"The Grey"

by: Eleanor T.

beta: Marina H.

"Bella, push the clutch in," Edward repeated, for about the hundredth time. I felt the car lurch, and then come to a complete stop. I exhaled loudly and sat back in my seat. If I didn't like the Mercedes before because of it's extravagance, I definitely did not like it now. Why he felt the need to get a manual transmission was beyond me, I preferred the "point-and-shoot" style of driving.

"Edward, this is stupid. This isn't even my car," I complained, pursing my lips at his tolerant expression.

"Bella, love, driving a manual is a good thing to know," he said, his voice satin-smooth as he gave me an encouraging smile. I stared back at him, blankly. We had been at this for almost an hour, and I had barely made a full circle with the car. His eyes locked into mine, and I felt my frustration start to melt away. I quickly averted my gaze, and I saw a small sigh escape his lips out of the corner of my eye.

"Just turn the car back on, and we'll try again," he replied to my silence. He had said these exact words the last time I stalled the car. In fact, for the past hour, he had been repeating a lot of the same lines. It was like putting a chapter of a DVD on repeat. We were looping.

Refusing to look at him, I crossed my arms over my chest and balled my hands into fists. Frustration furrowed in my brow and I stared straight out of the windshield.

"Do you want me to show you again?" he continued, a slight smirk in his voice, as he to notice of my obvious pouting.

"No," I replied, bitterly. He had showed me sixteen times. I had watched as he gracefully moved his feet back and forth between the brake and gas, I had admired his flawless shifting of gears, and I had taken note of the way the car sounded as he did these things. I understood it all in theory. I always understood the theory.

"What are you thinking?" he said after a few moments of silence.

"I'm thinking I can't do this," I began.

"Bella, you can do this, you're just thinking too hard about it," he replied, soothingly, running his index finger down my jaw line, and then curved his hand under my chin, turning my head to face him.

"Okay, I was also thinking I don't want to do this," I finished, insolently. I was testing his patience, I could tell, even if dissatisfaction never crossed his face. He smiled gently at me, and reached over to restart the car. It purred to life, though I felt an irritated growl would have been more appropriate. At least then, the Mercedes and I could have had something in common. Right now, it was clear that the car was on Team Edward.

With an overdramatic exhalation, I sat up again, and grabbed the wheel. I shifted into first gear, eased my foot off the clutch while applying the gas. The car began to roll forward, and as it picked up speed, I tried, again, to remember the order in which I was supposed to do everything. My foot hovered lightly on the gas pedal, and I tapped it as gently as I could. It didn't take much to get the car going, and I was prolonging the actual act of shifting. I felt more accomplished the longer I was driving, even if I was simply coasting in first gear. I watched the tachometer get closer and closer to the red part and waited for Edward to repeat the instructions, just like he had done every time.

"Okay Bella, now push the clutch in all the way," he began, his voice was soft and resonated serenity from every angle. I pushed down the clutch, while letting go of the gas, and fumbled with the gearshift. Edward's cool touch guided my hand and he gently helped me move into second.

"Now release the clutch slowly and give it a little gas," he continued in the same velvet tone. I wanted to look at him, I wanted to see his eyes, the liquid gold ones that usually accompanied that voice, but I couldn't handle other distractions. In my haste to finish shifting and look at him again, I released the clutch too fast without enough acceleration and the car stuttered and stopped, stalling out, again.

"DAMNIT," I shouted, slamming my hands on the steering wheel. I would never tell him, but my inability to focus long enough to shift from first to second gear was entirely Edward's fault. Him and his silly, perfect face and intoxicating presence.

"Bella, darling, don't take it out on the car," he sighed with a teasing chuckle on the edge of his breath. I shot a narrowed glare in his direction. It was my attempt at being intimidating. His chuckle merely turned to an appreciative laugh. I guess it didn't work.

"What should I take it out on, then? You?" I replied, growing more irritated with his inability to take my threats seriously.

"Sure, why not?" he choked out, as his laugh began to die down. He shot me a challenging smile, as if to say, 'bring it,' and I sighed. Even if he wasn't a million times stronger than me, and even if there was a chance that I could hurt him if I wanted to, I would never actually do it. Which was aggravating all in itself.

I pulled the keys out of the ignition and tossed them to him. He wasn't looking, but I knew he'd catch them. Sure enough, without breaking eye contact, his right hand reached out and caught the keys in midair. He opened his mouth to protest, but gave a resigned sigh instead. Edward couldn't read my mind, but he could usually tell when enough was enough.

He was at the driver's side door, opening it, before I could finish my blink. Prior to meeting Edward, I didn't think I was missing much every time I reapplied moisture to my eyes. But ever since that night after Port Angeles, it seemed that even that fraction of a second was too long to close them. I knew I should feel flattered, that he trusted me enough to be entirely himself around me, but his "normalcy" was beginning to make me feel what I would imagine a sloth would feel in comparison to a cheetah. I grimaced at the notion, comparing the two animals, in speed, elegance and external appearance. We embodied the two in many ways, and with that thought, my self-esteem took another blow. I sat in the driver's seat, mulling over this idea for a second too long, and Edward's waiting expression grew anxious.

"Is everything okay?" he asked, his inclination to worry beginning to fester.

"Yeah," I mumbled and got out of the car. I knew this wouldn't be enough. "Just a little frustrated with my inability to perform more than one task at once, that's all." I gave him a weak, but honestly annoyed, half smile, and he ran his hand down my hair and kissed me softly on the forehead.

"You'll get it soon enough, you are only human," he smiled, waiting for my reaction at his teasing remark. I rolled my eyes and stomped around to the open passenger side door. I slammed it shut and closed my eyes, listening to the soft sound of his amused laugh, a tenor chorus, perfectly arranged.

During the short drive, I permitted my frustration to cultivate a little more. I did my best to keep a neutral expression on my face, not that it mattered. Edward seemed to be in his head, most likely replaying our last few spoken words, because every now and then, he'd let out a soft chuckle and shake his head back and forth. By the time we got to the Cullen's house, I had reached full-scale aggravation.

Jasper and Alice were sitting on the porch, seemingly enthralled in playful conversation. However, when Edward and I approached, Jasper crinkled his eyebrows and shot me a confused, tensed expression. I didn't have much time to register this change before Edward was speaking.

"I tried to teach her how to drive a stick," Edward grinned at Jasper's unspoken question. I let out another sigh and rolled my eyes.

"It didn't go well," Alice stated with a tiny smile. I turned my glare to her. She knew. Of course she knew.

"You could have told me, you know. You could have mentioned that this activity would be another showcase in the "all-the-things-Bella-can't-do" parade." Edward put his hands on my shoulders comfortingly, and Alice let out a short, but appreciative laugh.

After a beat or two, Emmett came out of the front door, beaming. It was apparent that he had heard our whole conversation, and in all the time we'd known each other, he never missed a chance to tease me.

"Ooh, Bella's mad!" he said cheerily and came around to my other side, rumpling my hair simply to add insult to injury.

I scowled at him, which received a hearty laugh. I turned to Edward, hoping that he would at least shoot him a look of disapproval, but Edward was silently laughing along with his favorite brother. With a final huff of vexation, I stormed off into the house. Being unintentionally funny was getting really old.

Edward caught up instantaneously, and went to grab the front door. His laugh had decreased to a warm grin, but I held my own for the moment. I stopped dead in front of the doorway, where he was waiting with the open door and crossed my arms. His grin faded as confusion set in.

"What?" he asked innocently, noting the staying power of my temper. It didn't usually last this long.

"I was storming off," I replied flatly as I continued to glower at him.

"Okay?" he said, clearly not following. I heard Emmett laugh again, and even Jasper had joined him. Alice, however, appeared at my side, and then pulled Edward back from the door.

"She was storming, Edward," Alice scolded him, with her soprano voice echoing chords of mockery. "You should never stop a girl from storming."

Edward took a second to register this. I'm positive Alice had some more explanation that he read from her mind, because only then did his hands shoot up in defeat, which he followed with a motion for me to continue. In my cursory glance of him, he looked slightly annoyed, but compliant, which is what mattered, really.

I continued my stomping through the front door of the big white house, where I found Esme and Carlisle sitting, serenely, side-by-side on the couch. Not wanting to be rude, I mumbled a 'hello' to them and they smiled politely, allowing me carry on, undeterred.

I headed straight up the big staircase, and then down the hall, and by the time I reached Edward's room on the third floor, my temper had almost entirely burned out. I sat down on his couch, pulling a blanket from the back of it around myself. I inhaled deeply as I curled it around my body, taking in his scent. And with that breath, the remaining embers of my anger died out.

I heard whispering outside the door, but I couldn't make out what was being said. It was definitely Edward; I would know his voice, even in a whisper, anywhere. I couldn't hear anyone else, but I didn't think that Edward would be talking to himself. Before I could give it any more thought, the door cracked open a little and Edward stuck his head in.

"Is it okay for me to enter my own room?" he inquired, a little remnant confusion still coloring his voice.

"I guess," I smiled back at him. As he entered the room, I watched his whole body relax at the sight of my smile, as if the threat of danger was over.

