arms crossed over her chest, waiting.

"Sorry," Edward said. "But I am. I knew you'd be like this. That's why I wanted to tell you while Dad was still at work. I want to tell him by himself, too."

Esme pursed her lips and kind of narrowed her eyes.

"What if you're not ready?" she asked calmly, a contemplative question.

"What if?" he asked balefully, then shook my hand off, his voice raising. "I can't do that—if I never do anything because I might not be ready, then I'll never do anything! I can't keep waiting to start my life, Ma. I lost two years. I'm fucking tired of wasting time, and I've given up complete control over every damned thing that happens to me. I'm over it. I want my life back."

"Preparing yourself is not time wasted," Esme said, patiently but sharply, and it was plain to see these conversations happened pretty often around here. I've witnessed a few myself.

"I didn't survive this shit to come back and live like a victim forever," he said hotly. "So stop trying to keep me one."

"Edward, you know that is ridiculous. I don't want you to be a victim, I want you to be happy," Esme said sadly. "If it doesn't work, I don't want to have to watch you beat yourself up over it. It's better just to wait and-"

"Yeah, well, I won't come crawling back here if it doesn't work," he said, and it was meant to hurt her, surely. But Esme just sighed and dropped her hands.

"You can always come back here. But why risk anything by moving too soon?"

"Who says it's too soon? You?" he asked, raising his eyebrows, jerking his chin at her.

"Yes. Me," Esme said, nodding, her hands on her hips now. I took a step back, ready to escape the escalating awkwardness. I really thought they should have privacy for this particular blow-out.

"Stop," they both said to me at the same time.

He reached out and took my hand, then looked down at me.

"I just wanted to give you guys some space," I said quietly.

"You're in this, too," Esme said. "Do your parents know about this?"

"Her parents don't get to dictate where I live, and it's not like I'm shacking up with her. Everyone already knows everything about my body, Mom. You might as well know I am an embarrassing, emasculating degree away from having sex," he said, and my jaw unhinged but Esme just stared at him, looking pretty used to his shocking claims before he continued. "And you're just going to grasp at anything here. It's useless. I have a life. I'm going to live it, and that's all there is to it."

"And I want you to!" she said. "More than anything! But I want you to do it with caution and consideration and remember that you do have a whole life in front of you so you don't have to rush into anything." He laughed without humor, shaking his head from side to side.

"Ma, I make decisions slowly these days, haven't you noticed? I think really fucking hard about everything I do before I do it because I don't get to be a carefree asshole anymore, and that's okay. But don't say I'm making a rushed decision when I put more thought into everything than most people. All I do is think about everything, so don't you dare sit here and tell me I rush. Give me credit, because I deserve it. I know when to go slow and I know what I can and cannot handle." Esme's face started to crumple, and Edward noticed it straight away since he had just been glaring at her, getting closer and closer. "I get that it's hard for you to let me go. I get what my empty bedroom means to you now. I get that you'll be worried, and I'm sorry for that. I really am, but I can't pause because you're not ready."

"What makes you so sure you're so ready?" she asked, sniffling but not quite crying.

I expected him to say, "I'm not sure but I have to try" or "I know I'm sure because I'm sure" or maybe just the old "pfff" stand-by.

What I did not expect was the complete look of offense and insult and pissed that overtook him as soon as the words were out of her mouth.

"I know," he said, low and slow. "you have sat through depositions and therapy sessions and have heard every word of what I recounted. I know you think you know how it was…but nobody but me has any idea of exactly what kind of hell that was. I lived it and I got out, and I am still breathing." He pointed his finger at his mother as he continued. "In the meantime, you have my name on a plaque on a bench. You counted me out once, and now you're doing it again."

"I never-" she said incredulously, her eyes wide and filling with tears. Her voice rose as she continued. "I never stopped-"

"The point is, I know what I'm capable of, even when the rest of the world doubts me. I know exactly what I can overcome and how far I can push my own limits. And so when you ask me how I know I'm sure?" His smile, that smirk that isn't necessarily meant to be sweet but more to show he's a confident, smug thing resurfaced. "It's because I got through all of that. I know I can do anything."

I sat next to him in the car while he whipped us out of the driveway minutes later. I was shell-shocked; he was coming down from his fight with his mother.

