Life's been so busy, but I really want to finish this fic soon. Here's an EPOV outtake I wrote to get my head back in the game.


Chapter 37 - EPOV Outtake

It's still dark outside, and the alarm clock says 4:59 a.m. I groan and pull the pillow over my head.

Proverbs 20:13 Love not sleep, lest thou come to poverty; open thine eyes, and thou shalt be satisfied with bread.

Even though it's been months since I lived with him, I can still hear that harsh voice in my head, quoting scripture and screaming at me for committing sins against God—which, to him, was something I did pretty much every hour of the day. And sometimes before I even woke up. I don't remember how old I was when he first started coming into my room in the mornings and throwing me out of bed, saying lazy children who slept in were spoiled and didn't get breakfast, but the hour seemed to get earlier and earlier as I got older. By the time I was eight, my body woke itself up by 4:55 so I could make the bed before he came stomping into my room. 'Course, even then, there weren't many days when I managed to get to the kitchen table without punishment of one kind or another.

Proverbs 13:24 He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.

Ha. If I go by that, he must have loved me a lot.

Pushing those thoughts out of my head, I try to go back to sleep. But twenty minutes later, I know it's a lost cause. Every part of me is tense, just waiting for that slap of the belt on my chest or the thud of his boot in my side.

The only thing to do is get up, even though my alarm won't go off until seven. Carlisle's a light sleeper, so I don't go to the living room to watch TV. Instead, I grab my phone and flop down onto a big bean bag chair on the floor.

There probably won't be anything interesting on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter, but I check them first, anyway. As I figured, it's all a bunch of stuff I don't care about. A lot of the guys are talking about basketball. March Madness is going on right now, and it looks like Grant is doing the best with his bracket so far. Mine's not too bad, even though I had no idea what I was doing when I filled it out. I pretty much just went with whatever team had the higher ranking.

Other than that, most of the posts and tweets are from the girls. Jenna always puts up at least three animal videos a day, and Kirstie updates every time she does, well, anything. Like I really want to see a picture of her burrito from Taco Bell. Holly just started going out with Tyreese, so there's a lot of selfies of them all over my feed. I scroll through those as fast as I can. Food pics might be annoying, but happy-couple posts are a hundred times worse.

Mostly since I can't post any of my own.

The last thing I always check on my phone is email, and that's because I want to hope as long as I can that this is the time a message will finally be waiting for me in my Inbox. I want just another few minutes of calm before I see there's only a bunch of spam, before I get that horrible sick feeling in my stomach, before I start beating myself up for ruining things with the person I care about most in the world.

Maybe it's wrong to feel that way—that Bella's more important to me than Carlisle or Mary Alice or even my mom—but it's true. She's the one that was always there for me, no matter what. For almost as long as I can remember, Bella was just the about the only good thing in my life. Talking to her through the fence, passing messages back and forth, reading the "forbidden" books she let me borrow—those were the happy times that got me through all the bad ones.

I don't know what I would've done without her back then. And I have no idea how I'm going to be okay without her now. I wasn't kidding when I told her I'd planned on us getting married someday. Thinking about a future together was one of my favorite daydreams during the long hours I spent with my dad at church prayer meetings. I imagined we'd have a family life completely different from the one I knew. There'd be laughing and hugging and loving, instead of yelling and beating. I'd be a kind and forgiving dad to my kids, one who liked to have fun with them, too. We'd go to parks and zoos and do all that stuff that some of the other families at my church did.

And as far as being with Bella, well…

When we were young kids, I pictured us running away from our parents and having lots of exciting adventures out in the real world. But as we grew up and things started changing between us, I began to think more about holding her hand and putting my arm around her or maybe even kissing her on the lips.

When those things actually happened, I was on top of the world.

For a while, it felt like my life was finally getting better. Yeah, when my mom died, I started having panic attacks and missed her so much—I still do—but every day was just a little easier to get through than the one before. My nightmares got less intense, and the anxiety attacks didn't happen as often or last as long as they did those first few weeks after the funeral. I met Cole, decided to try going to school, and somehow got in with one of the really popular groups there. Best of all, I had Bella as my girlfriend.

Then, in one terrible night, I screwed up everything.

I know now that I was getting a lot of things wrong in our relationship even before I did…what I did to her. But if I could pick only one thing to change, it would be going to that stupid party. If I hadn't gone, I wouldn't have had anything to drink…and I wouldn't have gotten advice from the guys…and I wouldn't have come up with the horrible plan to "obligate" myself to Bella, as if that could somehow shut up the voices of James and him that just wouldn't leave me alone…and then I wouldn't be sitting here now, feeling sick and light-headed over how I much I wish I could undo the biggest mistake of my life…

Stop.