He crossed the room, at a human pace, and sat down next to me on his long black sofa. I had pulled my legs up off the floor, and held them close to my chest, wrapping both my arms around them.

"May I apologize now?" he continued, uncertain.

I raised an eyebrow at his expression. I had to be the only teenage girl on the planet whose boyfriend got this distressed over an argument.

"Yes," I replied, softly. His cool hands found both sides of my face, and he cradled my cheeks in his hands, using his thumbs to brush a couple of stray hairs back from my face. His golden eyes locked into mine, and my heart started to beat unevenly. I could feel the blood pumping in my veins as my heart raced ahead in double-time.

"I am excruciating sorry, Bella," he whispered, leaning in to kiss my left cheek, soft as his touch, but enough to make my heart skip a beat or four. "I'll get Emmett back for you," he continued as he kissed my right cheek, and in my hyper excited state, a small giggle escaped from my lips. "I'll even run him over with the car, if that's what you want," he breathed, and as his lips found mine, my head began to swim.

I had never done drugs before. Yet, I imagined this buzzing feeling that overwhelmed my brain, not quite dizzy, but entirely unable to focus on anything other than the sensation of electricity that wrecked through my body, as our kiss grew deeper, was probably very similar to being high. Edward had once mused that I was his brand of heroin, and if I were heroin to him, then, to me, he would have to be some kind of hybrid drug. Something like heroin…and cocaine…and speed all mixed together, with maybe a little LSD thrown in, just to keep things interesting. Edward always kept things interesting.

"Hitting him with a car wouldn't hurt him, it would hurt the car," I exhaled, needing a moment to find gravity again.

"Well I would hit him with his own car, of course," Edward crooned.

"You would not," I rolled my eyes. Even at his worst, Edward would never attempt to hurt a member of his family.

He let out a sigh of frustration; as if there was something I was missing, and then smiled.

"Haven't you noticed, love? There isn't anything I wouldn't do for you. If you wanted it, it would be done."

"I would never ask you to do that," I sighed. My heartbeat was not even, but it had slowed to a more manageable pace. As his looked at me, optimism shone through his eyes, and an uncontrollable grin crept across my face. There was not an ounce of anger left in my entire being. I had, for lack of a better term, been dazzled, again.

"That's what I'm counting on," he laughed. "Emmett would get over it, but Rosalie would be another matter entirely."

He kissed me again, but lightly, and only for a moment, as if to seal the end of our disagreement. His cool breath on my face was oddly refreshing, like receiving pure oxygen after being pulled out of a burning building. However, it also reminded me of something else.

"Who were you talking to in the hallway?" I blurted out.

Edward shook his head and looked down at his hands. If he had the ability to blush, I would imagine he'd be doing that, too. Well, this should be good.

"I was having Jasper, well, test, your climate," he grinned sheepishly. "I didn't want to crowd your tantrum."

"Sure, sure," I teased him absentmindedly. "Are you sure you weren't just afraid of my wrath?"

This comment received warm laughter as a response. He effortlessly pulled me into his lap, and kissed me softly on the forehead.

"Yes," he beamed, "I was completely terrified of your mighty, mighty rage."

"Oh, I know," I responded, ignoring the heavy sarcasm in his voice. I looked at him out of the corner of my eyes and added, "Wuss."

His eyebrows rose at the surprise of my accusation. I could tell he had a retort, and it would probably be a good one, but instead, he rolled his eyes and set me back down.

A soft exhale parted my lips as I sank back into the cool leather couch. My eyes wandered toward the large glass wall, and I watched as the sun, now sitting substantially lower in the sky, broke through the clouds in a few places and sprayed the trees of the forest with broken beams.

"You should get home, if you don't want Charlie to put the fear of God in you, again," Edward smiled. I shuddered at the memory of my last argument with Charlie. I don't think I'd ever seen his face that distorted with so many emotions at once. All of which were very, very bad emotions.

Reluctantly, I pulled myself up and moved towards the door. I was supposed to be grounded, but Charlie had gone into the station today, and with my mind-reading boyfriend and his future-seeing sister, I was able to leave and return without getting caught. I usually felt guilty for lying, almost overpoweringly guilty, but today wasn't as bad. At least today, I didn't have much fun.

As we walked down the stairs to the big room of the Cullen house, I noticed Emmett and Rosalie sitting side by side on the couch, in their usual, intimate embrace. Alice sat at the computer; her typing was so fast that it sounded simply like white noise from a television on at a low volume. Jasper sat next to her, his head on her tiny, pale shoulder, unmoving. Esme and Carlisle must have been in another room, because I could hear only the faint sounds of chatter, but nothing distinguishable.

It was strange, how normal this all felt. No one took obvious notice of our descent, even though I knew that they all heard us from the third floor. As I allowed myself to muse the notion of 'fitting in,' a tiny smile crossed my face. A smile for acceptance from this extraordinary group of people - for being a part of something so magnificent.

"If Edward drives, you will be fine," Alice murmured, shooting me a friendly smile. She was, of course, referring to whether or not I would get caught by Charlie. I smiled back, not minding the jab at my inability to drive over the speed limit. Coming from Alice, the remarks didn't seem as offensive as they did affectionate.

"Oh, and Edward," Emmett chimed in, as we were walking out the door, "My car wouldn't be able to catch me. So good luck with that." Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Emmett shoot Edward a defying look, while Rosalie exhaled loudly and rolled her eyes.

"I'd find a way," Edward stated, matter-of-factly. We shared a tiny grin, with an air of secrecy around it, which made my heart start to race again. I knew Emmett was talking, but I didn't really care. I was satisfyingly preoccupied.

I stumbled, mostly relying on Edward's infallible balance, towards the car. Edward laughed, in an adoring fashion, and helped me in the silver Volvo. Once I was in, he closed the door, gently, and then reappeared in the driver's seat in a time increment I couldn't comprehend. I closed my eyes, and a small smile crept to my face as I listened to the comforting hum of the five-cylinder engine. (In my attempt to befriend Rosalie, I had spent a little time in the garage with her while she worked on Edward's cars. Inescapably, I had learned some stuff.) The drive was smooth, a combination of a well-tuned car, and Edward's exceptional driving, and he pulled into the driveway of the Swan residence after mere minutes.

"Maybe we can try driving again tomorrow," Edward mumbled, giving me a hopeful grin. I sighed.

"Maybe," I agreed, halfheartedly. It bothered me, only in the sense that I didn't like feeling as if I was missing something, that he was so focused on this task. "I am supposed to be grounded though. I hate lying to Charlie."

Edward nodded in agreement. He ran his hand through my hair, along my neck, down to my shoulders, and then back up to my chin, turning my head slightly, to meet his eyes. He stared at me intently, for a moment, and then smiled gently.

I was lost in his eyes. Even with the dizzying effect it had on me, it was a comfort zone. My mind became nothing but a bunch of mixed up words, sporadically surfacing and dissolving before they could have any significance. My heart was racing, stuttering unevenly at every change in the atmosphere, as he leaned in. His cold lips grazed mine and his hand moved to the back of my head. My mind became static as he pulled me in to a stronger embrace, his lips forceful on mine as I complied blissfully. My hands found his neck, and my nails dug ineffectually into his granite skin. I could only think of the distance between us; it was almost unbearable. It was a sub-conscious move, to try to pull myself closer, almost more like a need than a want. Just like my body needed oxygen, it needed Edward at the closest proximity.

As usual, our staggered breathing broke to the surface, and Edward pulled back in his traditional fashion. It pleased me, only slightly, that the longer we were together, the more breathless I could leave him. I knew that he was afraid of hurting me, that his self-control was absolutely essential, and not just for the hell of it. But I still longed for the day when it wouldn't have to end so quickly, or at all. When I looked into his eyes, I saw forever. And at times like this, even forever didn't seem long enough.

"Charlie is not far away, I should go," he whispered, still breathing a little harder than normal. Dazed, I nodded and reached for the door handle. His hand shot out too fast for me to see it, but I felt it wrap around my wrist and pull me back. I rocked back into the leather seats of the Volvo, as he leaned in, breathing softly on my neck, running his lips from my ear to my chin.

"I'll be back as soon as possible," Edward whispered, and kissed me softly on the cheek.

"Uh huh," I stammered, trying to see straight. I fumbled again with the door, still feeling his lips on my skin, and fell out of the car. I tripped and fumbled my way back to the house, my head reeling from Edward's assault.

The evening was fairly uneventful. I made lasagna from scratch, mostly to just pass the time. Charlie talked about his day a little, about a new officer that had started working down at the station. He didn't seem to think the new guy would last long; I was only half listening through most of the conversation, but I think Charlie said something about the guy being 'restless.' I was almost positive that he used that word at some point.

I cleaned the dishes while Charlie shuffled into the living room and turned on some sporting event. Most of the time, I didn't care enough to try to tell one from the other. After putting away the rest of the lasagna into a corningware dish and covering it with saran wrap, I wiped down the counters and tossed the dishrag into a pile of towels to be washed.