"Should you leave her that way?" I asked.

"We need the space from each other. We both know that," he said. "That wasn't exactly an uncommon shit-show at my house."

We drove down the street, leaving things at his house messy and half-unfurled, but that is kind of how life was going to be. And I think it's how life is. Or at least, how our life will be. Some strings stay frayed or untied, always a work in progress.

The longer we drove, the calmer he became, easing down into the seat, fiddling with the radio and digging for the ever-present package of Trident in the console.

"You're strong," I commented.

"I know."

It wasn't one of those "but you came out stronger so it was worth it" things. Edward would have found his bravery and strength and confidence anyway. He would've. Shit happened, and there is nothing that can be done to change it, so you go with it; you live with it.

And over and over and over, Edward chooses to live. That's how I was sure, too.

Of him.

Of what we were doing.

He chooses to live. For himself, for the things he wants and will do, for those whose shoes he's walked in that cannot or will never for themselves, Edward chooses to really live.


Edward drives us- not in a rusty pick-up truck, but in a used Volvo his parents bought him- to an off-road field that could hold only bad memories, but somehow, it doesn't. It has horrific and wonderful memories, and we don't avoid. We go forward.

Edward put his hand, palm up, on my thigh and wiggled his fingers until I placed my hand on his.

My feet wedged under his thigh.

I ran a finger over his Adam's apple.


"Oh my God, stop it," he laughed, catching my hand.

"Just making sure you're not a dream."

"That's terrible," he said. "It's a good thing you don't actually have to use pick-up lines. You'd get nowhere."

The boys are out in the field, and it will be one of the last times, for awhile anyway. Our days are dwindling here, and that is bittersweet.

Emmett is going to play ball at U-Dub, and he will be doing it without his pitcher wing-man.

Rosalie is off to Oregon. She told me they'll give long-distance a go, and maybe they'll break up, but when I asked why she wasn't so upset about that she laughed and said, "Bella. Even if we break up, we're going to end up together. I think that's obvious at this point."

Jess, Mike and Jasper are going to California. Mike will go to school and Jess wants to get her cosmetology license. Jasper claims he'd like to open a lunch truck and learn how to surf.

Underlying all of our discussions about the future and the "when you get there, call me"s, there's this eagerness laced with wistful sadness. l know you can make plans but sometimes, they just don't work out.

"It'll be good," Jess was saying, twisting off a cap on a bottle of beer, which I declined when she offered me one. Edward doesn't drink anymore, and he says he's used to people around him drinking—that he has to be— but I won't either. Solidarity and all that. "I think Cali will be a fresh start for us."

I glanced at Rose and she rolled her eyes.

"Jessica, he is going to do the same shit there. With like, a whole new, untapped pool of retail chicks to hit on. Have you seen the malls in LA? Like, that place called the Grove or something is where famous people shop. US Weekly wouldn't lie about that."

Jess opened her mouth then closed it before sighing.

"I know, okay?" she said.

"Don't go with him," Rosalie said. "Or go, just go with Jasper or go alone."

"Here's where it gets sick," Jessica said, lowering her voice, so Rose and I leaned in. "He promised he would stop this shit, and for like, six weeks, he did."

"Really?" I asked, wrinkling my nose.

"Yes. And I was bored out of my mind," Jessica said. "I like having to hang onto him, I think. I'm like, addicted to the drama."

"No shit." Rose said flatly.

"Shut up. It's news to me," Jess shrugged.

"You're such a mess," I laughed.

"I know. It's wild," she said, waving it all off before sipping her beer.

There was clatter and whooping coming from the field- the boys or men, now, I suppose, were pseudo-arguing about Mike pitching a ball that was out of bounds, but according to Mike and Jasper, not out of bounds. Or a foul or whatever they called it.

"The ball landed past the hat!" Emmett hollered, pointing down at the hat set up in place as a boundary. "Are you blind?"

"Liar! McCarty tells lies!" Jasper called out, pointing at Emmett, like he was six years old. "Does U-Dub know you told such lies to get that scholarship?"

"You're such an asshole," Emmett laughed, slapping Jasper's finger down. "Come on, ladies. We need you for boundary markers."

