The statement stunned and humbled him. It validated him. It made him want to kiss away the words that were forming in his mouth. They crawled up his throat burning and making him choke. They stung and hurt but he knew what he had to do.
"Of course, Bella." He forced himself to smile. "That's what friends are for."
When Bella was young, friend had seemed like such a simple word. Something nice and warm, like the cookies her neighbour used to share with her. For the most of her life, she boasted that her mom was her best friend and saw nothing wrong with doing so. As a toddler, she had also said repeatedly that she would marry her dad when she grew up. It seemed logical - her mom didn't want to be married to him and it would have been a good way to spend some time with him. She'd always liked the way he picked up wriggly worms and hooked them on his fishing pole. Long after she realised that was not an option for her, Bella still claimed her mother was her friend, never stopping to think that it wasn't the most supportive environment for her.
But still friend was a nice word back then. The kids that sat around her in school, were friends not classmates. Whenever some well-meaning relative asked her what her friends liked, or who they were, she could always drum up an answer. When Valentine's Day rolled around, it was fun to exchange one or two friendship cards, without any sense of embarrassment or hidden meanings. She had made and received bright woven friendship bracelets that year at craft camp. Heck, she even had some fond memories of epic Friends marathon, on the threadbare couch back in Phoenix with Renee and bucket loads of popcorn.
But somewhere along the line, the word had lost it's appeal. Valentine's Day started being about hormonal crushes. She noticed the leer in the expression of the men her mother would introduce as a 'friend' in the kitchen in the morning. There was no-one to name when she was asked about school friends. Even Renee stopped being her friend eventually.
The older she got, the harder friends were to come by. Bella could hardly remember the last time someone had looked at her and called her a friend. She was unprepared for the sense of acceptance, the lack of pressure or expectation that came with the statement.
Edward placed his cold hand on the small of her back; she felt the pressure through the bulky coat he had given her. The small touch sent little tidal waves of warmth flowing through her body and for that moment, she regretted just a little that he hadn't used a stronger word than friends. Just a moment, and then the pangs were gone. She went back to being happy to be with him.
"Friends," Bella repeated, trying the word out for size.
"Yeah." Edward looked unsure. "That's okay isn't it?"
"Of course. You know, I don't have a lot of friends."
"Me neither. I've a tendency to rub people up the wrong way," he admitted.
"Yeah. In fact," He leaned in close, whispering lightly in her ear. "You're my only friend."
Bella swelled with that knowledge, full and warm with a sense of importance. A buzz rang out, the sound of Edward's phone and he began to search his pockets.
"Sorry. It's my mom," he said to Bella when he located the phone. She busied herself with watching the people walk by while he spoke. It usually kept her occupied when he wasn't here and this occasion was no exception. There was a lady wearing lipstick the deepest shade of purple Bella had ever seen.
But still, some of his hushed words drifted into her ears and she began to feel uncomfortable.
"Sorry about that." Edward shot her an apologetic look as he slipped the phone back into his pocket. It was hard for Bella not to stare at the way his slim hands rested in the crease of his jeans. "My mother was being snippy, making sure I was coming home for dinner."
"Oh. Did you…get in trouble for staying out last night?"
Edward laughed quietly and shook his head. "I'm nineteen, Bella. A little past getting grounded by Mommy and Daddy don't you think? They were just pissed that I didn't let them know."
"Don't be. It's not your fault that they stick their noses where they don't belong."
"I'm sure they mean well, Edward. You've got people at home that care about you which is more than I can say."
"You're right." He looked a little ashamed. "I know that. I just don't always appreciate it, sorry."
"What are you apologizing for?" she asked.
"For going on about my family when…you know…you're alone here."
"Don't be. It's not your fault," she echoed his earlier words. "Besides, I'm not completely alone, am I?"
"No. You're definitely not alone." Edward gently squeezed her hand and spoke in words so quiet Bella didn't think she was meant to hear them. "And neither am I."