I ushered myself upstairs, stopping in my room only briefly to grab my toiletries bag, and then continued back to the bathroom. The minutes moved painfully slow without Edward around. I took my time in the shower, allowing the warm water to distract me, feeling it run down my body while the steam wrapped around me. After I had exhausted that activity, I washed my face, brushed my teeth, and took my time blow-drying my hair. When I got back to my room, I glanced at the clock, only to feel monumentally disappointed that only fifty-seven minutes had passed. I had changed into my pajamas, wearing a black t-shirt with pale blue track shorts, and I crawled under my comforter to try to keep warm. The chill from outside was seeping in; the wind seemed to have picked up. Forks sure was a miserable place without my Edward.

I pressed play on my small CD player and splayed across my twin mattress. Reclining on my back, I twisted my hair through my fingers absent-mindedly, while humming along with the music resonating from the corner of my room. I tried to focus on the rhythm of the guitars, listening for each single note in the chords and attempting to separate them in my head. But I drifted. As the rain started to pick up outside, my mind sifted through memories, categorizing them in significance and importance, priorities and details. Several months ago, this type of behavior was dangerous. I hadn't allowed my mind to drift, because it inevitably gravitated to one person, one face, and hundreds of memories all with the highest priority.

I was no longer afraid to think of him. This had been a relief, like free falling effortlessly back into a blissful existence. My life had been wrecked with turmoil before. And I wasn't sure when I had let it all go, but as the kick drum pounded evenly from my stereo, the memory of my racing heart pushed forward, beating furiously, like it had in that crowded square in Italy. Like it had as I hurried towards the only thing that I needed to exist. It beat harder and harder, crashing into my ribcage; my blood screaming feverishly in my ears, he's real, he's real, he's alive and he's real. Finally, like first light after an eclipse, he was standing in front of my eyes. There was so much danger around, so many things left to be decided, but my eyes found him, and my planets aligned. It was as easy as falling.

I heard the disc resetting itself as it started over. The rain was pounding against the glass of my window, and I sighed. Edward would be soaked when he arrived. I listened for Charlie's movement downstairs, and heard, with great relief, the television being silenced. My music was soft, but he would hear it when he passed my door. I thought maybe he would knock, to check to see if I was awake, or if I had fallen asleep with the CD player on. And I could have sworn I heard him pause outside my door, but there was no knock, and moments later, I heard the door to his room close.

It would only be a matter of minutes now. Maybe thirty or so. An inadvertent smile crept to my face. Edward would be here soon. It was surprising to me, even after all that had happened, how just the simple thought of his approaching presence could fill my heart so entirely. Having him back, seeing his face in front of me, holding his cold hands, it was more than I could ask for several lifetimes.

Conversely, this thought made me think of what I had to give up to get my prize. Jacob. My heart made a lurch at the thought of his name. I didn't haveto give him up; he gave me up. And if I was being honest, I felt a little resentful for that. He didn't understand, and I guess I couldn't expect him to. He had asked me to stay, to let Edward vanish from this planet. What he didn't understand was that there would be no world for me if Edward were not in it, somewhere. I could continue breathing without his presence, sure, but I could not live without him. Jake has made his choice. And I made mine.

My favorite track had come on, for maybe the third time, (I had stopped paying attention), and like in the movies, Edward appeared, dripping wet and beaming wildly, in front of my window.

"Hello," he breathed, running his hands through his dripping hair.

I sat up on the bed, and stared at him, his eyes bright and excited, the rain mixing pleasantly with his already wonderful scent.

"Hi," I spoke softly, already a little lightheaded. I smiled broadly and stood up, walking with intent into his open arms. Being closer, I could see the emotions racing through his irises more clearly. They were smoldering, liquid amber mixing harmoniously with a darker citrine color, a color that surfaced only when Edward longed deeply for something. And butterflies welled up in my stomach, as they often did, when I realized that his longing was for me.

I smiled, sweetly, and allowed my heart to race ahead of my mind as Edward's eyes bore into my own with his usual look of purpose. Our lips met, as if they were created for only this one reason, and every inch of my physical being was alive with the voltage of our kiss. I threw my arms around his neck, pulling myself up his body, and I stumbled backwards as he led me to the bed. We didn't dare break apart for even a moment as he carefully leaned me back and crawled on top of me. He shifted his weight to support himself, so that I didn't feel any pressure, other than the cool, invigorating contact of his body against my own.

Finally breaking for air, I pressed my forehead against his and gasped, my mind magnificently blurred with Edward's astounding presence. He continued to kiss me, along my jaw line, and down my neck, sometimes just running his lips over the planes of my collarbone, causing my breath to hitch, and my blood to stutter and push on through my veins. I guided his face up to my own, and resumed our kiss. My hands wove through his waterlogged hair, gripping it tightly and pulling myself closer to him. He had moved to the side of me, our legs entwined naturally, and his hands, moving almost independently, gripped my waist gently, pushing up my shirt up slightly, to feel the warmth of my skin against his own.

I had to break the kiss again to gasp raggedly for air, trying to make it fast before he changed his mind. His breathing was heavy as well, and as he exhaled sharply, the chill of it sent tiny shockwaves down my spine. He had placed himself on top of me again, in full control of his every move, and the darker flecks in his eyes were blazing with exhilaration. I felt myself smiling, so elated at my current position, and even if I had wanted to, I was unsure I'd be able to stop the grin. It was an instinctive reaction.

Water dripped down my face, undoubtedly from his hair. And even in our whirlwind emotional state, I considered the fact that I should have gotten a towel for him. Also, there was a chill coming in from the window, and water was dripping in. Edward, uncharacteristically, had forgotten to close it.

"Oh, no," I mumbled into Edward's lips. My mind raced back through the day, and a sudden realization took me out of the moment.

"What?" he muttered back, moving down to my throat.

"Shit. Shit…crap…oh man." I said, trying to push him off me.

"What? What did I do?" he asked, breathlessly complying with my pathetic force.

"I left the windows down on my car," I giggled as I jumped off the bed and looked around the room for my shoes.

"Oh Lord, Bella," Edward laughed and in an instant was out the window. I had only started my giggle when he returned, re-soaked from the downpour, with an amused expression on his face.

"Your seats are drenched," he whispered, rolling his eyes for effect.

"So are you," I replied. I didn't have a chance to move before he jumped onto the bed and shook his dark, wet hair all over me. I was already wet from his clothes before, and now I was freshly dampened. I let out a tiny scream as the cold water hit my face, and his hand flew up to cover my mouth. I could only giggle softly into his hand as Edward concentrated for a moment, trying to hear if I had woken Charlie up.

"You're going to get me shot," he laughed after a moment. I smiled back at him, innocently.

"It wouldn't kill you," I reminded him, and kissed his cheek softly.

"But it would be uncomfortable, none the less," he sighed as my kisses found their way back to his lips. "Bullets don't bounce off me, remember? I'm not Superman."

"You're my super…man," I mumbled into his ear, feigning seduction. Now it was his turn to laugh too loud.

"Oh, Bella," he shook his head endearingly. I climbed on top of him, one leg on either side of his torso and began to plant kisses along his neck. He relaxed back into the bed, moaning softly as my fingers traveled along the planes of his chest, and my lips, too selfish and reckless to stay away, found his.

In a moment of frenzied passion, Edward grabbed my waist and pulled me off him, in an attempt to switch our positions. It seemed, evidently, that Edward had forgotten the size of the mattress, because as soon as he let me go, I slipped right off the bed and fell to the ground. His eyes shot open, as wide as they could go, and his hand flew up to his mouth. I collapsed back on the floor, and covered my face with my hands in silent laughter. My boyfriend, my swift, agile, vampire boyfriend had just literally tossed me off the bed.

"Oh my God, Bella, I'm really sorry," he whispered, hovering over the edge of the bed, making sure I hadn't been hurt. I couldn't stop the laughter; it was out of my control. I kept rewinding the scene in my head and replaying it, and every single time, it was just as funny as the first.

I stood up, with mocking caution, and sat down on the edge of the bed, smiling warmly at Edward, who, having assessed my condition, was returning a slightly embarrassed smile.

"Hey, Incredible Hulk, want to not toss my out of my own bed?" I laughed as I relaxed back down beside him.

"You need a bigger bed," he scoffed, "and I am nothing like the Hulk. I don't turn green or get ridiculously tall, and I don't need to be angry to decimate this house."

"Edward, SMASH," I teased as I made fists with my hands and softly, not that it mattered, hit his stomach as I curved myself around his body.

"I'm going to get you a different bed," he continued, smiling only momentarily at my joke, and probably more at my playful punch that almost certainly felt like a caress to him.

"Yeah, that won't be awkward at all," I replied, rolling my eyes.


"Uh, well for starters, there's an older man who lives in this house that might notice if my bed doubled in size. And then I could explain that the reason my bed grew overnight like a chia pet was because my super stealthy boyfriend stays here all the time and this once, he threw me off of it, so he figured an upgrade would be necessary," I answered, and watched Edward's expression.

"Oh yeah," he responded, finally. "I guess you're right."