"Oh, what a dream job for a girl," Rosalie said, hand to her forehead in a mock swoon before slowly flicking her wrist up, then her middle finger.

Jess, Rose and I ended up making a half a diamond around the boys, shouting and heckling at them at any given opportunity, particularly Jessica, tossing out filthy words about Jasper's mom and flicking peanuts at Edward.

On Mike's fourth bad pitch, Emmett dropped the bat and Edward groaned from his position as catcher.

"I can't play with amateurs anymore," Emmett declared, fists on his hips. Jasper swooped in and picked up the bat.

"I can. Put her here, big guy," he called out to Mike.

Things went slow and fast then, all horseplay and foul words, laughter and running, like kids—but almost-adults, kind of saying good-bye.

I laughed from my spot just on the edge of the outfield, watching, simply thrilled to just be.

I looked at each of my friends- I mean, I really looked, and in them, I saw the strongest parts of myself reflected back. All of these pieces that had held me up and put me in my place. All of my weaknesses and my strengths, right there, sort of playing baseball and goofing off and being carefree. My smile was closed but so, so wide, and my eyes started to water, my chest suffused with that feeling. You know the one? That feeling when everything is so close to perfect- when you know you are loved and loved back, and not just by the person you hold in your heart. It was one of those moments that at the time, you're quite certain it's a Moment. That you're going to remember it days and years and lifetimes later, always.

After all we had been through, not just me and Edward, but all of us- here we were, right back where we'd started before it all went to pot. But, well. Not so much.

Sure, we were older now. That wasn't the difference.

We were different now, the entire world was different now.

We'd lost our innocence, each of us in different ways. It'd been replaced with the kind of knowledge that the jaded or wounded carry, only we shouldered our burden happily. That was the difference. We were the lucky ones, and we knew it. We lived the worst kinds of things, the kind no one ever wants to contemplate much less live through. But... we know of better things now, too. Miraculous things.

We'd survived a nightmare, then a miracle, the the destructive and heart-bruising consequences of both.

We approach with caution now, but nowhere near like then. We always keep dangers and nightmares just outside of the edges of the periphery. Whether it's because it's the smart thing to do or because we'll never completely forget doesn't matter—that's just the way it is.

"All right, back up," Edward was saying, after he's swiped the mitt off of Mike's hand.

"Show 'em how it's done, son!" Emmett called, and Rosalie and Mike and Jasper and Jessica clapped and shouted, but as we all repositioned ourselves, a quiet fell over the night sky.

I watched Emmett, his face taking on a quiet and sobering expression. He crouched low into to his catching position, mitt poised, eyes on his pitcher—and I knew right then. Maybe it was the sudden stillness and weight the night had taken on, or maybe it was the hello and goodbye written in Emmett's expression. With tears stinging at my lids and the throb in my chest, I knew this would be the last time for them.

Edward stood on the makeshift mound, not even a mound at all, really. There would never be an official pitcher's mound under his feet, but that didn't matter. Those big shoes have walked through heavier soil, some much better and some unbearable.

From my angle, he was right under the moon when he stood straight and rolled his shoulders back once. He looked over his shoulder at me.

That smile ticked up on the left side and he stared a beat longer before his profile dropped, his eyes blinked slow and he swung back, winding up. I could think of a hundred and one things about moonlight shining and love and miracles and their consequences and second chances and heartbreak, but it's only his eyes I think of in this moment.

They always carried something darker now, and I supposed they would forever. There were things inside of him I'm sure I didn't know of and couldn't understand. Internal scars he bore but never mentioned. Certain nightmares can change a person forever. They re-route lives and steal a certain trust in the world that can never be regained. Sometimes, those dark traces in his eyes would be a black abyss and sometimes, they would be nearly imperceptible.

It was interesting, because as plain as it was to see something heavy and layered and sorrowful in his eyes, that light he carried was never lost. Not only had it remained but it was impossibly brighter; his fire his hope and wonder and strength were now a stark contrast to the depths of horror only he knows. So of course, when he shines, he shines even brighter now.

The end.

Wow hey yeah, the end. Thanks for reading this story! I don't know how many times I can say you guys are awesome and that I really didn't think anyone would read this, so like... thank you.

I'll see ya when I see ya.