Just like that, Bella went from having no friends to speak of to having the very best friend in the entire world. Though she would never admit it, somewhere along the way Edward had become her world. She went to classes. She went to work. She studied and read and kept her head down and her outlook positive.
But those things were only the banalities of everyday life. They were the ordinary things, which only existed to be dull in comparison to the bright things. How could you appreciate the beauty of a sunrise if you hadn't been awake through the darkness of the night? Edward was the spark that brightened dull days.
He brought her coffee every morning they met and never accepted anything in return. He gave her compliments that made her blush pink and glow special. He met her in the library and helped her study. When Edward could, he explained the problems to her with painstaking patience, going over and over the math until her head swam and she finally got it right. It struck her in those moments, just how intelligent Edward was. How wasteful it was that he spent his days doing mindless busywork in an environment that was clearly stifling to him. Whenever the topic Bella slaved over was something he was unfamiliar with, Edward would offer encouraging words and gentle touches that often proved to more distracting than helpful.
But it was the thought that counted. Bella was just happy that he was even there. Thrilled that he would choose to spend his free time in a stuffy library with her. Sometimes she would find him reading through her notes or looking at her books with a mix of fascination and regret on his face. Whenever she asked him why, he would shrug and mutter something about being curious.
One evening he showed up with a stuffed brown envelope that Bella instantly recognised to be college prospectus and applications. She waited for him to mention it, but he merely smiled hello and began to leaf through the shiny pages. She watched as his posture grew tense and he hunched over the desk, gripping a pencil between his fingers. Illogical sadness crept under her skin as the prospect of Edward going away somewhere became very real to her. But it quickly subsided, as the idea of offering her stressed friend some comfort was more important.
She nudged him under the table, the worn canvas of her sneakers brushing against his muscled calf. He looked up, a tired smile on his face.
"Hey," she whispered. "Are you okay?"
Edward nodded. "These essays are just more difficult than I anticipated. I've no idea what I'm meant to write about or how I pretend to be something these places would want."
"You don't need to pretend. Who wouldn't want you?"
Edward dropped his pencil and sat back in his chair with his hands behind his head.
"You're too good to me," he murmured, his hair catching the fading light as he slowly shook his head. "Do you want to take a break?"
"Sure, I'll follow you out."
When Bella was sure he was safely out of view, she grabbed one of those yellow post-its from her bag and wrote a note to stick on Edward's form. A sigh of relief left her lips when she recognized the logo on the top of the page as the one on her own papers.
Scrawled in black ink, I know you can do it, was the message she left him.
Two days later, Bella grinned with joy when Edward told her he had sent in his applications.
As the depths of Winter became denser, Bella was increasingly stressed. Time was a scarce commodity, between work and school and studying, it seemed like there was never enough hours in the day. Never enough time to spend being happy with Edward.
Her grades still weren't as high as she would have liked and exam time was fast approaching. Her bank account was still emptier than she would have liked, and the problem of next semesters tuition hung over her like a dark cloud. It was too cold and her bedroom was so damp she could feel the moisture in her lungs. She was too thin, too tired and felt too often that she was swimming against the strongest current.
If it wasn't for the little flashes of light that came with Edward in her life, she thought she might have given up. The warmth she felt when he smiled at her. The way she laughed when he told her anecdotes about his family. The assuredness of his arm around her shoulders, the frequency of his innocent touches and the sparks she felt when his strong hand wrapped around hers.
These were the things that kept her going.
And the phone-calls. They were the things that chased away the nightmares. Every night, Bella would tiptoe down to the payphone in the lobby and dial Edward's number. She knew it by heart. The phone would ring just once in her ear and then he would immediately call her back. She would hunch under the wooded stairs in the harsh hallway and listen to his sleepy voice. He would tell her about his evening, what he was doing, what he had for dinner. She would speak about work and tell her own little stories. All utterly mundane but completely extraordinary to them.