"You guess?" I smiled affectionately, "I mean, if it's what you want, I'll tell him, but you were the one trying to avoid getting a bullet lodged in your ribcage."

I entangled my legs with his, the dampness of his clothes sending a shiver down my spine. I allowed him to wrap a blanket around me, and focused on his cool lips pressing softly against my forehead. I sighed, an exhalation that echoed only the most pure form of complacency.

"I should probably go home and change, or at least get clothes to change into when I get back," he whispered. "I'm getting your bed all wet."

"Don't go," I mumbled into his chest, running my fingers over his right hand that was resting on top of his chest. "I don't care about the bed."

"You could get sick," he persisted, and I could hear the adoration of my human frailties in his tone.

"Fine, so I'll get sick, and you can take care of me," I smiled to myself. The idea of getting sick suddenly became almost exciting.

He sighed, and muttered an 'mm-hmm' that, I could almost promise, even though I was not looking, was accompanied with a very Edward-like rolling of the eyes.

"Edward," I mumbled, breaking the comfortable silence with his name, and a yawn.


"I love you," I whispered, my voice strained with sincerity.

"And I, you, my Bella," he mirrored my tone perfectly.

And a few yawns later, I resigned to my dreams, which were almost an exact recreation of my present arrangement.

I woke the next morning and stuck my hand out, only to realize that the bed was too warm, and too empty. My hand searched a little, my eyes still closed, and gave up with a frustrated sigh. I rolled onto my back and rubbed both my eyes, lazily. I blinked a few times, and when I was finally able to focus, I looked over to the rocking chair in the corner of my room, where Edward sat, reading a copy of "The Catcher in the Rye" that he had undoubtedly found in the bottom of my closet.

"Good morning," he smiled over the top of the book. My mouth tasted awful, so I settled for a sluggish wave. He had obviously gone home to change, because he was no longer wearing the khaki pants and grey sweater that he had adorned last night. Instead, he was wearing faded blue jeans, tattered artfully in the knees (most likely made that way) and a dark red long-sleeved, collared shirt with the sleeves folded back to his elbows. Casually dressed, but always perfectly put together. That was Edward.

I ran my hand through my hair, feeling that it was not as tangled as usual. I must have slept soundly. I felt well rested, at least. I found that the more often I couldn't remember my dreams in the morning, the better I felt the next day. And I couldn't remember a thing.

"You need milk," Edward mumbled as he continued to speed-read through the tattered paperback.

"Huh?" I asked as I sat up. I did need milk, I had made a mental note of that last night, but I didn't understand how Edward would have known that. His midnight snack wouldn't have come from rummaging around my refrigerator.

"You said that last night, like six times," he laughed warmly to himself. I nodded along. It could have been worse.

"Did I think of anything else that I needed?" I asked, hoping maybe I had formed a grocery list in my sleep. That would be quite efficient of me.

"No, no more groceries. But you did tell Alice to, in your words, 'put the eyeliner down, or else'," he laughed. His imitation of my serious voice was fairly accurate.

"I'm sure she didn't," I smiled, and got out of bed, stretching my arms over my head and twisting my torso around, in an attempt to be as awake as possible before I tried to walk.

"That would be out of character, definitely," he added, setting the novel aside. I shuffled over to my desk, grabbing my bag of toiletries, and Edward gave me a disappointed look as I moved away from him towards the door.

"My mouth tastes awful," I laughed, keeping my distance as I was protecting him from it. He scowled but dropped his arms into his lap, acting impatient.

"Fine," he sighed, fake rejection shadowing his tone. I gave him a quick grin and hurried out the door.

The first thing I did when I got in the bathroom was brush my teeth. I would save my shower for later, but this taste absolutely had to go. I washed my face and ran a brush through my hair, just for good measure. I grabbed my things and pranced out of the bathroom, eager to change the state of rebuff that I had left Edward in.

He was waiting for me when I entered the room, and I dropped my bag on the desk as I climbed into his arms.

"Hi," I beamed pleasantly, "You look nice."

"You look better," he whispered into my ear, kissing my neck softly as I curled into his body. I rolled my eyes, but he didn't see that. Maybe he heard it though. I wasn't a vampire, so I wasn't sure exactly how much he could hear, plus, I didn't know if my eyes made a sound when I moved them around. That was weird to think about. And a little unsettling. Eyes making noise. Hmm.

"What are you thinking?" his voice flowed so naturally.

"I was wondering if eyes made noise," I answered plainly, and then laughed at the new emotion on his face. He had clearly not been expecting this answer.

"I have no idea what to do with you sometimes," he shook his head lovingly. I kissed him softly on the tip of his nose.

"You'll figure it out eventually, it's okay," I jokingly consoled him.

"I honestly don't think I will," he sighed with my favorite grin. "But it keeps things more interesting this way."

I rested my head on his shoulder, wrapping my arms around his neck and draping my legs over the arms of the chair. I could stay like this forever. In some sense, I had already decided to stay like this forever. I exhaled placidly.

"Bella?" Edward stated, his voice smooth and even.

"Hmm?" I mumbled into his neck.

"You said," He began and then stopped, and started over, "I guess I just wanted to talk to you about something else you said last night." His voice had grown a little tenser. I picked my head up to meet his eyes.

"Uh, okay then?" I answered, though I had no clue what was coming.

"Well, you sounded, I mean, you were talking to Jacob in your sleep," and I saw his face distort, for maybe a half second, as he said Jacob's name.

"Oh yeah?" I tried to sound disinterested. When it came to Edward, remaining aloof about Jake was always best.

"You said that you were on your way, you said 'I'm on my way, Jake. Don't worry'," he finally met my gaze. His eyes were not questioning as much as they were, more or less, resolved.

"Weird," I struggled to hold on to my indifference. "Well, what about it?"

"I just, I know that things didn't end well the last time you saw him, Bella, and I know that bothers you, but I just, you can't be 'on your way' to him, it's not safe," he finished. There was something about the resolution with which he spoke that made my stomach flip a little.

"I understand that you two don't like each other, Edward," I whispered, "I mean, I don't understand why, but I get it. But Jake isn't dangerous."

Edward gave me a skeptical look. I tried my best to mimic his tenacity, but it never looked right on my face.

"I just need you to understand, that you can't go to La Push," he stated, trying to sound unbiased.

"Well I know that, I'm grounded and you're my only escape," I smiled softly. I didn't want to argue.

"I mean, not ever, Bella. I can't have you out of my sight with him."

There were two different, but absolutely distinct thoughts in my head after that statement. The first was that it flattered me to no end how protective Edward was of me. Even though I knew his ability to overreact was merely magnified by his immortality, it was always a romantic gesture in a way, when he worried like that.

The latter of the thoughts, however, was a less pleasant one. It seemed that, even more so than before he left, Edward's paranoid and controlling characteristics were working over time. Maybe part of the reason it annoyed me, his steadfastness against Jacob, was because I simply did not understand it. Natural enemies, whatever. I didn't care. At the end of the day, people were people, regardless of tiny quirks like immortality or occasionally turning into a giant wolf. You'd think that they could bond over these things, or something.

Even though the irritation I had for his comment didn't go away, I decided that it wasn't necessary to discuss at this point. So I smiled, and kissed his lips softly, and crawled out of his lap. He took this as acceptance, which he would find out eventually was a huge misinterpretation, and allowed me to change the subject.

"I need to shower, and then I have some things to do around the house," I said, finally.

"Okay," he nodded, and picked up my book again, "I'll be here."

After my shower, I labored around the house for most of the day. It wasn't until after four in the afternoon, when I had cleaned every inch of the house, done all the laundry, and exhausted anything that resembled homework, that Edward finally let his boredom leak out.

"Can we do something else today?" he asked after he got back from taking the trash out to the curb for me.

"What? Are you saying that you're not having fun?" I laughed. He had finished his homework hours ago, and the house could have been cleaned in minutes if I had let him help. But I was enjoying the labor of it, giving myself something to pass the time, and just enjoy his presence. It was better than sitting around, pretending to watch TV and really wishing I could leave, at least.

"Oh, no," Edward replied sarcastically, "this has been a blast. Could we do the laundry again?"

"I think everything is clean enough for now, but there's always next weekend!" I played along. He rolled his eyes and smiled. "What did you want to do?"

"We could go driving again," he suggested, and I took a mental note of the oversaturated enthusiasm in his voice.

"I'm grounded, Edward," I reminded him, "and I told you yesterday, I don't like lying to Charlie."

"You didn't lie," he attempted to persuade me, "you just didn't bring it up."

"Lying by omission is still lying," I persisted. I would rest easier at night if I weren't blowing off Charlie's parental authority every single day.

Edward sighed and collapsed back into the rocking chair. His disgruntled expression was curious. Somewhere beneath the surface of his obvious dissatisfaction, I imagined there were plans being formed, and this peaked my interest.

"Why are you so insistent on me driving a stupid manual transmission?" I asked, skeptically.

"Because I think you should know," he added, tritely. I was not fooled.

