A/N: If you're reading this, thanks for hanging with me the past few months...no excuses, just know I am deeply sorry. Now, angst!! :) PS go listen to War Tapes because they're amazing.

EPOV

Fuck my life. Only I would have the balls to continue with this show after what had happened last night. I had raced up the stairs after Bella, but strangely enough, she was not only faster than me, but she managed to not fall down. All in all, very strange. Furthermore, Jasper was standing outside her bedroom door, arms crossed across his chest and looking very…forlorn. And I'm sure his little elf was inside saying God knows what to my Bella.

Goddammit! It went from pure perfection and bliss to the shitter. All thanks to yours truly. Jasper had simply looked at me, giving me a glance that was a mix of sorrow and anger, before he shook his head and walked away. I moved to her door slowly, hearing Alice's soothing shhhs and muffled breathing. If only I could just be there, the one holding her and smoothing her hair, maybe it would make this shitty night go away, erase, rewind, what-the-fuck-ever and we can go back to where it was her and I tangled in my sheets upstairs, laughing at stupid knock-knock jokes she heard because she still watches Blues freaking Clues when she is bored.

I splashed water on my face, trying to wake myself up. I looked at my reflection in the mirror and sighed; there had been little sleep to be had last night. It had eluded me, much like love, and it was pretty much all my doing.

I jumped and let out a not-so-masculine noise when I saw a reflection right next to mine when I opened my eyes. Freaking dwarf of a woman creeping in my room. Combine that with lack of sleep and you see where the not-so-masculine noise came from…

"What the fuck did you do to her last night?" I started to respond but she shook her head. "You know what, I don't even care. But you better fucking fix this otherwise I'm going to sic her quarterback of a brother on you and see how happy you are after that. And then, when he's done with you, I'll cut off your balls and feed them to you. You won't get much action after that."

"Moral of the story: fix this?" I asked hesitantly, cringing when I had mental images of that behemoth of a man from Bella's entry video mashing my face to a pulp.

She let out a sigh. "Sorry, yes. I get a little angry when someone hurts my best friend."

"Noted."

She came up closer to me, her hand resting softly on my arm. I looked down at her with a look of pure sadness etched into my features. "Oh, Edward," she breathed, running her hand up and down my arm. "You know she's just stubborn and insecure and completely way out of your league. She deserves someone to worship her and if you won't do that, then let her go, please.

"That's just it, Alice, I do worship her! She wouldn't let me tell her anything last night after she just said it in the middle of dinner. We were fighting and suddenly there it was. And I was going to tell her…"

"Tell her what, Edward? That you didn't love her? That maybe someday she could be enough for you? What would you have said?" She moved to sit on the toilet while I leaned on the counter, staring once again at my own face in the mirror, looking head on at the person who was single-handedly ruining the lives of multiple people.

Alice was right. What would I have said that would have been sufficient? What could I have said. The only logical thing would have been "I love you , too" but even that seems trite and cliché, and maybe not even true. Not that I didn't adore her, and breathe her like she was my own air, but love her? Like I want to grow old with you, head over heels, let's buy a house with a picket fence and baby makes three love?

"Because if you don't know for sure how you feel about her, then don't drag this on, especially not on public television. What happened last night was bad enough. Don't put her through more of your games."

I turned on her. "They aren't games, Alice! I'm only human. I make mistakes too, alright? Am I not allowed that?"

"Yes, you are human, and yes, you make mistakes. But don't destroy an innocent girl because of it."

She turned on her heel and left. "I'm leaving this house tonight, and by then, you better have a better idea of what the hell you will say to her or else I'm taking her with me. Lawsuit or not, you royally fucked this one up, and I won't sit around waiting for you to realize that Bella is a gem."

_______________

Jasper came into my room shortly after Alice left. He walked out onto the balcony to where I was standing look over the valley, seeing the very cusp of the outskirts of Los Angeles.

He stood next to me and handed me a bottle of water. "Want to talk about it?" he asked.

"No."

"So you messed up, man. It happens. I practically told Alice I loved her on our first date. But it all works out okay."

I didn't really feel like being reminded that my best friend was happily in love with Bella's best friend because that brought my thought pattern to Bella. Bella. Bella. Damn!

"Alice is really mad at me," I told him.

"I know. She told me. You did mess up. But Bella hasn't exactly been perfect, either. It takes two people to do this," he said calmly. "Listen, I know it sucks but you'll figure it out."