Then she would creep back up to her narrow bed and shiver under thin blankets. But with his music in her ears and his voice fresh in her mind, Bella would feel almost normal.
Thanksgiving came and went. The excess of it all made Bella feel a little disgusted. All those people gorging on food, plump and bloated like a farmed turkey, never stopping to think about those who had nothing. It wasn't her nature to be jealous or bitter but the whole thing seemed to wasteful. So unnecessary. Weren't there better ways to be thankful for what you had?
Bella spent the day at the restaurant with Sam, Emily and a various other people they had rounded up to give a warm welcome to on a potentially lonely day. She was the only American born person in the motley crew, and they spent the day discussing new traditions and sharing tales and recipes of their homelands. The things these people were thankful for were vastly different from the phrases she had heard in other times and places. Freedom. Shelter. Health. Family. She had overheard some girl in her class say she was thankful for beer pong and lipgloss.
Edward told her he was thankful for his family and friends.
Bella knew she was his only friend.
She was just grateful for all that she had. And even more thankful that she possessed the ability to appreciate it.
She had fun day, tried some new things and learned a little bit. She made her obligatory call to her Charlie. It was awkward and distant and at first, Bella felt bad because she was telling him half-truths. Then he told her he had to run, his step-children were waiting on him. She slammed down the phone, hot tears in her eyes and hissing through gritted teeth.
She received an e-card from Renee to mark the occasion. Some sickly looking animated pumpkin pie. It baffled her. She's always hated pumpkin and her mother knew it. The smell made her nauseous. The texture made her gawk. Bella couldn't understand why she would choose to send that to her only child. The picture had orange sparkles, for pete's sake.
Later in the day she noticed that one of Emily's guests had blusher the same tangerine colour. The elderly lady was boasting in thickly accented English - her daughter was beautiful, her son was strong. She had a Jacuzzi bath and a walk in wardrobe.
Excess evidently had no cultural boundaries.
Bella returned her focus to her knitting. The clicking of the needles, the rhythm of the stitches and the sharp sting on the tip of her index finger combined to serve as a distraction. Otherwise the loneliness and the pitying looks would have been too much to bear.
Edward was gone to visit his brother with the rest of the family. Bella tried not to be jealous, even when she had overheard him upgrading his family's airplane tickets to first class. From what she had gathered, Edward desperately missed the company of his brother and really, she was happy that he got to spend some time with him.
She pictured Edward in a fancy restaurant, surrounded by warm faces with gleaming white teeth. She wondered would he smile and join in the celebrations or if he was sullen in the corner, intense as ever and maybe even thinking about her. She wondered, if he had ever told them about their friendship. If the important people in Edward's life knew about the lonely girl who felt lost without him.
She had shown him all of her, even the parts she would have rather kept locked away. And sometimes Bella wondered if all she got in return were little snapshots of him. Pretty little images pictures or stark empty pictures that only told part of the story.
Bella spent the majority of the year being positive and thankful for what she had in life. Thanksgiving was the day she decided to wallow in self-pity.
After returning from his trip, Edward opened his nightly phone call to Bella with a proposition.
"Alice wants to meet you," he said. "I can't put her off any longer. She's planning on heading into the city tomorrow to catch the last of the post-Thanksgiving sales and I was thinking we could meet up and grab some lunch."
This was the first time Edward had ever mentioned meeting his family and Bella panicked a little. The odds of her making a good impression on Edward's beloved little sister were slim to none.
"I'm working the early shift and I have a paper to finish," she stammered. "I can't meet until late afternoon."
"Whenever suits you, Bella. Unless you don't want to. It's perfectly understandable, I mean, I know I might have made Alice out to be a bit of a handful but she's really a sweetheart underneath it all and she's desperate to meet you but -"
"Edward. I'd love to meet her. Just tell her not to expect to much."
"Of you? I've already told her how funny and clever and amazing you are so it's a bit late for that," he replied.
"I sincerely hope you are joking."
"I'm being completely honest, Bella."