"Well I know that you're a big liar with ulterior motives, so how's that for knowing stuff?" I stated, blankly. His eyes widened a little, poised to defend, and then he inhaled and relaxed his shoulders.

"Fine," he mumbled, "I just thought that when we went to college, well, I found this car that would be perfect for you, but it's better if it's a manual, and you get better gas mileage, too...."

I knew my expression was unreadable. I could tell, because I was unreadable. His thoughtfulness overwhelmed me sometimes, how sweet he was, but at the same time, I had always made it clear that I didn't want him to buy me things, especially not after the last time people got me presents, that ghastly 18th birthday.

"Edward," I started, but was quickly cut off.

"It's really great car, I mean, I'd probably just buy it anyway, maybe two of them, but for you, it's perfect."

"I'm sure it is, and that's really nice of you, but a car, it's too much," I rambled on. I had never been good at accepting things from people, so mostly, I just…didn't.

"Bella, it's practical. Much more practical than the death trap you like to drive around, this one has airbags at least," he pushed. I hated it so much when it made fun of my truck.

"My truck is practical. It's affordable, and it hasn't broken down yet," I mumbled. "Besides, I won't need airbags soon enough."

"Bella, do not start that again," he was whispering, but even in the quieter tone, I heard his frustration lingering.

"Why not? It's going to happen, so we might as well just stop pretending that it's not," I whispered back. I looked into his eyes, and knew after a moment that we really weren't going to talk about this anymore. I complied graciously, wanting so badly to keep the moment pleasant.

"Well, you're human now, and I just thought that you should have a car that doesn't announce your arrival from six miles away, it's a little embarrassing," he teased, but something struck me uncomfortably about his statement.

I often related to my truck, on a metaphorical plane. It was awkward for a car, not quite fitting in anywhere, except maybe a different decade. But it was reliable, and started up every morning, maybe a little too loudly, but it got the job done. And cars like that, ones that work for you consistently, shouldn't just be tossed aside for something quiet and shiny. That just wasn't fair.

I had been quiet for some time, and Edward misread that as thoughts of consideration.

"Here, let me just show you," he trailed off, starting to move towards my computer.

"I don't want to see it, I don't need it," I interrupted him, and gave him a look of assertion. He glanced at me, seemingly noting my 'made-up-my-mind' face, but then continued on to the computer, as if I hadn't spoken.

"You don't know that you don't want it," he answered smoothly.

"Yes, I do," I fought back. I was getting aggravated. I didn't like the way he made up my mind for me. I didn't like that, at all.

"No, Bella, you don't," he sighed with exasperation. Like I was exhausting him. And I felt the familiar pricks from my eyes, taking a deep breath to slow the inevitable.

"I don't want a new car, Edward!" I shouted, slightly hoarse from choking back my tears.

"Are you mad?" he asked, innocently.

"Yes, because you never…listen…to…me…" My voice was stifled. The tears were falling, and I was cursing them silently. I knew it was over. I knew he wouldn't take me seriously now. And the frustration that welled up with that passing thought broke my silent sobs to an audible surface.

Edward exhaled, loudly. I hung my head, trying to get a hold of myself, but I failed miserably. The hits just seemed to keep coming. I felt his cool arms wrap around me, pulling my head to his chest, and he kissed the top of my head softly.

"Shhh, Bella, it's okay," he whispered. I wanted to be mad; I wanted to be furious, but I couldn't seem to feel anything but comforted. Sometimes, I thought maybe Edward could do the same thing Jasper could, only just with me.

He rubbed my back soothingly, and for the moment, I just allowed myself to be calmed. I took deep, purposeful breaths, inhaling his almost-lilac-and-honey scent, and letting it reach every distant part of my body. Finally feeling calm enough, I took a step back, but kept my eyes unfocused on anything in particular.

"We don't have to talk about this anymore," he finished, smoothly. My favorite crooked smile hung casually on his lips, and I merely nodded. I felt suddenly exhausted. All I wanted at that moment was a long nap, with Edward there, by my side. That was the only thing I could think of. I had started to open my mouth to suggest this activity, but his face turned slightly irritated and he spoke first.

"Charlie is on his way home," he mumbled, the frustration on his face growing more apparent.

"And that's…bad," I deduced, questioningly.

He opened his mouth to say something, but then closed it, quickly deciding, as he usually did, to just let events unfold as they would naturally. Accepting that his aggravation would be my only clue, I sighed and stepped away. His arms dropped to his side, as he looked at me, his face softened a little.

"What's wrong?" he asked softly.

"I just need to go to the bathroom and wash my face, a human moment or two," I mumbled and trekked to the bathroom at the end of the hall.

As I splashed the cold water on my face, trying to banish the blotchiness that had appeared under my eyes, I tried to imagine what would possibly have Charlie worked up. Or maybe he was happy? Edward hadn't said whether or not he was mad. There were things, and people, in this world, that made Charlie happy and Edward, not so much. I let out a frustrated groan, knowing that all my deductive reasoning in the world wouldn't land me any closer than I already was. And what was the point? Even if I could figure it out, it would just make me prematurely stressed, and that's it. There was no planning or preparing I could do at this point.

And as that last thought crossed my mind, I heard the front door open, and a grumbled "hello" to someone who had been downstairs. Edward, I assumed, had taken a more innocent position in the living room, rather than being caught standing in my bedroom. It seemed silly to me, for him to act so proper, seeing as how he didn't seem to have a problem sneaking in through the window when I didn't even know he was there. Creepy vampire stalker.

I took another deep breath and shuffled down the stairs. Edward had turned on the television to ESPN, and I observed, only for a moment, that he was pretending to watch NASCAR. He looked up at me, and I gave him an "oh yeah, that's realistic" look.

"What's for dinner, Bells?" Charlie muttered from the kitchen. I could hear him rummaging. I finished my walk into the kitchen and gave him an adoring smile as I ushered him out of the way.

"Leftovers, unless you wanted something else," I continued, reaching into the refrigerator for the corningware dish that held last night's lasagna.

He shrugged, smiled, and sat down at the kitchen table. I felt him watching me as I cut out a portion, put it on a plate and set it in the microwave. I tried to ignore his gaze, but it finally grew too long for my liking, and I met his eyes.

"What?" I asked, making it obvious that I had noticed his stare.

"Guess who I ran into today?" he continued, as if we had been having a cheerful conversation. This was very odd.

I took a moment to truly deliberate. He was grinning, like he has a great surprise. And this was Forks, which meant that there just weren't a whole lot of people you could "run into" unexpectedly. My thoughts began to narrow, but I decided to just let him tell me.

"Who?" I gave in.

"Well Jacob was in town running an errand for Billy and…" he gabbed on. My insides turned. We were not back to this. Again. For the thousandth time in the past forty-eight hours.

"Dad, why are you telling me this?" I mumbled, trying to keep busy with saran wrap.

"Well, we talked about you, actually," he answered, sheepishly. My eyes were wide as I turned to look at him for the first time since the start of the conversation.

"Why?" I was completely appalled. And what made it worse, was that I knew Edward was listening to every single word.

"Bella, he misses you. He was real torn up about it, too, although he tried to act like he didn't care, I could tell," Charlie's expression softened, as if he were pleading with me. This was getting out of hand.

"That is really just great for him," I mumbled to myself. But I hadn't been quiet enough, because Charlie's expression hardened.

"Forgiveness is a virtue, Isabella Marie Swan," and my eyes widened at the use of my full name. I had just been middle-named.

"Well you know what else is a virtue? Not being an asshole," I retorted and then bit my lip. I never spoke like that to my father.

If I had hoped that he wouldn't notice, it would have been in vain. His face turned a new shade of red that I didn't have a name for. We can just call it really, really red.

"Watch your language, young lady," he spoke with even force applied to every word. I knew I had slipped up, so I nodded apologetically.

"All I mean is," I tried to recover, "is that he made a choice, and I didn't make it for him. And even though I don't want it to be this way, I'm not going to feel bad for his decision." And that was a lie. Because of course I felt bad. I felt horrid for him having to make a choice in the first place, which I didn't even believe was true. But what was I supposed to do? Tie him to a chair and say be my friend or else?

"Does this 'choice' have anything to do with a certain someone watching my television?" Charlie lowered his voice to a whisper so that, had Edward been human, he wouldn't have been able to hear.

"Would it matter if it did? It wouldn't. I can't change his mind, Ch-, Dad," I tried my hardest to change the subject back, feeling Edward's annoyance blazing through the walls.

"It seems like his mind is changed, Bells," Charlie raised his voice to a normal volume again. I set the food down in front of him, dropping the plate slightly, and slid into my usual chair. I was no longer hungry, so my food just sat there, growing colder and less appealing by the moment.

"Look, if Jacob," his name sat like a lump in my throat, "if he really wanted to be friends again, then he would make more of an effort than crying to you about it. Maybe he might even consider talking to me. Weird concept, I know, but sometimes it works."

I pushed the food around my plate. Charlie had been eating while I talked, and I was more than willing to take advantage of every bit of silence I could. Unfortunately for me, this was the night that Charlie felt like talking. A lot.

