A.N: Hey! First of all, I can't even begin to apologize for how long it took me to post this. I have a good explanation that, even though you don't want to hear, I'm going to say: I spilled water all over my computer and I couldn't have it back for the whole summer and, believe me, it was harder for me than it was for you. So there you go, enjoy (please)!

XVII. Real ?

Bella's POV

From the depths of my unconsciousness, a pair of muffled voices stood out from the crowd of whispers.

"I can't believe you went and talked to him!" the first voice hissed.

"What, I'm not even allowed to speak to Charlie now?" the other one asked, indignant.

"That's not what I meant. I can't believe you tried to… talk to him about that! Did you really think he'd just change his mind because of you?"

"But he did." The tone was calm, even, compared to the other one.

"No he didn't, you just made him angrier. Don't you see how much he loathes me right now?"

I opened my eyes. Edward and Alice were across the room, apparently having an argument.

"Oh Bella, you're awake," Alice said, dancing towards me.

"Am I?" I grumbled.

"I was just telling Edward about the recent conversation I had with Charlie yesterday."

I rubbed my eyes as a sharp light attacked them. I studied both of their expression, trying to understand the reason of the argument; Alice was smiling and apparently proud of herself, whereas Edward seemed annoyed –almost angry.

"This is way too early to be crazy, rational me." They both looked at me, unsurprised.

I stood in my bed, fully awake at this point. The remains of the previous day flooded back into my mind and I blinked a few times, trying to calm the furious train of my thoughts. I held my hands in the air and breathed.

"Okay so… okay." I dropped my hands and looked at the two angelical creatures in front of me. "What is going on here?"

"Well, as I said, I had a conversation with your father yesterday, and, even though everything went as smoothly as planned, my brother is still skeptical." As Alice explained, Edward let out a snort.

"A conversation about what?" I asked her. But Edward was faster.

"She thought she could change his mind about the delay he allowed me and other details," he answered, irony piercing in his acid words.

"And I did! I only made him realize that you had a right to be here, with Bella and that even though he could ground you," she said, her eyes now on mine, "he could never get a restraining order against Edward because he doesn't have any juridical material."

"And that's stupid why?" I asked Edward.

"It's stupid because it only makes him angrier at me now! I don't believe he agreed, just like that." He folded his arms across his chest.

"Believe what you want, but he did. I even convinced him to take Bella out tonight," she told me, victory ringing in her voice.

"Bella, don't you think it's absurd to give Charlie so little space to accept me under your roof? Don't you think my dear sister is only making things worse by rushing them?" Edward was looking at me expectantly. They both were.

"Well, I'm not taking sides. Because I love you both and I don't care as long as I get to be with you, but mostly because I can't even imagine how you could talk to Charlie and have him hearing and answering, you know, considering you're not…" But they both finished the sentence before I could, sighing.


"Exactly," I answered with a wide smile. They looked at each other, and it seemed the argument was over.

"So," I added, remembering Alice's words, "we're going out tonight?"

The three of us were in the Volvo, Alice driving at a speed that had me worried, as usual; it was 21: OO and we were headed to Port Angeles. I was curled up in Edward's arms, on the back seat, watching as the needle raced towards the far right on the speedometer, my hands rigid on the fabric of the dark blue dress Alice had forced me into - why would she change old habits? But even with the anxiousness Alice's driving brought me, I was happy, here in Edward's arms where it felt right.

In spite of my latest records in craziness, I had been surprised to see the Volvo, but glad because of the memories of the time it reminded me of –a happier, simpler time. I was on the road to Port Angeles, with two people that I loved more than anything, and with a pleasant evening ahead of me. I had to admit it was a lot to be only created by my own subconscious; it was harder for me now to remember they weren't real. I constantly had to remind myself of the truth, and I hated it. I hated that the words I thought the more often now were 'delusions', 'unreal', 'subconscious' and 'hopelessly crazy". I hated the fact that when I came back to reality to remind myself they weren't really here with me, I realized that this dream could go up in smoke any second. All of this could disappear in the blink of an eye.

