A/N: Shout out to Team Cherry - Itlnbrt worked wonders with her red pen skills, beegurl13 whipped up a stunning banner (you can see it on Facebook) and WitchyVampireGirl was an amazing help when it came to ironing out some plot kinks, even though she had no idea what she was helping me with. ;) I also want to say a word of thanks to abstract way, who was kind enough to answer some questions I had about the art world.

This story was written for cejsmom in FAGE 8.

-N.

Characters belong to SM and any films, songs, recognizable places, etc. belong to their respective owners.


-Chapter 1-

Chicago, October 2012

"What are you doing here?" My words are icy daggers meant to penetrate every part of his heart not already hardened. When he doesn't answer, I fold my arms over my chest and step out from behind Alice's desk. "Is this some kind of twisted joke?"

A familiar fire comes to life behind his eyes and if it weren't for the hard edge of the desk under my bum, I'm positive my knees would buckle, and I'd be a pile of twisted limbs on the floor. "Hello, Bella."

Two words … spoken in a gravelly voice and accompanied by the softening of his features, and I know I'm doomed. It's been ten years since I last laid eyes on him. Ten miserable years, most of which I spent in a loveless marriage, while he went in and out of rehab, doing god only knows what between those stints. I'd had ten years to heal, yet every one of my wounds still felt fresh.

I'd learned a few things in those ten years however, and the single most important lesson is how to love myself. I deserve better than Edward Cullen. I will not give this man the opportunity to break my heart again. I repeat this mantra in my mind like it's futile, the force will shift, the earth will quake, and mountains will fall, if I fail to take these words in and act them out.

"What are you doing here?" I repeat. I'm not interested in making small talk. All I want is for him turn his well-dressed, only-getting-more-delicious-as-he-gets-older self around and march right back out the door.

"I'm supposed to meet with Alice," he explains, running a hand through his always-unruly hair. His other hand goes to his hip, pushing his suit coat back and giving me a preview of the dark blue dress shirt beneath. I don't miss the way it hugs his torso, or the definition beneath it. Taking note of my silence, he continues, "She's showing my newest collection. I'm dropping the pieces off. Bella, I—"

"You're Masen Edward?" I throw my hands in the air before fisting them in my hair. My heels click loudly against the floor as I begin to pace. "Perfect. This is just fucking perfect. Did you know I work here? How did you figure it out?"

"Bell—"

"What are you even doing in Chicago in the first place? What happened to your, 'I'll never leave Minneapolis if my life depends on it' attitude?"

"I—"

"If you think you can just waltz in here, looking like a movie star and—"

"BELLA!" He shouts this time, not out of anger, but in a way meant to capture my attention. I sink back down onto Alice's chair, thoroughly exhausted though I've only been in for an hour. Once he realizes I'm going to stay quiet, he speaks again, his tone soft and dulcet. "I live here now. In Chicago. It's a fresh start of sorts. And this … this is my first showing since … well, since you." He looks down at his feet and slips his hands into his pockets. "I want to answer all of your questions, Bella. Perhaps you'll join me for a cup of coffee and we can talk?"

My stomach twists as unshed tears burn behind my eyes. The hope in the voice of the man that stands before me is endearing, but all I can think about is the boy he used to be; the boy who captured my heart and kept it in his pocket while giving his own over to a substance that I just couldn't compete with.

I clear my throat, trying to get some of my composure back. I need him to leave before my entire day goes to shit. "I can't do that." His expression falls and I have to resist the urge to step forward and dance my fingertips across his cheek. "You can bring the pieces in here and I'll make sure Alice gets them."

"Bella—"

"I have an important buyer coming in at one and I need to pull a few pieces for him to look at." I pull my laptop toward me and get my game face back in place. Edward says nothing, but I can feel his eyes on me for another minute before he finally turns and heads out the office door. He returns moments later, carrying a large canvas bag. Two men follow him, one of whom I recognize as a popular artist agent, bags in their hands as well. They make two more trips, lining all the bags and two larger wrapped canvases up against the wall.

Edward is almost out the door when he turns to me once more. I grab my phone and pretend to dial a number. "Good luck with your showing," I mumble, holding the device up to my ear and looking down at the top of my desk.

"I'll see you around, Bella."

When I glance up, he's gone. I drop my phone on the desk and lean forward, curling my arms over my stomach and tucking my chin into my chest. The tears I've worked so hard to hold back begin to fall and, just like that, half of the wall around my heart—the one I've spent the past ten years constructing—turns to dust.