Her cheeks were hot against the receiver.
"So tomorrow then?" She changed the subject. "On the steps around four?"
"Sounds great. And Bella?"
"I really missed you these last couple days."
"Yeah, me too."
The batteries died in her alarm clock causing her to oversleep. There was no hot water in the shared bathroom and the remnants of ten beers and a kebab in the sink. Her hair was lank and greasy and she had to cover it with that embarrassing hat Emily had made her. A blemish to rival Mount Vesuvius had appeared on her chin. Her jeans hung too low on her hips and too baggy on her ass. She got her period unexpectedly and had to scrounge a tampon from the hardnosed girl who lived across the hall. She cut her finger at work and lost an entire page of her paper when the stupid public computer she was working on overheated and shut down without warning.
She didn't know why she was even bothering. The chances of her managing another semester in college were growing slimmer by the day.
In short, it was a bad day.
Ordinarily, on bad days Bella would paste a smile on her face and hope for the best. Or she would look forward to speaking with Edward, knowing that he always cheered up her up. Even when he didn't realise it.
But not today. She was too busy being petrified about meeting Edward's sister to focus on anything. Would she like her? Would she judge her? Would Bella be able to think of anything to say?
Bella's mind was in overdrive as she typed furiously. Her fingers stung and her face burned and her shirt clung to her body with sweat. The deadline for her assignment was creeping closer and so was the time she had agreed to meet Edward. She hit 'submit' with minutes to spare and took off out of the library like a bat out of hell. She barrelled through the streets. Strands of hair blew wild around her face, irritating her skin and itching her eyes. Her backpack flapped against her in an annoying rhythm that matched her emotions. Up and down. High and low. The heaviness was always there, whether she felt the weight or not.
The stone steps came into her view but Bella paid them no heed. She was too busy searching the area, trying to spot Edward or Alice. Then she was falling, balance gone and feet fumbling. Her hands went out instinctively, trying to protect her body and the sting of concrete and gravel was immediate on her palms. Her knees hit next, denim shredded and skin grazed. She felt the wet trickle of blood and the searing and the searing pain and tears were burning her eyes.
Bella stayed on the ground for just a minute longer than necessary, waiting to see if Edward would appear and help her up. He did not.
With the sluggishness of an arthritic old woman, she began to pull herself to her feet and try dust herself off. She examined her filthy hands, her bloodied knees and her torn jeans. She was a complete mess. There was no she could meet anybody in this state.
"You okay, sweetie?"
Bella looked through the film of her tears and the gentlest face she had ever seen. Kind eyes and coconut smell and warm smile. Also a railway staff uniform and the name Angela on shiny tag.
"I'm fine," she replied in a small voice.
"Child, you don't look fine." The lady's voice was skeptical but not unkind. "You look like you've been pulled through a hedge backwards. Let's go get you cleaned up."
Bella tried to protest. She could look after herself and stammered out an excuse. "I'm meeting…my friend." It was one of those situations where friend was too casual of a word.
"You don't want to go meeting your friend looking like this. Come on girl, let Angela look after you."
All Bella could do was nod and follow her into the station. She found herself enclosed in a warm little office that was messy in that organized way. There was no doubt in her mind that this kind stranger could lay her hands to anything with her eyes closed, though it seemed chaotic to Bella. Stacks of files and abandoned coffee cups littered the desks. Shelves were crammed with the most random objects - phones, paper bags, stuffed animals, a football. Angela moved some old newspapers from rickety chair and indicated that Bella should sit down. She handed her a tissue for her eyes and unearthed a first aid box from beneath a crochet baby blanket.
"This place is like a treasure trove, yeah?" Angela asked, watching the way Bella examined the room. "You'd be amazed at the stuff people leave behind here."
"You keep it all?" Bella asked, gazing at overdue library books and single gloves.