So, because of this, I decided that, tonight at least, I would stop dragging myself back to reality. Tonight, they were real. I was going to make an effort; an effort that was useless anyway, that would hurt without a doubt, but an effort that weirdly enough would be good for me –sane, even. Edward had saved me, Alice had talked to Charlie, they weren't going away anytime soon, as they had both promised, and I wasn't delusional. Convincing myself with foolish wishes, believing against all logic, it was all for the greater good in the end.

I felt the car stop quite smoothly, which surprised me considering the speed at which Alice had driven, and then they were both getting out. Edward opened the door for me and held my hand as I stepped onto the sidewalk to find myself in front of the Italian restaurant where he had taken me, such a long time ago. It was only a few months away, but it seemed to me it had been in another lifetime. Last time I had been here, I wasn't even aware of the fact that he was a vampire.

We walked into the crowded restaurant and I eyed the booth where we had sat. Like last time, the hostess came to great us, a spark lit in her eyes as she observed, subtly she probably thought, the two magnificent creatures accompanying me.

"A table for three," Alice cheerfully indicated as Edward showed the hostess the secluded space at the back of the restaurant, waving towards 'our' booth in particular. She led us there, a little surprised, and I didn't think about the fact that she shouldn't recognize him right now, because of the simple fact that there was no Edward to recognize here. I didn't think about the fact that she should have asked me before showing me to a table I would have sat at alone. No, tonight it was me and Edward, and Alice, eating together to make up for the long months of separation.

I slid on the booth and took the menu a waitress handed me –luckily, it was not the unsubtle girl from last time. This one had a warm smile and no eye that wandered to Edward in particular, even though it seemed to me she had seen the difference between the Cullens and me. But she disappeared with discretion to let us choose our meal.

I did not have my eyes on the menu though; my pupils were locked on Edward. How nauseatingly romantic we must have looked, lost in each other's gaze at a candlelit table in the back of a restaurant. Luckily, Alice was here to remind me we weren't alone.

"Are you feeling okay Bella? Because you have almost drowned yesterday and, even though I know it's a little late now to expect you to go into shock… I don't know, but there still haven't been any consequences." Thankfully, she had abandoned the worried motherly look for a cheerful and Alice-y smile.

"Hello? No consequences? Yeah, because it's an off day when I don't get a special delivery from my subconscious with two incredibly real-looking angelical ghosts of my past in it." The words had flown out of my mouth and soon I was biting my lip, already regretting them. They're real, I 'reminded' myself.

Edward pressed my hand in his as Alice answered with a desperate sigh.

"Oh my god I don't know what it's going to take for you to take us seriously… You would have drowned yesterday if it wasn't for my brother, I don't see how you could have gone home alone if you were sleeping in the passenger seat or how you would have gotten here tonight if you were in the back seat worrying about my driving… I could keep enumerating all that's happened since we actually came back and you still wouldn't see it, would you?"

Alice's tone was soft, and I noticed a strange note of melancholy and… surrender in it, something I had never heard in her voice before. As she spoke, I concentrated on the way it rang in my ears, a little louder than the whispers around us. It sounded real. I looked up to see her face, then to see Edward's, and my eyes kept hesitating between both of them. Both of their faces that were lit by the same light that mine was, that I knew I could touch and feel under my own skin as if it were here. As if it were a few months ago. They looked real. I lowered my gaze to observe my fingertips tracing soft patterns on Edward's pale skin as my other hand was pressing Alice's. They felt real.

The waitress interrupted my slow epiphany.

"Can I take your order?" she almost sang. I hadn't seen her coming back to our table; I had been too distracted.

Alice and Edward were both looking at me expectantly and I opened the menu, my eyes landing on a random page.

"Right… Sure, I'll take the mushroom ravioli," I told her, a smile on my lips as I ordered the meal I remembered.

"And for drinks?"