"Well maybe he would talk to you if you didn't always have company around," he spoke as if he was reprimanding me. I could do no more than glare at him over the tops of my eyelashes. This just always had to come back to Edward, every single damned time.

"Jacob is like the size of Optimus Prime, so he has no reason to be afraid of regular-sized Edward," I answered innocently. I knew that there was a real reason that Jacob should be afraid of Edward, but Charlie didn't, and I was more than willing to take advantage of that. Thoughts of the Hulk came rushing back, but I suppressed the urge to laugh and waited.

And finally, Charlie didn't have anything to say to that. So he ate in silence, and I moved my food around my plate for a little while, then finally gave up, and returned my portion to the corningware dish for some other time.

"You're not eating?" Charlie said as I washed off our plates.

"Not as hungry as I thought," I mumbled, trying to hurry so that I could escape to my room.

"You should eat," he pressed. This was really aggravating.

"I will eat, when I am hungry," I responded through my teeth.

"Bella, Charlie is right, you should definitely eat something," Edward spoke from the doorway. When had he felt the desire to join our lovely conversation? And since when did Edward decide that Charlie was right? I could scream. I could literally scream.

"Why don't you eat something, Edward?" I pushed, staring straight down into the sink as I washed off our utensils.

"Esme is making dinner tonight, and I wouldn't want to be rude to her by eating beforehand," he answered smoothly. Damn vampire. Stupid, good-at-lying-all-the-time vampire. Charlie seemed appeased. I was livid.

"How lovely, hope it's good," I mumbled to myself. This time, Charlie didn't hear me, but of course, I knew Edward did.

"Skipping meals is never a good idea," Charlie reminded me, off-handedly.

I slammed the cabinet door shut in my last ditch attempt to express that I was finished with our conversation. There were no more coherent sentences in my head. My brain felt like it was boiling over. The steam was rising behind my eyes and everything was becoming far too overwhelming. What was with today?

"You know, since Edward has to get home for dinner, I bet Billy and Jake would love to have you over," he suggested. Edward's eyes shot open for a moment and settled, expressionless. I didn't need to read his mind to know what he was thinking. Like hell you are.

"Well since you wouldn't mind me going to the Black's, how about I join the Cullen's for dinner?" I chimed in, testing my boundaries and momentarily enjoying having a secret of my own.

Charlie scowled. It was obvious on his face that he did not foresee this response. For a moment, I was pleased with myself for out-witting him. But in my moment of gloating, I should have been calculating.

"You know, Bella, you're acting incredibly irresponsible right now, I'm disappointed in you," he said with a stern face. It was like getting hit by a truck, those words. Disappointed. Edward has excused himself from the room, and standing in the kitchen, both in similar, defensive postures, were just the two of us.

"Irresponsible?" I breathed. I had been a lot of things in my life. But no one had ever called me irresponsible. I was the embodiment of responsibility. I dotted all my I's, crossed all my T's. I took care of Renee, of Charlie when I could. I made grocery lists in my sleep, for crying out loud! I did everything, for everyone, and now I was a disappointment? "How?"

"I just mean, this just seems very unlike you Bella, ever since you got back, all this with Jake, and when, well, when he was gone, you were just, and now," he stammered. I had never heard Charlie so inept at forming sentences.

"Do not talk about that," I seethed. I knew that by Charlie talking about it, he was thinking about it, and I knew Edward would be listening, and that made me feel even more awful.

"Okay, fine," he conceded. "But what about Jake?"

"What about him? We've already talked about this, and I don't want to talk about it again. It's not being 'irresponsible' it being respectful if anything."

"Respectful?" Charlie was scoffing at me. I was seeing red.

"Yes! He told me that he didn't want to be my friend and I am respecting those words. I honestly couldn't care less about what you think it is, because I know what I'm doing!"

"He's family, Isabella. You don't turn your back on family."

"He turned his back on me!" I screamed, close to tears. "How is that for family?"

I could see Edward from where I was standing. He was too still. If Jasper had been here, things would have gone differently, I was certain. The blood was pumping through my veins vigorously with no signs of slowing.

"I just think…" Charlie started, and then quickly stopped.

"What? You just think what?" I was impatiently waiting for the rest of a sentence that would inevitably infuriate me further.

"Nevermind," Charlie fumed. His face was bright red, probably equally from stress and anger. We had never really raised our voices at each other like this. Not ever.

I allowed myself to breathe deeply, trying to calm down in hopes of salvaging what I could of this tortured argument. I was doing okay, until I heard something I wasn't supposed to hear.

"Irresponsible…" he mumbled, theoretically to himself. Not even Emmett could stop what was coming now.

"Fine Charlie, you want irresponsibility? Here it is," I threw my hands in the air, and then walked over to the living room, grabbing my coat. Edward stood up automatically, unsure of what was transpiring.

"What are you talking about?" Charlie huffed into the living room after me. I pushed past him and headed towards the door.

"I'm leaving!" I yelled, finally. I was past the description of livid. And I was so mad, that I couldn't even think of a the word that was 'more-than-livid.'

"Where are you going?" Charlie bellowed, his face getting redder and redder by the minute. "You're grounded."

"I'm going to La Push," I snapped back, forgetting for only a moment that Edward was there.

"What?!" Edward chimed in for the first time in a good while. I glared at his intrusion into my whirlwind exit.

"I know you're lying, Bella," Charlie continued, eyeing Edward pointedly.

"Fantastic," I shot back, "Then I'm moving out. I'll send Alice for my things later."

"Bella, don't act like a child," Charlie sighed, seeing the obvious mockery in my voice.

"Alice isn't like an assistant, you know," Edward added under his breath. I ignored him.

"I'll be back later, Charlie, but I am temporarily un-grounding myself, and I am leaving this stupid house, irresponsibly," I sneered. He stared at me, but seemed more resigned. Biding his time, I was sure, waiting until I was slightly more reasonable. Good call on his part.

I stormed from the house, keys in hand, straight to my truck. Did the fact that I was able to buy cigarettes, vote, and be tried as an adult in a court of law mean nothing to them? I just needed to get out of Forks. I needed to breathe. I felt like I had been holding my breath for hours.

Of course I didn't hear Edward behind me, but the keys were out of my hand before I even reached the door. I huffed, letting out a small "ugh" as he opened the passenger door for me.

"My car, Edward," I gritted my teeth.

"You're not really in a state to drive right now," he reminded me coolly. I felt the pricking sensation of tears welling up somewhere behind my eyes. I inhaled deeply. I couldn't let them win; it would only serve to undermine me again.

"I think that's for me to decide," I continued, taking exaggerated breaths to try to keep myself under control.

"Bella, get in the car," he rolled his eyes. I slowed my breathing for emphasis and crossed my arms.

"No," I mumbled defiantly. There was a pause, and I allowed myself to sneak a peek up from the ground to see if I was winning. Stupid thought, this was Edward we were talking about. I never won.

"You wanted to leave, this is how you're leaving," he sighed, finally. I glowered at him, and he stared back at me like I was the most ridiculous sight he had ever seen. Coming from Edward, this look turned condescending so easily, it made my stomach tighten and my whole body rage with insolence.

I needed to move my limbs, to distract them from the overwhelming feeling that had consumed them. Against my better judgment, I trudged over to the car and got in the passenger side. I saw him smirk, but I didn't get him the satisfaction of a reaction. I stared out the windshield, after putting on my seatbelt, and tried to think of more pleasant things. I closed my eyes as I pictured the warm living room of Renee's house. The Arizona sun. The images had tainted connotations in my mind, but they were better than what I was feeling right now. Edward knew that I hated feeling helpless, and yet here he was, again, making me feel incredibly insignificant without even trying.

"What are you thinking?" he breathed finally when we were on our way.

"Just drive, Edward," I said, flatly.

"Drive where, Bella?" he mimicked my tone, a little harshly, and I cringed.

"Well I wanted to drive away from Forks, but since that's not happening, I guess you could drive out of this God-forsaken town." My voice had an edge to it that Edward had never heard before, and it startled him for a moment. He exhaled loudly, mumbling something I couldn't understand. Not that I cared anyway.

"Fine," he said after a few minutes of silence, and he turned off the highway onto the dirt road that lead to his house, "We'll take my car."

"How about I take my car," I added. I was too mad to care about how bratty I was acting.

"You can't drive," Edward stated plainly. Like it was a fact. I sunk lower into the seat and stared out the window.

I knew he wouldn't want to drive my car anywhere longer than the drive to his house. He was so impatient in that sense. The cab of the truck was silent for the rest of the drive. I was wallowing, he was trying to hear me wallow, and failing, of course. And once he cut the engine in front of his home, the silence grew deafening.

I had always been able to keep it inside. That was what I did. I wanted so much to protect others, Edward especially, that I just kept my mouth shut. But as we walked from my red Chevy truck, I felt 18 years of self-control slipping away. I had never been so overwhelmed with such indignation. It was as if today, when I woke up, I was no longer in charge of my own life. I didn't want to hurt him, I didn't want to chase him away, but I couldn't stop the fury welling up in the pit of my stomach, controlling every nerve ending on my body. They were screaming for release; the rage inside of me was like a poison. It sent a crimson haze over my vision, as if I was looking at the world through a regular vampire's eyes, where everything was colored in blood. It clouded my mind, and this scarlet filter tainted anything I could think and everything I could see.

