The Hermit

"Alice, there's someone outside," Bella whisper-yells into her phone.

"Maybe it's just someone dropping off a package."

"No. I'm not expecting anything."

"Okay ... your neighboring townhouse has been up for rent for months. Maybe someone is finally moving in. Hopefully, they aren't like that one tenant who boiled cabbage every other day. Why are you whispering, by the way?"

Bella checks the peephole in her front door, but it's still blocked. She sighs in frustration. Her skin begins to crawl with anxiety, and her hands subconsciously rub together.

The edge of her thumbnail digs painfully into her skin until a blister starts to form.

It's a habit she's been trying hard to break.

Falling off the wagon is all part of recovery, or so they say.

"Because they blocked my door, and I'm freaking out. I can't breathe. I'm going to throw up."

"Bella, you share a stoop. They're probably just trying to get everything inside quickly. It looks like it's going to rain today. Stop freaking out, take a pill, and go run yourself a bath."

Bella doesn't tell her that she'd already taken one before she parked herself at her front door and started checking the peephole obsessively. She can't leave until whatever it is that's blocking her view is gone.

She just can't.

It feels like someone is sitting on her chest, leaving her unable to take a full breath, and the relief lies solely on the other side of whatever is blocking her front door.

"It's been"—she checks her watch—"Fourteen minutes and twelve seconds. That's too long. I can't see. Can you come over?"

Alice gives a tired sigh, and the knot in Bella's stomach tightens.

"Bells, I love you. Truly, I do; you know this. I can't just up and leave work because you're more than likely overreacting." Alice huffs. "Damn it. Mom should be here for you in times like this. Why don't I call Jasper and see if he can stop by?"

Bella bites her lip so hard she can taste blood at the mention of their mother.

"No. No. I think I can handle this. Don't call her, please."

"Of course, I wouldn't, I was just saying. I'm sorry for bringing her up."

Alice assures her that she's got this, and Bella ends the call soon after.

She checks the peephole one last time, groaning when she sees that it's still blocked.

It takes everything in her to unlock the deadbolt and pull the chain.

She opens the door a fraction of an inch, takes a calming breath, and calls out, but her voice is muffled by the thick mattress taking up her entire doorway.

She can hear people, perhaps a couple, arguing about something next door.

Instincts tell her to close the door and call her sister's fiancé, but she squashes those feelings.

Just like Alice said, she's totally got this.

At least, she thinks she does.

Bella clears her throat and opens the door a bit wider.

"Hello? Is someone there?"

"Shit, Em, you didn't move the fucking mattress?" A masculine voice snaps before the mattress is removed in the blink of an eye.

The sun peeking out of the clouds burns her eyes, and Bella wants nothing more than to close the door and lock it quickly.

It's not that she doesn't like people ... she just doesn't trust them.

Before she can retreat to the solitude of her home, a pair of dark green eyes, crinkled in the corners from the deep, almost goofy grin on the face they belong to, pop up.

Out of habit, Bella finds herself taking a step back.

"Sorry about that. My brother-in-law thought I moved the bed, and I thought he moved it. You know how it is?" The owner of the green eyes chuckles. "I'm Edward, by the way. Edward Cullen. I just signed the lease, so I guess that makes us neighbors for a while."

"I suppose," Bella mumbles. "I own my townhouse."

She's itching to close the door on his handsome face.

He makes her nervous.

But then again, who doesn't?

"Well, that's lucky, I guess." Edward shrugs. "I bet you're happy to be able to leave now that we've gotten the mattress out of the way. Sorry again."

"I'm not leaving. I just like to be able to see out of my peephole," Bella admits and immediately flushes with embarrassment.

Maybe Alice was right, and she was overreacting about the entire situation.

"Oh. Okay. Well, you can see out of it now. I'll let you get to it."

Edward frowns in confusion, and Bella decides she's had enough social interaction for the day.

She starts to shut the door.

"Hey, you never told me your name. We're neighbors, so we'll be seeing each other often. We should at least know each other on a first name basis."

"I'm Bella," she squeaks.

The door doesn't slam shut, but it still closes with a click that rings in her ears. She immediately reaches for the locks and automatically peeks through the peephole.

She's surprised to see her new neighbor's face in full view—he looks confused and disappointed.

The guilt building inside her slowly takes over the panic and anxiety.

She hates hurting people's feelings or being a disappointment, but it is what it is.

She is what she is.

If her neighbor plans on seeing her, he'll be sorely disappointed.

Bella gets everything delivered, and when she can't, she relies on her sister or simply misses out.

Her orders are left on the front porch, and she waits until the courier is long gone before snatching her packages into the house.

It's been almost two years since she left her home.

Despite the therapy and the constant support from her sister and Jasper.

She's stuck.

But Alice is a godsend. She's patient, but sometimes, like today, she has to put her foot down.

Bella wants to call and let her know that she opened the door. That she talked with her new neighbor, and she didn't pass out or die like she thought she would.

Instead, she heads to the kitchen and pulls out the ingredients for Alice's favorite peanut butter oatmeal muffins.

The least she can do is bake her sister something delicious as a form of appreciation for all her love and support.

It takes her a while to get the muffins in the oven because she obsessively checks the peephole to make sure she can still see out of it.

It remains unblocked for the rest of the day, and as the hours pass by, Bella feels the stress slowly melt away.