"A Coke," Edward answered for me with a smile on his own face.

"I'll be right back."

I looked at her as she left and then I could feel two pairs of eyes on my neck. I turned my head and Alice asked:

"Bella, were you going to say something before the waitress arrived?"

"I…" I remembered I had realized something. Well, not quite realized because I still wasn't sure I believed it but… it made sense! So much sense I felt like I had been blind this whole time. Was it… could it be true?

So I answered her what I was sure of, what I knew wasn't a lie.

"All I know is that it's harder for me now. It's harder to remember –to tell myself- that you're not real. And I hate doing it, remembering this awful truth, I really do. So what I wanted, for tonight at least, was to forget all about rationalization. I told myself 'tonight, they're not a delusion'. But now I look at you, and I hear you, and you just seem so real that it scares me. It scares me because…" I had tears in my eyes now; I was really getting overly emotional. I took a deep breath and continued "Because what if I do end up believing and then it turns out it was all a lie? A lie to myself of course, but a lie nonetheless? I couldn't bear it if you left me once again." I lowered my eyes but I felt Edward's arm tighten under my touch. "Because if I do believe and you disappear afterwards, that's what it would feel like. Exactly like last time."

I was done. I had said it. I was tired of being afraid, of being scared; maybe at least saying it would lighten the burden.

Edward took a deep breath and finally said:

"Bella, once again, I want to apologize for that. For "last time" and for everything that hurt you afterwards, I want to tell you how sorry and… disgusted with myself and… miserable I feel. Please, don't try to deny it," he said with a tiny smile as I was going to object. "And, despite that, I find myself pleased that you seem to be so masochistic: you know that if you tell me to stay, I will. Always. And so, I won't go away ever again, at least until you finally come to your senses and do the right thing."

"And what's that?" I asked with a bit of suspicion in my tone.

"Tell me to get as far away from you as possible and to never contact you again," he told me as if I was ever going to test that theory. I wasn't 'coming to my senses' any time soon anyway, so to me it was taboo.

"Right," I muttered.

"And Bella," Alice said then. "I also want to tell you that I won't go away either. I have missed you too much. In fact, I just had a brilliant idea!" she squeaked. Her eyes were glowing; in that moment, I knew there was potential danger.

"Oh dear God," Edward murmured.

"Excuse me a few moments; I'm calling Carlisle and Esmee right now. I'm going to get this family back together, here where we all belong." Edward opened his mouth, but it was too late: Alice was already on her way out. So he focused his worried eyes on me and asked me:

"Are you okay with this?"

"Actually, I would be if it wasn't all… I mean yes. I'm perfectly fine… happy… and okay." Again, I spoke the truth. Approximately. So I decided to pull myself closer to him and to admire. Silently. And that meant silencing my other me, too.

But of course I couldn't. As soon as I had thought this, she was dragging my mind back to the interrupted epiphany we had started to have earlier.

That was stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

I disagree.

The intention, tonight, was to forget they were not real, not to try to convince ourselves they were!

I see little difference.

Well then you're blind.

You're stubborn.

Oh I am the stubborn one?

Yes, you are.

Am not.

Are so! They're real!

For a handful of seconds, I was too happy to have silenced her to realize what I had just thought. And I was so astonished, so amazed before the truth that had finally emerged through the haze of my thoughts, that I could not think anymore. The truth was clear, but the rest was lost in a terrible chaos. I needed air, I needed space.

I somehow managed to free myself from Edward's arms, and wobbled away from our booth through the crowded space. The voices were too loud, the colors too blurry and the smells too vivid. As I heard my name called out from the chaos, I finally felt the fresh air penetrate my lungs.

Next thing I knew, I was throwing up on the concrete, my hands clutched to my sides. I breathed unsteadily and my knees weakened, but I stood still. Then, I felt the pressure of an ice cold hand on my elbow.

"Bella, are you ill? What's wrong? Do you want me to take you home? Please talk to me!" He was unsure, and worried. I heard in his voice that he knew something was very wrong.