Charlie thought he knew best. Edward always thought he knew best. And they both looked at me as a child, in strong need of constant supervision and guidance. But I had lived for 17 years with Renee. My loveable, reckless mother. I had taken care of myself for so long before Charlie and Edward. I had taken care of myself, and Renee, in a city sixteen times bigger than stupid Forks, and more importantly, I had lived to tell the tale. Yeah, I had some bad luck here, what with all the near-death experiences, but from where I was standing, all that had done was infuriate me. After the third, or fourth person tried to kill you, in one way or another, all bets were off.

"Bella, why aren't you talking to me now?" Edward snapped. Frustration from our earlier conversation began to spill over into his speech.

"Because you're wrong, Edward. But you won't accept that, so I have nothing left to say," I retorted, my feeble attempts to hold in the all-consuming fury were fleeting.

"I think I would know a little better than you-" he began.

"A century of existing on one planet doesn't make you some all-knowing God, Edward," I fumed, and as the front door to the Cullen house flung open, somewhere in my head, I heard the tiny snap of my last shred of control.

The tension that we had brought into the large main room was palpable. Esme had moved to abandon the room, I assumed, but stopped, frozen in a state of uncertainty. Carlisle tried to look like he hadn't taken notice of our argument, although that would be impossible. Alice had the most baffled expression on her face I'd ever seen. Emmett's face resembled only excitement, like his favorite television show had come on, and Rosalie remained aloof, as always. My muscles were tensed, nerves alive with the electrical currents of my anger, and I saw Jasper move closer out of the corner of my eye, his eyes wide with the intensity I had brought in.

Edward was too busy reeling from my last remark to say anything, but as I felt Jasper's effect start to dull out my frustration, I grew even more upset. The last thing I wanted was to simply postpone the inevitability of what needed to be said.

"Jasper, stay out of my climate!" I shot at him, and the dulling sensation rushed away. Alice put her hand on his shoulder, nodding in silent agreement, and pulled him back towards the dining room. I realized, at this point, that I had rarely addressed Jasper so directly, and I was suddenly sure that I would spend months feeling guilty about that.

"I'm no Alice, but I think there's a hurricane in Bella's harbor," Emmett laughed. I heard a bitter laugh from behind me. Edward. My mind blazed.

"Emmett, shut up," I heard Rosalie bark.

"What?" Emmett said, shocked at being reproached by the one person who was supposed to enjoy a poorly placed joke.

"Shut up, Edward!" I spun on my heels, back to face him. I could hear him mumbling something, low enough so I couldn't hear, but I knew everyone else in the room could. If this was his attempt at making things better, I had found another thing he was awful at.

"What?" Edward responded, faking innocence that received a hard glare. "Bella, I don't understand what's wrong. I was just trying to-,"

"-Do what's best for me?" I finished, sarcasm heavy in my voice. "I don't need your opinion of what's best for me. You aren't me, you don't know what said 'best' would be."

I hadn't realized it until a calm started to seep through my blood stream. My eyes scanned the room, until I found Jasper, despite himself, standing in the doorway to the dining room, looking at me.

"Stop changing my emotions, Jasper!" I yelled, my voice breaking artfully on his name.

"Chill out Bells, he's just trying to help," Emmett perked up, giving me an affectionate, brotherly smile. I glowered as the calm left my body and Jasper exhaled loudly.

"Emmett Cullen, stay out of this," Rosalie snapped, tearing her eyes away from the television, momentarily. "Bella is right."

The entire room's focus shifted from Edward and I to Rosalie, who was staring at Emmett, waiting for acknowledgement. Even Carlisle had looked up, in spite of himself. Emmett frowned and sunk back in the couch, and Rosalie, not unfamiliar with attention, simply ignored the staring eyes and went back to her apathetic state.

A sudden sense of composure washed over me, and I turned back to face Edward, who's eyes told me that he was trying to understand Rosalie's statement through her mind.

"Edward," I began, forcing my voice to be even so I could keep his attention. My tone broke his stare and his wide eyes focused back on mine. "Two medical degrees doesn't mean you comprehend living. Seeing people die doesn't mean you understand death. Watching people fight in movies doesn't mean you feel their pain just like knowing people's thoughts doesn't really mean you know why they think them in the first place. Simply existing doesn't mean that you necessarily know how to live. Regardless of what you may think, I am my own person, one who is legally able to make her own decisions. I love you. I do. But you have to let me make my own choices. You aren't in charge of me, you aren't God, and it would be prudent of you to stop thinking that way. Starting right now."

The room could have been a photograph – it was completely immobile. Tears finally overcame me, angry with myself and embarrassed – I raced out of the room, and no one pursued me.

I caught a glimpse of the room in the reflection of the large back wall. Edward stood, his face carved into stunned stone, hands tensely frozen at his side. Esme was grief-stricken at the discord. Carlisle's appearance was graciously unbiased. Jasper leaned against the doorframe, not breathing, and undoubtedly growing uncomfortable. Alice's eyes were glazed over, her face anxious as she searched the future, and Rosalie, in my moment of gratitude, looked charmingly disinterested. Emmett's face, in my cursory glance, was indecipherable. He didn't look worried, that wasn't the right word. It wasn't dejected, I didn't think. I had the smallest inkling that his face looked…impressed? No, that didn't make sense either.

I didn't have the energy to decide. I was out the back door in seconds. I collapsed against a large grey boulder, and slid down to the ground. My entire body shook with remorse. The treacherous words that had escaped my mind. The lift of my dense thought filter had allowed pain to be inflicted. It went against every beat of my heart – against the very flow of my blood – to be angry with Edward. But I felt a stranger in my own skin. I couldn't find my control. I couldn't get a grip on anything, except the sensation that I had reached my limit. That was all I could take, and even in the presence of the entire Cullen family, my family, I couldn't possibly take anymore.

My body trembled violently as the sobs broke free. It was like I was trying to push out all the revolting feelings that had consumed me, through my eyes. I wanted to run away. I wanted to get as far away from the scene of my embarrassing tirade as possible, but I couldn't even make my legs move. My mind, both conscious and subconscious, was plagued with stabilizing my emotions. And it wasn't working. I curled myself into a ball, trying futilely to get a grip.

The forest floor flashed through my mind. Maybe all of this was my fault. When Edward left, I remained only a shell of myself. I had frightened Charlie beyond words. Edward must know this; he must have seen it in someone's mind. Was it really fair to be upset that they were only trying to keep my best interests in mind? There had been a period of my life where I couldn't do that for myself.

I pushed the thought away. Broken-hearted? Yes. Completely helpless? No. Knowing Edward, losing him, and then getting him back had only furthered my belief that I was not helpless. I had been strong enough to live, even when I felt that there was little to live for. I had gotten on that plane, and I had saved him. And I had never let him know, not truly, how completely devastated he had left me. I had always imagined myself as someone less than Edward. But recently, I had noticed, that while I still felt sub-par to his perfection, I was not very far below his radiance.

As I considered these things, a small calm, self-induced, warmed my body. It had started raining, and I hadn't noticed. My sobs had slowed, mostly to stray tears that couldn't be separated from the falling rain that mixed together on my face. I saw Alice appear in the doorway, standing a good ten feet away from me, and she smiled gently as our eyes connected. In so many ways, Alice was already my sister. She stared at me for a moment, contemplating a good choice of words, and finally spoke.

"It's raining, Bella," she stated, looking up to the sky and back down to me, as if she needed to explain the phenomenon of rain. A hoarse, short laugh broke in my throat, and the sound that came out was more of a choking sound than a chuckle. I ran the back of my hand quickly under my eyes, out of instinct more so than anything else. The rain was picking up from its former mist, into a steady drizzle.

"I'm okay," I whispered. I knew she would hear me. She shook her head, lovingly, and started to turn to walk back inside.

"Bella?" she added from her half turned position. I looked back up at her. "I just thought you should know, you're the most courageous of us all. I knew that without even having to look."

She nodded, confidently, and finished her turn back into the kitchen. A couple tears fell from my eyes, but they were only in response to the momentary comfort her words had stirred.

As I watched her dance away, I caught Esme's concerned eye. She seemed to relax at the sight of the smile that Alice was able to pull from me. She was standing in the kitchen, her beautiful face trying to look composed and warm, but underneath the perfected features, worry swam freely. I let my glance linger as Carlisle entered the room, pulling her gently to his chest and they left together.

A small sadness began to dwell in the pit of my stomach at this sight. I hadn't known the Cullen's for long, but I knew enough to know that Esme never raised her voice, not in anger, with Carlisle. Another wave of embarrassment washed over me. I must have looked so foolish, pitting myself against Edward like that. Was our love not as strong as theirs? I couldn't imagine anything more powerful than what I felt for him, but then again, I was simply human. For now, at least.