"I have to figure it out by tonight. Alice said she's taking Bella with her if I don't sort my shit out and talk to her."

Jasper looked at me with a confused look on his face. "But there's the lawsuit if she doesn't finish the show without being officially released from the contract, as in being kicked off the show. Bella works at a bar and bookshop. She can't afford us suing her for a million dollars."

"Then I'll pay it for her," I said, turning back to the landscape.

"Edward, you can't be serious." The astonishment was in his voice.

"If she wants to go, then who am I do deny her that? She didn't even want to do this in the first place, and I'm in no position to keep her here with me, as much as I may want to."

"But don't you see? You are in that position! She may not have submitted the video, but she sure as hell signed that contract."

"Jasper, I'm not going to change my mind," I said resolutely.

He sighed. "Are you at least going to try to talk to her? You still have a while before she'll leave with Alice."

"We'll see." What was there to say that could make her feel better? Like less of a fool for telling me "I love you" in front of six million viewers? Like I wasn't a total asshole of the world?

"Well," he said, hopefully changing the subject because I was sick of talking about how I made my life into a shithouse all my onesie. "The real reason I came up here is because today is your date afternoon with Lauren."

"Mallory?" I asked, not even trying to hide the disdain in my voice. Just fucking great. The last thing I wanted was to spend three hours with Lauren fucking Mallory talking to me about her nose job or highlights or whatever thoughts happen to pass through her empty, with exception to the bleach from her hair appointments, head.

"Yes. Maybe it will even distract you from the shithole you're in. What's the worst that could happen?"

I stop off and put a bullet in my head before we even leave the house? I didn't say this out loud but it sure as hell crossed my mind.

"Right," I said instead. "When do we leave?"

"Twenty minutes," he said, clapping me on the shoulder, and then leaving through the same door he entered through. "I'll call you when the car gets here," he yelled over his shoulder as he left my room.

Twenty minutes until I was in the seventh circle of hell. What would I do if I had twenty minutes left on earth? Talk to Bella, numnuts. That freaking voice in my head won't go away. But of course, as per usual, it was right.

I walked down my steps to her floor, then to her room, pushing the cracked door open a little bit more. She was sitting on the windowsill, looking at the same view I had just abandoned upstairs. Sensing my presence, she turned to me, her eyes looking, but not really seeing me.

I stepped into her room slowly, gauging her reaction but she seemed altogether unfazed by my being there.

"Bella," I began but she cut me off.

"No, Edward," she swung her feet off the seat and stood in front of me. I noticed dark circles under her eyes that matched my own, her hair hung loose around her face, uncombed and she just looked…exhausted, and the realization that I cause this hit me like an anvil on my chest.

"You don't have the right to come in here and tell me that you're sorry and that you feel awful. That's just to make yourself feel better and that's not how this works. You should have just told me that I was alone in this relationship. You should have told me that you were the playboy I pegged you for and that I was just a fling. You should have said something before last night. Instead of just standing there like you always do and making me out to be the bumbling idiot that I am."

I stared at her. She was right. I should have said something. "None of those are true, though. You aren't alone in this, and I'm not a playboy. I mean, I was. But I'm not anymore. I promise you. You did that. I want something more than just a fling with you and I'm sorry that I made you feel otherwise. That was never my intention. I never meant to hurt you."

"Well, guess what? You did. And I'm ashamed to say it because I should have seen it coming. Edward Cullen breaking my heart. Its nothing the world hasn't seen before. I'm just upset that I let myself fall for you. I know better."

She was interrupted by my phone ringing. Jasper. Time to go. Lauren. Well, shit.

I looked at her apologetically. "I have to go. Contestants, you know…" I trailed off because I didn't know what else to say. Confident, cocky Edward Cullen deemed speechless by a gorgeous klutz from Washington. What had the world come to?

"Yeah, don't want to keep them waiting," she spat curtly.

I nodded and turned. I knew my shoulders were hunched in defeat and I looked like hell. I don't know if she saw me because she had turned to the window when I moved out the door. I stopped outside her room when I heard her call my name.

"Alice is leaving tonight and I'm going with her." She turned back around to look at me and I locked my eyes on hers before I nodded again.

"I'm in no position to keep you here," I said softly, reiterating my statement from this morning.

"You're right. You're not. Not anymore," she responded brusquely before walking towards me and slamming her bedroom door in my face.