Squeezing my eyes shut, I shake my head and take a deep breath to calm down before a panic attack comes on. I remind myself that the past is over and it won't do me any good to get stuck in it. Like they taught me at the Center, I try to focus on the feeling of whatever my hands are touching in order to ground my thoughts to my body.

This happens to be my phone, so I run my fingers along the smooth edges of the case. I concentrate on every detail—the width, the curves at the corners, the imperfect texture. My thumb finds a small nick at the top, and I smile at the memory of how it got there. Bella had borrowed my phone one day to look something up on the web after hers ran out of battery. When she tried to toss it back to me, she missed by a mile and bounced it off the leg of Rosalie's coffee table. I couldn't help laughing at Bella's terrible aim. Rose didn't think it was all that funny at the time, but for Christmas, she gave Bella a Nerf basketball and hoop so she could practice her aim.

The sound of a shower starting tells me that Carlisle's woken up. I climb out of the bean bag chair and stretch. While there's still part of a smile on my face from thinking about Bella, the pain in my chest from missing her is just as bad as ever. I sigh and go to get dressed. At least I didn't have a panic attack, so that's a good thing.

Twenty minutes later, I'm in the kitchen making eggs and bacon when Carlisle walks in. He's wearing khakis and a long-sleeved polo shirt with the CBW Landscaping logo on front pocket since he'll probably be meeting with clients. The weather's been pretty warm for the end of March, and people are already starting to line up their spring projects.

"'Morning," he says, going over to the cabinets to take out some plates. "Smells good."

"Thanks," I mumble, concentrating on stirring the scrambled eggs so they don't burn. I'm not exactly a morning person, but I probably should've made more of an effort today. Then maybe I could've filled the time up with random conversation instead of the subject Carlisle brings up next.

"So," he says a little too casually, "are you all set for school?"

My body freezes for a second, then I shake off a jolt of anxiety and start to turn over the bacon.

"Yeah, I'm good."

I try to sound as chill as possible. But the concerned expression on Carlisle's face makes me think I wasn't able to pull it off.

"It's not a big deal if you don't go back today," he replies, filling up two glasses with orange juice and setting them on the table. "There's no reason to rush into things if you're not ready."

I'm about to tell him again that I'm fine, but the words get stuck in my throat. I can almost hear Dr. Anderson's annoyingly calm and patient voice saying that holding back my feelings won't make them go away. It will only give them a chance to build up and make them that much harder to deal with later. I know he's got a point, but then, I also wonder if he has any idea how hard it is to open up after years of getting hit if you talked about stuff like that.

Carlisle pretends to be caught up in making a sandwich for his lunch while I figure out how to start. He's good about knowing when not to push, and I'm thankful for that.

It's not until the food's on the table and we're sitting down that I give my answer another try.

"I don't know if I'm ready to go back," I finally admit, "but I don't think it's going to get any easier if I wait."

"No?"

"Well…seeing them again—everyone that went to the party, that's gonna be hard," I sigh. "And I'm worried that others at school will find out what I did and think I'm a terrible person. But then again, they should think I'm a terrible person after how I—"

"Edward," Carlisle interrupts. "You're not a terrible person."

Huffing, I wave my hand in the air to stop our argument before it begins. We've had it a lot in the past month. "Okay, fine. I'm just a messed up kid who made a terrible, awful, unforgivable mistake. Better?"

His deep frown is almost a scowl, but he doesn't say anything. After a few seconds of tense silence, I pick up where I left off.

"So anyway, part of me wants to hide from everybody because of that, but another part wants to run up to the guys and yell at them. I want to blame them for letting me have all those drinks and talking about, uh…doing stuff to girls and then putting stupid ideas in my head. Yeah, I know it's all on me—that what happened wasn't their fault—but it'd be so much easier if even a little bit was."

My whole body sags in my seat. I feel like there's a thousand pounds of sadness and guilt weighing me down. Sometimes I wonder if it'll ever go away. Sometimes I think that it'd only be right if it didn't.

Carlisle's hand on my shoulder makes me jump. I hadn't even noticed that he'd moved.

"Why don't we hold off on school for another day or two? You could come into work with me again. I'm sure Jas could use some extra hands in the maintenance shed. Of course, Cee might grab you to answer the phones so she and Merr can order another twelve outfits from Gymboree." He shakes his head and smiles lightly.

I can't help but snort at the thought. Thanks to Cynthia, Mary Alice probably has enough clothes to wear a new outfit every day for the next year. Jasper was saying the other day how he had to put a new shelving unit in the garage just to hold all of her tiny shoe boxes.

And just like that, I'm feeling a little lighter. I give Carlisle a grateful look and then clench my jaw in determination. I might not deserve all the support and love of my new family, but I won't take it for granted. Wallowing in shame isn't going to make me a better person, and neither is hiding from my fears.

"I want to go," I say in a clear, even voice. "I need to go."

He doesn't miss a beat as he nods and picks up his fork.