"For a while, at least. Procedure is, we keep it three months and if no-one comes looking then it goes to charity or the dump. But I've been known to bend the rules upon occasion. Some of these things that nobody looks for, well they must have meant something to someone once. Someone loved that teddy bear, or read that book, or worked hard to buy the things they lose. Seems…wasteful just to dismiss something just because it got misplaced," Angela explained, tending to Bella's cuts and grazes. Her large calloused fingers were feather soft on Bella's skin - cleaning, disinfecting and dressing the minor wounds. She even cleaned the grime and blood that had accumulated on Bella's cheeks when she frantically tried to wipe away evidence of her misery. Bella imagined Angela had looked after many people in her time, wiped snot from little noses and changed countless diapers.
"Th -thanks," Bella stammered, looking at the clock on the wall. It was just like the one in her old school. In fact, it was just like every clock in every official building she had ever been in - stark and there to remind you you're time was not your own.
"No bother, sweetie. I didn't catch your name…"
"Bella. And you're Angela, right?"
"Sure am. Well, Bella. You got somewhere you need to be? Or were you trying to get away from somewhere you didn't want to be? You were in an awful hurry out there."
"I'm meant to be meeting…someone." Bella didn't know what word to use. It was one of those situations were friend would have seemed like a lie.
"Someone special?" Angela pressed, eyes glinting.
"I see." Angela was quiet. The clock ticked and Edward would be waiting. But the silence called Bella to fill it and Angela's patient almost-smile made Bella want to talk. And share. And whine in the way you only can to another female.
"I'm supposed to meet Edward and his sister and 'do something'. But I don't know what the something is. I'm pretty sure I can't afford anything and they're gonna insist on paying which will be all kinds of awkward My hair is greasy and I look like a freakin' hobo…"
"Child, I have seen more than my fair share of hobos in this line of word and you sure as hell don't look like one. Now those jeans ain't great but I bet we can do something about it." Angela began to rifle through the shelves while Bella scolded herself for her outburst. She hadn't mean to sound so shallow. Angela produced a paper bag and handed it to Bella.
"I can't take these," she began to protest as was her automatic response. "These clothes are brand new."
"They've been here coming up on six months and nobody's claimed 'em. Whatever little rich girl lost her shopping ain't coming back for it." Angela said, ushering Bella to the little toilet in the corner of the room. "Put them on. There's a shirt in there too if you want to change. Why shouldn't you have them?"
Bella agreed with her. Why shouldn't she have nice things for a change? She dressed quickly, stuffing her discarded clothes into her backpack. She pulled off the hat too, and tried to make herself feel good about her reflection. As Bella readied herself, Angela spoke to her through the paper thin door. She told Bella about some of the strangest things that had been found in the station over the years. She told her how she never would have had any luxuries only for this place. Bella smiled at the Robin hood image in her head.
When Bella emerged, Angela puffed a little bit of baby powder at her - to help hide the grease- and began to braid Bella's thick locks. She closed her eyes and relaxed at the sensations. When she was little, she used to love the feeling of her mom doing her hair. Renee's braids were always too loose though, and there would always be clumps of hair coming loose by morning break. Angela's fingers were nimble and they wound Bella's hair into a tight braid that somehow managed to look stylish.
"I was gonna root out some make-up for you but you don't need it," Angela said. "You're pretty enough already."
Bella smiled at the compliment and decided not to question the hygiene of using makeup that had been touched and worn by a stranger before her. After a glance at the clock, Bella leapt to her feet.
"Shoot. I'm so late." She looked at Angela, trying to convey thanks and apology in her eyes.
"Go on then," Angela ushered her towards the door.
"I…how can I thank you?" Bella was struck by the kindness she had just experienced. "I don't know what I would have done if -"
"You don't have to thank me, sweetie." Angela cut her off. "Just come back and see me some time and we'll call it even."
"I'd like that."
"Ain't that your boy waiting over there?" Angela pointed to a worried looking Edward, standing tall by a marble pillar. "You better go to him. He cares about you more than you know."