I had finally managed enough control over my emotions for my legs to be allowed movement. I took a moment to regain my balance, and then climbed up on top of the boulder I had been leaning against. The ground was starting to grow mushy, and while I didn't mind the rain, I also didn't want to have to track mud into Esme's pristine house, or into the cab of my truck, depending on how the rest of the day had played out.

I stretched out on my back, allowing the rain to wash away the remaining tears from my face. It was strange, I would have thought that Edward would have come out by now, but I didn't exactly mind the solitude. I needed time to regroup. The thought of his name brought his face to the forefront of my mind, and I saw him so clearly behind my eyelids. He was not the frustrated Edward that I had left in the house, his face never looked angry when I imagined it. The Edward in my mind had my favorite crooked smile, his eyes so warm they looked like liquid gold, and his eyebrows always shaped his face in an amused demeanor. His hair swept perfectly back from his forehead, and this image made my tired heart swell with awe.

I wasn't sure how long I had been outside. After retreating to the top of the boulder, I hadn't moved an inch. My eyes remained closed as the rain pittered-pattered on my jacket. My jeans were soaked by now, and my face had been washed clean of tearstains and any other emotion it had worn. I didn't hear him approach; he was sneaky that way. I hadn't even realized I wasn't alone until his voice broke through the sounds of my even heartbeat, racing against the falling rain.

"You're going to get pneumonia," he whispered, caution made his voice thick. "I think it's fair to say my medical degrees can assess that much."

I sat up, opening my eyes to survey the damage. It had grown almost entirely dark. The majority of the light was coming from inside the house, through the glass wall, where all the lights were on in a room no one occupied. Edward's face looked weary, like it always did after he had been wracking his brain for hours. I gave him a weak half-smile, more of a smirk really, and stretched out my arms. They hadn't moved in hours, I was sure, and I hadn't realized that my right arm had fallen asleep entirely. As the pricking sensation began to surface on the waking arm, I let out a sigh.

"Are you still mad?" Edward asked timidly. His arms crossed his chest, but not in a hostile way, more in an insecure way. It was cute.

I thought about his question for a moment. Was I? I didn't feel mad anymore. I felt a little cold now that I really considered what I was feeling. I felt embarrassed and guilty, but not mad.

"No," I answered finally, and a tiny spark of hope flickered in his eyes before he quickly reeled it in. Edward always played his poker face. No one else would have seen that spark. But no one lived for it the way I did.

"You know, Emmett wants to hire you, like some kind of associate or something. He said in all the time he's known me, he's never seen anyone put me in my place like that," Edward rambled, trying to keep the moment light, and very far away from our last conversation. I went with it.

"What's he gonna pay?" I offered in a mocking tone. The slightest grin broke Edward's lips and he sighed.

"Not well, I'm sure. He gambles all his money away," he continued, and the grin stayed on his face. I smiled at the ground, keeping my eyes more or less averted. I wasn't going to be the first one to talk. That was for sure.

He crossed the remaining four feet of terrain between us and sat down next to me on the boulder. He didn't reach for my hand, but instead, folded his hands together in his lap and stared straight ahead, just like I had been doing. We sat there for a few moments, the silence only ruined by the rain.

"I always knew I was missing something," he sighed. I turned to him, finally, with a confused expression. He acknowledged the lack of clarity in his statement and continued. "I mean, I knew that you edited, you know, your thoughts? But I had no idea how much you were leaving out."

A tiny wave of new guilt broke over me. I didn't want Edward to think that I lied to him all the time. I shook my head, searching for the right words, but nothing surfaced.

"I always try to do right by you, Bella. And after 110 years of living, I guess I believed I knew exactly where the line between right and wrong was drawn. But in this world, this human world, the lines get blurred so easily. Circumstances, situations, different types of people, it all just begins to look like a big mass of nothing. I like right and wrong. I like black and white. I grew up in a world of absolutes, and that's how I think. I don't see the grey that Alice does. I always believed that it just wasn't there, that she was somehow making it up. That she was wrong."

He wasn't looking at me; he was watching his hands. I knew this, because I hadn't been able to look away. Edward Cullen, my infallible, perfect boyfriend, had never looked so defenseless. His poker face vanished, replaced by an expression that looked pained and relieved simultaneously. My guilt for being the reason for all this trouble overwhelmed me.

"Edward," I spoke finally. My voice broke on the last syllable of his name, and his eyes locked into mine. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have been so hard on you."

His face was not something I expected. His eyes grew wide, as if my words had knocked the wind out of him. I shrank back, but never broke our gaze. The worst thing in the world right now would be not looking into those eyes.

"Absolutely you should have been," he responded, staggered. "I don't want to lie to you, Bella, not anymore, and not ever again. So I won't say that what you said didn't hurt, because of course it did. But you must understand, probably better than I could have, that it was necessary. All those things, I needed to hear them from you. I had heard them before, through Alice on occasion, in Rosalie's thoughts, not quite as well articulated I should add, but I couldn't have cared less. You aren't the first person to scoff at my intellect," he added with a smile, "but you are the first one to make me see the grey. My whole existence, I fought the fight of half and half. It was either this or that. But then you came in and ruined every theory I had. You did things I couldn't explain. You said things I didn't see coming. You stood by me when you should have left. You saved my life after I had destroyed yours. You always seemed two steps ahead of me, metaphorically speaking, of course."

"Of course," I laughed, my body slowly relaxing. "But Edward, please don't think that I don't want your opinion, I do. I just want mine to count for something, too."

"I think your opinion counts more than mine should. You're the macro management to my micromanagement. I only see details, I only see this tiny little part of reality, but you see it all. I don't know how you do, but you do. To be honest, it bothers me. I have impeccable vision."

My eyelids were growing heavy, and I leaned against him for support. I knew that he would sense my drowsiness and recommend a new setting, but I wanted to keep this one. The one where Edward saw me at my worst, and still wanted me. The one where I was certain that no two people could be more in love with each other. The one where Edward looked at me with an admiration I didn't deserve. This was the place I wanted to be.

"Bella," he whispered into my ear, running his cool fingers through my dripping hair, "if my two medical degrees, and countless hours of scientific study mean anything at all to you, I suggest we get inside. You are turning an unnatural shade of blue."

"Is there a natural shade of blue?" I giggled. I knew he was right, but I didn't want to move. He had wrapped his arm around my waist. He had rolled his eyes at my comment, and taken to wringing out the water from my hair with his free hand. "I know you're right, I'll probably get mono or something, but I don't care."

He shook his head and a gentle laugh echoed from within his chest.

"Love, you can't get mono from the rain. But you can get the flu, and the sneezing and coughing is a fairly gross human habit, if I do say so myself," he faked a shudder, and I giggled. "Plus, I'm cold."

I looked at him skeptically. "Vampires don't get cold, Edward."

"Well not in the normal sense, like, say, you would. But I can feel warmth, I can't feel cold, too?" he challenged.

"No, because you are cold," I answered as he swept me up into his arms. He sighed, because I was right, and I smiled, because he knew it. Once we were inside, the reality of how numb I had grown finally sunk in, and my first instinct was to start taking off my soaked clothes. I was sure that Alice had seen this, because sitting on the dining room table, the world's most useless prop, was an entire set of clothes, all in my size.

Edward set me down, and I grabbed the clothes and ran off to the bathroom to change. I peeled off the soaking clothes, throwing them in the bathtub to dry, and changed into the new clothes. I pulled my hair back into a messy bun, just to get it out of my face and off my neck, and I ran back out into the living room, where Edward was lighting a fire in the fireplace. I knelt down on the floor next to him, and watched his hands artfully construct a pyramid with the logs. I moved into a sitting position while he worked, and by the time he was finished, I had stretched out across the soft rug on the floor.

Edward grabbed a pillow off the couch and placed it gently under my head. He looked around the room for a moment, but then turned back to me and smiled, as Esme appeared at the bottom of the staircase with a blanket in hand. Wordlessly, she covered me with the blanket, and in my fatigued haze, I attempted a smile. I thought it had come across, because she mirrored it. My eyes closed as I snuggled under the warmth of the wool, and allowed my head to pleasantly reel with the scent of the Cullens.

"You two will be fine," Esme whispered to Edward, after she was sure I was asleep. I was in a state of conscious sleep. Not yet under, but too far gone to interact.

"We'll be better than that," Edward responded, a gentle smile colored his voice. I felt his cool fingertips trace my jaw line, and I stirred a little, getting more comfortable by the second. I knew I only had minutes left before I surrendered to the unconscious realm.

"Your father was right," she whispered, and I could almost hear her heart swell with the words, "she's good for you."

"She is," he sighed, his hands moved away from my face, and I fought to listen for only a few moments longer, "I just hope I can be as good for her."

Esme had moved closer; I could smell her scent better now. One deep breath was enough to fill my head with the warmth and kindness that Edward's mother embodied. Her breathing was calm and even, in sync with Edward's.

"You stick together," she whispered, "You'll be wonderful for each other."

It was two inhalations later, after the last beat of her sentence, that I allowed myself passage into my dreams. They would be beautiful tonight. Of this, I was absolutely positive.