I couldn't stand this anymore. Shaking his hand off of my shivering skin, I turned around and a mix of emotions emerged to the surface.

"Dammit! You're… You're real! No, don't try to touch me, don't you dare try to touch me!" My voice was as unsteady as my breathing; the sounds came out from my mouth distorted.

"I'm sorry Bella, I won't!" he said as he took one step back, his hands hanging in mid air, his eyes witnesses to a misery greater than my confusion. An anger I didn't know I had been holding burst through my next words:

"Liar! I won't listen to one more word you say… I won't believe you anymore! You said all those things and-and then you left! I don't care about your reasons," I said as he opened his mouth, "I don't! I heard them all, that day, I remember too vividly! Do you remember? Of course you do, why else would you come back? No, let me guess: you thought it would be fun to torture me some more, is that it? In fact, don't try to explain. I just need you to go away now…" My voice was fading; I was exhausted. Exhausted from all the anger, from all these emotions I couldn't manage. "I'm going to… walk… by there," I said as I motioned towards where, I didn't know. "I'll walk and don't you dare follow me!"

I couldn't go yet though. I was drained, through my veins and through my soul. All the anger was gone now, and without the anger, I was left a coward. And as every coward, I had to flee.

It was completely dark now, and I shivered under the glacial wind. I had forgotten my coat at the restaurant, and I had left with it my mind.

Now that I had come to my senses, I was mortified. Why? Why had I let all this irrational anger control me, control my words? How could I have let him worry about me? He shouldn't waste one single second worrying about me, and I knew know he wouldn't ever again. He had left, as I had told him, and it was good. It was all for the best.

Except that I didn't want him to go. But he had and he should have. Though if it was really what I wanted, then why the hell was I so hurt?

As soon as I had thought this, I knew that that was a question I should have asked myself a long time ago. The truth was that I needed him. I needed him so damn much that I could see now how these past months had all been just one enormous lie. I hadn't been fine. I hadn't been even remotely okay. Except these last few days.

But it was too late now; he was gone. Where was I going? Why was I walking away from him, why had I tried so tirelessly to forget, when every step I took should have been in his direction, when every thought I had should have been reminiscing the precious time he had offered me?

I suddenly felt the crinkling of sand under my feet. I knew now, I could finally admit to myself that wherever he went, I would follow. He had the power to leave me, to lose me, he always had. And even though I would have soon lost him as he vanished away, I should have tried instead of lie to myself. But he had offered me so much, he had told me so many beautiful things, that it had been easy to believe then that I would never need to try to follow him.

I remembered the time when all I had to do was whisper his name, knowing he would be there when I opened my eyes again. I obeyed to the last tiny hope he had left me, and heard myself murmur.


"I'm here."

These two words, whispered from the shadow in the voice I would never stop shivering at, was like air in my lungs after a long drown. I knew how it sounded, but it was the absolute truth.

I let the cold arms embrace me, let the euphoria burn through my veins. I buried myself deep in his chest, like the complete idiot I was, and gripped tighter to him than I ever had.

"Shh, it's okay, it's all okay." It wasn't until I felt the moisture on my cheeks that I realized I had let silly tears escape.

We hugged for how long, I had no idea; and then I heard myself chuckle.

"What?" he asked softly as I leaned my head away to examine his face.

"Nothing. It's just… look at us. Two idiots, reuniting on the beach under the moonlight," I said as I wiped away more tears. "What a cliché. I-I don't want any more clichés, I don't want any more drama. Ok?"

"Well… Maybe one more cliché?" he asked in a whisper.

"What's that?" I mumbled.

And then next thing I knew, I was no longer touching the ground and he was spinning me around. I laughed, and, as the wind whipped my face, it erased the last of my tears.

A.N: Hope it wasn't too much ;)

I'm going to do a last chapter, an epilogue, and (please don't hit me) I don't know when it will be posted. I have tons of homework and very little time, so again, sorry !!