With a fleeting smile and goodbye, Bella darted off to meet Edward. Too pleased at the sight of him to wonder about Angela's last words.
It was only when she reached his side, that Bella realised Edward was alone.
"There you are," Edward smiled a weak greeting. "I was starting to worry."
"Sorry." Bella didn't explain herself. There was something about her little encounter with Angela that she wanted to keep private. "Where's Alice?"
"She's not coming."
Bella felt a pang of rejection, as irrational as it was. All this fuss and Alice hadn't even shown up. But then she swallowed that down, just like she'd forced back the nerves she had felt in the Lost and Found office, and tried to look on the bright side. If only she knew what that was.
Edward was looking tense, troubled by something deep in his brain and Bella wanted to make him smile again.
"Wanna get out of here?" she asked.
"Yes please." Edward guided her by the elbow towards the door, relief clear on his tense expression. "You look really pretty today, Bella."
The quiet words seemed to come so easily to him. She smiled at the compliment, not because she wanted his approval on her looks, but because he had said it like it was the most natural thing in the word.
The streets were dark and the cold night air put colour in her cheeks. They walked aimlessly along the path and Bella was reminded of that other night when they had walked and talked all night. She wished that Edward would take her hand in his again.
"Do you like the lights?" Edward asked, glancing up to the Christmas decorations already adorning the streets.
"They're pretty," Bella answered, thinking about how she felt about them. "But some of it's a little unnecessary."
"Really? I thought you'd love them."
"They're different to what I'm used to," Bella said. "But they are pretty. Can you imagine all the work and planning that went into them? They must really cheer people up too. And little kids, I bet they love them…" She trailed off, distracted by the way the lights sparkled against concrete buildings and the night sky.
Edward laughed dryly. "I knew you would like them. Alice goes crazy for this kind if stuff. She's bugging Esme already to put the tree up. She was really looking forward to coming into the city to see the decorations."
"Why didn't she come?"
"Esme thought it would be better for her to stay at home."
Bella creased her eyebrows at the cryptic answer, wondering if Edward's mother didn't want Alice to meet her.
"My sister's always been…highly strung," he said, voice searching for the right words.
"Must run in the family," Bella joked, trying to lighten the mood. Edward huffed a small laugh, most likely out of manners than genuine amusement.
"Alice was really excited about tonight. She's been dying to meet you and I think she cooked up some happy little plan involving shopping and movies and all sorts of fun activities. She got really worked up and nervous and freaked out a little," Edward paused, letting out a defeated sigh. "She couldn't find her favourite scarf and got really upset, irrational almost. Our mom thought it best that she stayed home. She'll bring her to the mall tomorrow."
"I was really looking forward to meeting her. But we can do it another time right?" Bella asked, not quite sure what to make of the strange excuse. She got the impression that Edward was being honest, but doing his best to play it down.
"Sure." He nodded, distracted and eyes far away. "The thing is, I knew where her scarf was."
"Why didn't you tell her?"
"Remember the night we stayed out?" Edward didn't wait for an answer. "Alice really worried that night. She didn't tell me the details but I know how she gets. When I got home the next morning, I found her scarf in my room. I guess she'd been waiting there, fretting or something. It had a big hole in it, like she'd been picking at it. That's what she does when she gets upset. She pulls threads, picks at the skin around her fingernails…I found it and stuffed it down the back of the couch. When she was looking for it today, I didn't know how to bring it up. So I just, said nothing."
"What colour was the scarf?" Bella asked, forming a plan.
"Orange." Edward looked at her oddly. "That's really not the point here, Bella. I messed up because I didn't know how to deal with the situation and poor Alice is home alone again. I feel guilty, rightly so, but I'm also kind of glad that it's just the two of us and that makes me just about the biggest asshole going and -"
They had stopped walking and Bella reached up, placing her finger against his lips to quiet him.
"We all mess up sometimes, Edward."
"Some more than others," he muttered against her finger.