"I'll give you a ride. Be ready to go at a quarter 'til."


As expected, I'm really paranoid walking though the school halls again. It seems like the same as before I left, like nothing's different. But that almost makes it worse because I am different. It feels like my whole world has changed, and they don't have a clue.

Cole is surprised to see me at the lockers. But his smile comes quick as he holds his closed hand out for me to bump.

"I didn't know you were coming in today," he says in his usual upbeat way. "Good to see ya back, E."

"Thanks," I mutter, barely touching my limp fist to his. It's the best I can do, considering I have the slight urge to shove it in his stomach.

If he's bothered by my unenthusiastic response—or even notices—he doesn't show it. Instead, he throws an arm over my shoulders and leans into me, managing to screw up my attempt to open my combination lock in the process.

"So, did ya get your shit straightened out while you were gone?" he asks in a sly stage whisper. "Hope you were able to put in plenty of time on the Xbox so you stop sucking so bad."

Annoyed, I jerk my shoulders away from him and throw open my locker door with a bang.

Yeah, like that was high on my list of stuff I cared about during the last four weeks.

But Cole takes my actions the wrong way and laughs.

"Oh, come on. I was just playin' with ya. You're pretty decent for someone who didn't even know what Xbox was a few months ago." He shakes his head in disbelief. "It's crazy how you grew up without any normal stuff. I would've cracked and gone ballistic on my dad long before you did, that's for sure."

I grab my books out of my locker as fast I can and slam the door shut.

"I gotta get to class," I spit out, glad that we're going in opposite directions.

"Yeah, me too." He punches me lightly in the arm. "Catcha later."

The hallway is crowded with other students making their way to class. A bunch of people I know—and some I don't—call out to me as I pass them. I try to smile and answer back, but what I really want is to be left alone. Maybe Carlisle was right. Maybe I should've taken more time off.

Social Studies is my first class of the day, and it's hard to pay attention to the teacher's boring voice. My mind wanders, and as usual, I find myself thinking about Bella. I wonder how her classes are going and whether she ever thinks about me during school, too. Does she miss me, even a little? Maybe today will finally be the day she decides to get in touch with me. I mean, we're going to talk some day, right?

That dark, suffocating pressure builds up in my chest again, but luckily, the bell rings and snaps me out of my fog. As I walk to English, I remind myself that I need to be patient. Bella's got every right to hate me, and it might take her a long time before she wants to talk to me again. And...if she never does, well…there's no point in thinking about that now. I'll just get all worked up, and that doesn't help anything. If I can't learn to deal with my emotions in a healthy way, I'll never have another shot with her.

Huh. I guess some of the stuff they talked about during my time at The Center actually stuck with me.

There's a substitute teacher for English, and this turns out to be a bad thing for me. We're supposed to talk over Shakespeare questions in small groups, but I get Kirsten and a girl named Bethany as discussion partners. And all they want to discuss is me.

"It's so great that you're back," Bethany gushes the second we're turned loose to work. "Hickory just wasn't the same without you."

"Yeah, everybody at Hickory missed you," Kirsten says, smirking at Bethany. Then she looks at me. "So, how's your girlfriend doing? Bella, right?"

Just when I'd thought I was doing better, her words stab me in the heart. I don't want to answer, but the truth would come out sooner or later. Might as well get it over with.

"Uh, we're not together anymore," I mumble into the worksheet in front of me. "So, about question number one…"

"You two broke up?" Kirsten gasps, ignoring the assignment completely. "Oh, Edward, I'm so sorry. It happened after the game with Northern, didn't it? Jessie said she saw you two fighting outside Primo's." Her eyes get wide, and she grabs my wrist. "Oh my god, is that why you were out of school? Cole said it was because of the stuff that happened with your dad, but I know how tough breakups can be. When Chad and I split up last summer, I couldn't get out of bed for, like, a week."

Barely controlling my rising anger, I slide my arm away from her and stick my hand under the desk so she can't go after it again. "Yeah, it's been rough. Anyway, back to King Lear, number one wants us to—"

"Wow, I can't believe you're single now," Kirsten goes on, talking right over me. "So, is there anyone else you're interested in? I know it hasn't been long since you broke up, but there are a bunch of girls that have been dying to go out with you."

She glances at Bethany again, who has this weird look on her face like she's trying to smile at me while also scowling at Kirsten. I'd think it was funny if I wasn't so disgusted by the idea of being with anyone other than Bella.

"No, there isn't anybody," I reply, practically growling at her.

Thank goodness Bethany seems to pick up on my bad mood. She elbows Kirsten in the side and taps her pencil on the worksheet.

"Come on, Kirstie, we need to get this done," she insists. "My grade in this class sucks."

I give her a grateful look, which makes her light up like a Christmas tree. She scoots her desk a little closer and leans over my arm to read the first question. Her knee bumps into mine, and she apologizes with a breathy giggle.