________________

"So I was like, um, Tanya, you totally should get the pink nail polish instead of the purple and she was all like, bitch, please. I know what color my nails should be. And then I realized that I like, couldn't be friends with such a fugly bitch. So by the end of eighth grade, I was in like, social exile, until I met Victoria, and she was totally awesome."

We were walking along a lakeshore somewhere outside of Los Angeles and I swear to God, this was my hell on earth. She had since moved from hair products to nail polish colors all the while telling me her history from kindergarten. We just passed the eighth grade. And let me tell you, from my own assessment, she's been a bitch since birth.

"Eddie, you're not listening to me." Her talons, I mean hands, gripped my arm to turn me to face her.

"Lauren, I can't listen to you. When I do, it feels like I want to stick pins in my ears to make the noise stop."

"Wouldn't that hurt?" she asked.

"Thus the basis of its appeal."

She laughed, actually no, cackled. "Oh, Eddie, you're so funny. You remind me of my first boyfriend in 5th grade! His name was Leo, but everyone called him Badge. I like, totally don't know why, but he was cute, I guess. We totally made out on the playground and then he went to go like, run around in the mud. Whatever."

I simply stared at her. How can she think I care about this? Or anyone does? Then I felt like an asshole.

She started talking again and I put my finger to her lips to stop her. I think she almost stuck out her tongue to lick me. Ew. "Look, Lauren, you're a nice person. And someday you're going to find a great guy who will really appreciate me. But that's not me. I'm sorry."

Her lip started to tremble. She sniffled once. "Does this mean you're kicking me off the show?"

"Not yet. You can't really be kicked off by me. The audience does that. But it was inevitable, you knew that."

Her eyes narrowed to slits that should have emanated anger, but just made her look like she was squinting, as if she couldn't see me clearly. "But that trampy Bella Swan can still hold your attention?"

"It's not like that. I promise you. You and I both know that this isn't going anywhere."

She sighed, nodding her head. "I guess I knew that. My boyfriend told me that, too, but I just really wanted to see."

"You have a boyfriend?" I asked, dumbfounded.

She laughed, "Yeah, back in Arizona. Mike. He was all for me doing this."

"I didn't know that."

"Well, you wouldn't, would you? You've only had eyes for Bella since she walked into your office that day? The day I said I moved my hair appointment?"

I remembered clearly. Bella had told me that day that she would tear out my jugular if I kept looking at her and that someday, all the fame would wear off and I'd end up washed up and alone. "I remember."

"I hope you guys will be happy together, you know, after this show is over?"

I looked at her. I had judged her all wrong. Sure, she said like a lot and really loved her makeup products, but maybe like everyone else in the world, she was trying to find her place.

"I hope so too, but I don't know."

Now she turned to look at me as I sat down on the shore on the edge of the lake. "Trouble in paradise?" she asked.

"I royally messed up."

"So fix it," she said simply with a shrug of her shoulders.

"It's not that easy."

"Sure it is," she said. "If you love her, and she loves you, then it'll work. If you belong together, it will happen. She obviously loves you enough to say it on TV, so that has to count for something."

I suddenly knew what I had to do. I can't believe I didn't think of it sooner. She bore her soul to me on national television; it was only right that I returned the favor.

We (Lauren, myself and the camera crew) sat there for a long time after that, not talking. It was nice to have another female point of view without death threats. I was still stumped. What was I supposed to do?

Lauren and I went back to the house and she went to the kitchen to get food. I met Jasper in the foyer. "How was it?" he asked.

I shrugged noncommittally, "It was fine." I was itching to see Bella. The crew followed me to her room where I saw her packing her bag.

She glared when she saw me in her doorway for the second time that day. She zipped up her suitcase and put her backpack and duffel nearby.

"Bella, you told me that you loved me on TV and I was so stupid because I let you down. I let you just sit there and then leave me, and it's not something I care to do again. So I'm telling you this now, without agenda or hopes, but just so you know I love you."

I moved to her but she stepped away. Wasn't this what she wanted? A leveling of grounds, as it were?

She pursed her lips, trying not to cry. She moved to pick up her bags, pulling up the handle on her wheeled suitcase and slinging the backpack and duffel over her shoulder.

"Goodbye, Edward," she said, placing a soft kiss on my cheek as she walked by. At the door, she turned to me and shook her head. "You really don't understand, do you?"

She smiled sadly as I stared after her, standing in her room long after I heard her footsteps down the stairs and the front door slam, the taxi pull away from the front drive of the house, on its way back to the Los Angeles with the girl I loved safely tucked inside.