"Listen, you're not responsible for Alice's whims. What happened wasn't ideal but you can't beat yourself up over it." Bella moved her hand over to the cold, soft skin of his cheek. "Don't let this ruin the night."
"Thank you, Bella." Edward placed his hand over hers. She could feel his cheeks lift into a smile. "Do you fancy going to a movie?"
"Really?" Bella couldn't conceal her enthusiasm. It had been too long since she had gone to see movie in a cinema, sat in the dark and had hot buttered popcorn melt in her mouth.
"That movie is opening today, the one everyone is talking about. If we hurry we can catch the next show."
"Sure." Bella smiled, bright and genuine and the hurried down the street to the movie theatre. As happy as she was, especially since this didn't seem like a friends thing to do, she couldn't help but think that maybe Edward was tired of talking.
He insisted on paying for the tickets and the food. Claiming that it was his idea and therefore he should be the one to foot the bill. Bella made minimal protests before deciding to relax and let him.
Then they were sinking into plush seats in the semi-dark theatre. The previews had yet to start and Bella was experiencing that flurry of anticipation that always came with waiting for the lights to go down and the movie to start. The room was warm and comfortable, with Edward's shoulder against hers and his hand brushing hers on the armrest. With subtle touches and furtive glances, this did not feel like friends.
Bella began to let her fingers glide up and down Edward's knuckles, feeling the sharp bones and cold flesh and uneven skin. He tensed up and so did Bella, when he snatched his hand out from under hers. But then, he wrapped his arm around her shoulders pulled her even closer. The lights went down and she melted against him, troubles forgotten and completely relaxed.
Edward had bought a mountain of food and Bella felt a twinge, when she remembered going to the movies with her mother and sneaking generic brand treats in their bags. They feasted on gallons of coke, mountains of popcorn and mounds of chocolate and candy. Edward disappeared halfway through and returned with ice-cream. They shared a spoon and Bella giggled quietly when she missed Edward's mouth and the icecream landed on his nose instead.
Bella enjoyed the movie, though she was always aware of Edward's proximity to her in the dark and the flutter he caused in her chest. Edward seemed to mostly watch Bella. His eyes were on her more often than they were focused on the screen and a lazy half-smile played on his lips. He played with the loose strands of hair at the end of her plait.
"I wish your hair was down," Edward whispered absentmindedly. Bella was certain he could feel the heat radiating from her skin at his words. None of this felt like friends.
When the movie ended and the lights came one, Bella blinked and stretched. It was amazing how quickly she had become accustomed to the dark and the closeness. Edward kept his hand on her back as they navigated through the crowds streaming out of the theatre.
"Do you want to get something to eat?" he asked when they came out into the fresh air.
Bella shook her head. "I'm stuffed from all that junk food. How about we walk around a bit, if that's okay with you?"
"Sure," Edward agreed, and they began to stroll through the city streets. "Did you enjoy the movie?"
"Yeah. It was pretty good. The acting was a bit wooden though. Did you like it?"
"I liked watching it with you."
They walked around, chatting and window-shopping and admiring the lights, until it was too late and too cold to stay out any longer. Outside Bella's miserable door, Edward paused and looked more broken than she had ever seen him. There was pain in his eyes of a different sort.
"Is it very bad?" he asked, inclining his head towards Bella's dwellings. "Living there?"
"It could be worse," she replied.
"You're avoiding my question."
"No," Bella said firmly. "It's not great, but it's not very bad. I can cope."
"I wish you didn't have to cope. I wish I could do more, be more, for you." Edward's voice was strained and earnest. Instincts trumping logic, Bella closed the space between them and wrapped her arms tightly around his waist, drawing Edward into a tight hug.
"You're more than enough," she said against his chest. There was such fierceness in his embrace and emotion in his eyes, that Bella was almost sure that he believed her.
Thanks again to everyone who continues to share such lovely support for this story. It really means a lot to me that you are sticking with it.
I look forward to seeing your thoughts on this chapter.