Breathe – Breaking Benjamin

Bella POV

It's interesting that moments of insane panic can result in extraordinary clarity. Despite the nauseous roll of my stomach and the rising swell threatening to explode in my chest, my pounding heart is what my mind chose to fixate on. I was riveted to the exquisite rhythm.

Ba-Bump, ba-bump.

The speed it achieved astounded me. The slight flutter in my neck entranced me. It is amazing what the human body can accomplish in terrifying moments.

I scurried down the hall, hardly noticing the rush of passing students, the majority greeting old friends with jovial delight, or dealing with first-day jitters by trying to make themselves invisible along the walls and corridors. If the adrenaline high hadn't overwhelmed me, I could appreciate the irony of my first-day jitters as well.

Finally reaching my office door, I wrenched it open and slammed it shut, quickly engaging the lock on the knob with an exaggerated twist. Not that it would do me any good if he decided to come find me.

I could feel my heart continue to pound as I staggered backward to my chair and felt my knees give way. I stared at the milky glass window in the door, and tried to calm my scrambled mind enough to think through what had just happened. My heart refused to calm. I was terrified.

In an effort to gain some control, I turned my chair to the desk and pressed my forehead to the scarred, polished surface. I then noticed that my arms had involuntarily wrapped themselves around my middle. A surprised, nervous laugh pushed through my throat, as I contemplated the last time I had needed to hold my insides together. It had been years. I had long since believed I was beyond that, but apparently not. I slowly began to piece together the events of the last hour.

I had made an effort to be in the classroom beforehand to meet and greet each new student. I smiled and nodded, welcoming each one as they made their way into the room, nervously glancing over the rows of seats. I smirked, successfully guessing where most would go. The popular students invariably congregated together in close cliques toward the back, flirting and razzing each other in the confident cockiness that defines them. The Goths hugged the sides, while the nerds, stoners and less-popular kids settled in the middle, finding a friend or familiar face to sit next to. Lastly, the brains and bookworms sat themselves front and center. The stereotypes were ridiculous, but their preferred seating arrangement remained predictable.

The last student greeted, I closed the door and turned to the class to start orientation. Before I could utter a word, I heard the door open and saw movement in my peripheral vision. As I instinctively turned my head, time seemed to stop. Reality lurched, and as if moving sluggishly through thick mud, it slowly began to move again.

The first thing that caught my attention was the glint of copper playing through waves of unruly hair and bright, honey colored eyes, staring through me with riveting intensity. My breath caught in my throat, and my mind went blank, refusing to believe what I was plainly seeing. My feet felt like they had grown roots into the floor's wood planks. I couldn't move. He was exactly the same from six years ago, frozen in his seventeen years of perfected glory.

I vaguely remembered his name crossing my lips in awed shock. He began walking toward me, a slow smile working its way across his perfect face. He was an angel. A beautiful, destroying angel descended to usher my day of reckoning. He couldn't be real, yet the hairs sticking up along my arms and the back of my neck were screaming that he was most definitely there.

He stood a mere foot from me. The wave of electricity that had always existed between us was humming with renewed strength, its magnetism unmistakable. I watched in a trance as the honey gold of his eyes melted. My head felt light as little black dots floated in front of my eyes. I couldn't breathe. His perfect velvet tones softly caressed my name.

"Hello, Bella."

The fog in my brain receded just enough to register the paper he was holding out to me. A jolt of horror slammed through me. Edward was one of my new students? With some effort, I tore my gaze from his face to stare at the new student itinerary form he was holding. Finally coming to my senses, I took the form, feeling the hot flush cross my cheeks and run down my neck. The cold room suddenly felt stifling.

With a shaking hand, I signed his form and thrust it back to him. Gesturing for him to take a seat, I closed my eyes and turned my back to the class, collecting myself and trying desperately to regulate my breathing. Flustered, I grabbed the stack of photocopies on the desk, hoping the action covered my momentary lapse.

I had fantasized for years of being reunited with him; the two of us inadvertently bumping into each other in various places, under a myriad of circumstances. I had played out exactly what I would say, remaining cool and aloof, pleasantly making small talk and showing him exactly how I had successfully moved on with my life. Those silly little fantasies now mocked me. This was unnerving, and absolutely nothing as I had imagined.

I had forty-five minutes in this class. Forty-five minutes to pull myself together and somehow introduce myself, Jane Austen, and the first novel of the semester. Forty-five minutes to act like my only true love had not destroyed me and then suddenly and unexpectedly crashed his way back into my life.

Pulling in a huge cleansing breath, I plastered a smile across my face and turned to the class. I could do this. I would do this, and in forty-five minutes I would allow myself to fall apart.

Forty-five minutes.

Thank goodness the hour after English Lit was my prep time. The sobbing was coming hard and strong. I would have been horrified for anyone to see me like this. I held my head in my hands and pondered the situation. Edward was here in Rochester, and was enrolled as a student at Westmore. His family had made a career of being students, so it shouldn't have surprised me, but here? He had promised me I would never see him again, and so far, he had done a bang-up job. His presence couldn't have anything to do with me. Was this Fate's idea of a cruel joke? Did this mean he didn't know I was living and teaching here? Did this mean the whole family was here as well? How in the world was I going to do this? I had worked hard to overcome the damage he had caused. Could I stand seeing him every day in the halls and in class and not fall apart? Could I remember what it was we had together, the pain I had endured, and pretend that it did not affect me? Pretend I didn't still love him?

I glanced at the clock on my desk and willed the tears to stop. I dug deep and summoned Confident and Fulfilled Bella. She and I had become acquainted back in college and had grown to be very close friends. She reminded me in stern tones that this was my school. I had already been here for two years and had worked hard to earn my place. No way was I leaving! If my presence made the Cullens uncomfortable, they could be the ones to leave. They were good at that, I thought bitterly. I reminded myself Edward was a student and only a professional student/teacher relationship could ever be between us. There was no way he would ever know the feelings I still had for him. I had my pride.

Pulling myself together, I opened the door and checked the empty hallway for stragglers. I would have to be diligent in avoiding him. Pride was well and good, but there was no sense in torturing myself.

He was registered, so his schedule would be in the administrative database. First up was obtaining a copy. I may not have a choice in teaching him, but I could and would control face time outside of the classroom.

I made my way to the staff restroom and splashed cold water across my face. Glancing in the mirror, I blanched at my ruddy complexion and bloodshot eyes. I drew myself up and forced a determined smile.

The face in the mirror uttered the familiar mantra: "I am a fulfilled and confident woman. I can do this." And I could. I had, after all, made it through much worse. Edward Cullen would no longer affect me, and that was all there was to it.