Great.

The end of the period can't come soon enough, and I'm out the door a few seconds after the bell rings. I'm glad when no one else tries to talk to me during the next two classes. It gives me a chance to calm down before lunch.

I normally sat with Grant and other freshmen on the J.V. lacrosse team before I took time off school, but I don't feel up to dealing with them today. There's an empty seat at a table with Scott and some of his friends, so I head in that direction.

"Hey, what's up?" Scott says with a friendly grin when I pull out the chair across from him. "Me and Ben were just talking about the Georgia Tech game tonight. I think they're gonna crush South Carolina."

They go back and forth with their predictions and talk about the college basketball games that happened over the weekend. I don't say much, happy enough to listen without feeling any pressure to speak. But when lunch is over and we're getting up from the table, Scott turns to me with a hesitant expression.

"Hey, I just wanted to say…well, there were a lot of rumors going around, but I know it's usually just a bunch of crap, so…anyway, I hope things are okay with you, and if you ever want to talk or whatever…" He trails off and readjusts his backpack over his shoulder while staring at the ground.

"Uh, thanks," I reply, just as uncomfortable as he is. But I really do appreciate his offer and feel like I need to tell him that. "I'm still working on some issues with everything that happened in the past, and there's some other stuff I'm dealing with, too…" I take a deep breath and then let it out quickly. I might as well tell him since I'm sure it'll be around school before long. "Bella broke up with me, and that wrecked me for a while. I totally deserved it, so I get why she won't talk to me, but it's still hard, you know? We went through so much together, and she's my best friend, so…yeah, it's been tough."

"Damn, that sucks," he says sympathetically as we move off toward our math class. "I know you two were tight. Maybe…maybe she just needs some more time? My mom and dad divorced each other and then got back together after a year, so maybe there's still hope? I mean, not saying it's the same situation, 'cuz it's not, but what I mean is that…well, you never know how it might turn out, and…anything's possible, so…" He blows out a gust of air and groans. "I'm not helping at all, am I? I'll just shut up now."

He looks really upset, and for some reason, it makes me laugh.

"No, it's all good. I get what you're saying, and…you're right. It really hasn't been all that long, and there is still hope. My, uh, therapist says I shouldn't try to contact her, at least for a while, but, um…I've actually been writing her letters that my aunt leaves in a hidden spot Bella and I used to go to. Last time Cee checked, they were still there, but that was days ago, so…"

"Old-fashioned letters, huh? With pen and paper and all that?" Scott nudges me with his elbow. "Nice move. I don't know how girls think, but that sounds kinda…romantic, maybe? Hopefully she finds them soon, and they win you some brownie points or something."

"Yeah. I need all I can get," I say, only half joking with him.

"When's the last time you wrote one?"

"Well, it was just before I left—" I pause, not wanting anyone to know about my stay at the Daniels Psych Center. "Uh, I mean, I think it was a week and a half ago. There was only one letter before that. I've really been wanting to write another one, but I don't want her to think I'm creepy and desperate." I make a sarcastic noise in the back my throat. "Of course, I am desperate, and probably a little creepy. I'm trying hard to change all that, though, I swear."

"Good for you. That's got to count for something, too, right?"

I shrug, and we walk together in silence the rest of the way until we get to the classroom door. Before we go in, he stops to look at me. "So let's see, a week and half is, what, ten days? That seems like a decent amount of time to me. I don't think it'd be too creepy if you went ahead and wrote her another letter."

"Yeah?" A flash of excitement runs through me at the thought of it. I want to rip out a sheet of paper from my notebook and get started right away.

"Yeah, I think you should go for it. Hell, I bet she'd like that you're putting in the effort. Just try not to sound too desperate." He smirks at me. "And maybe don't do it during class. We're reviewing for the test today."

I guess my eagerness was really obvious.

"Ugh, I forgot about that," I grumble, not being able to help pouting like a little kid.

Scott just laughs and goes through the doorway.

I suffer through the longest math class in the history of math classes and fidget all through biology. As soon as the bus lets me off at my stop, I race down the street and nearly drop my keys twice as I hurry to unlock the front door. I'm pretty sure Cynthia is stopping by my old house in the morning to drop off more sale flyers, so I need to have the letter ready by the time we go over to her place for dinner.

After a quick text to let Carlisle know I made it home okay, I sit at my desk and try to calm down. My anxiousness has been building all afternoon, and I don't know why, but I have a really good feeling about the letter I'm going to write. Though it might have been an up-and-down kind of day, I want to focus on the good. There's a lot of bad stuff in my past, but that doesn't mean my future can't be better.

I just really, really hope that Bella's a part of it.

With a hand that shakes only a little, I start to write.

March 21

Bella,

A whole week. I made it…