A/N: A special thanks to the pestering few who encouraged me to get my butt in gear. Seriously, I would have had neither the inspiration nor the motivation without you. *Muah!* to everyone who read and reviewed, and thanks for the condolences over my fallen computer. You're all lovely, lovely people. Thanks again to the two behind the curtain who make my mistakes go away. This story would be less than without pwtf and m81170.
Recap: Edward and Bella met at a coffee shop. Bella told Edward she was going to Florida for Thanksgiving, and he is going to see Rosalie. Upon leaving, he gave Bella a bracelet with the word "Someday" etched on it. Bella told him her feelings, to which Edward kissed her on the cheek and asked her to wait for him.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
~*~The Weight of Secrets~*~
Most people would think seven minutes is a fairly short amount of time. Even doubled to fourteen minutes, a near quarter of an hour is hardly enough time to do anything. It is, however, enough time to brown parmesan-crusted chicken on both sides. Or it would have been had fourteen minutes not been too long for my father.
"He turned the burner up to max heat while I was in the bathroom," I complained into the phone. I was stewing in my room over the botched cooking lessons. "Two minutes, Alice! I was gone for two minutes, and he somehow managed to burn the chicken, spill the leftover parmesan, and lose the noodles. We still haven't figured out what he did with them."
"Romeo kissed you," Alice responded, as if it fit right into our conversation. I bit my lip to control the smile creeping onto my face, and Alice laughed at my silence. "You are so easy."
I fiddled with the bracelet Edward had given me. I hadn't taken it off since. "Is it natural to still feel this gooey over a week later? He didn't even kiss me on the lips."
"Yeah, but his lips touched your skin."
A violent heat spread through my abdomen, and giggles bubbled up from my chest at the memory. I had been more nervous than I'd ever been, but something in me needed to let him know that he wasn't just a friend to me.
"Do you think he loves me?" asked the dreamy teenage girl inside me, complete with wistful sigh.
"He'd have to," said Alice. "I may not know Romeo as well as you, but I do know he'd never risk his career and integrity over a passing fling. That and he's not trying to sleep with you. He wants you to wait until you're free of the Godforsaken high school."
I wanted to go on and on about all things Edward, but I noticed the frustration in Alice's voice when she mentioned Forks High and knew it was time to be a good friend. After limited coaxing on my end, she let loose on the injustices of high school rules and schedules. Her intern job in Port Angeles was on the line because she couldn't get there in time, and Jasper wasn't being any help at all.
A knock on my bedroom door ended our phone call, and an embarrassed Charlie poked his head into the room. "Hey, Bells. I, uh, found the noodles. They fell beside the stove."
I raised an eyebrow and felt my lip quiver with restrained mirth. With a mumble and a nod, he left the room, and I fell back on my bed, laughing. I loved my father. I really did.
Dinner went well after that. I cooked the noodles, saved the majority of the chicken, and cleaned the mess before sitting down to eat. Charlie seemed relieved to be let out of the kitchen for the remainder of the evening, and we ate in relative good company. As I was clearing the table, he told me a letter had come for me. The plates nearly slipped from my hands when I saw the return address.
I ripped open the envelope and my eyes scanned quickly over the page. When I had read it thoroughly—four times over—I dropped my hand to my side and let out a long breath.
"You okay, Bells?" Charlie asked.
I made a vague, guttural noise in the affirmative, unable to deliver anything more substantial through my mild panic. Curiosity stormed behind his brown eyes, but he left me to my thoughts, for which I was grateful. There was only one person I could talk to about the confusing mixture of fear and elation inside of me.
A restless night meant arriving just as the morning bell chimed through the school. Edward took note of my unusual tardiness with questioning eyes, but made no further attempt to talk to me, instead addressing the class as a whole and leading a fascinating lesson. All his lessons were fascinating, even when I could hardly pay attention.
My leg bounced. My thumb tapped. My body shifted from minute to minute. For the first time since meeting Edward, I couldn't wait for the clock to move faster. His eyes glanced my way more frequently as the morning progressed. He could see my agitation and I could see his worry. When the bell finally excused us from first period, I jolted from my seat and held the letter up to his face.
A slow smile replaced his tense eyes. He seemed almost smug. "Didn't I say you were amazing?"
"I haven't won the scholarship, yet. They still need another story."
"You're one of five finalists out of fifteen thousand applicants, Bella. I'd say that qualifies as amazing. Besides, you have this in the bag."
I scoffed and shook my head, exasperated. This scholarship would pay for my entire schooling, and Edward was treating it like no big deal. Maybe he was only trying to be the calm to my nervous energy, but it wasn't working. This was exactly what Alice was talking about last night with Jasper. I did not have this in the bag!
"Can you help me?" I asked, edging on frantic. "I need to put my best work forward, but I already did that in the first round. What is going to top that? I have nothing."
"Bella, calm down!" Edward laughed and rested his hand briefly on my shoulder. "I have a meeting at lunch, but we'll talk after LitMag."
I nodded, hesitant to leave his support, but returned his beautiful, uninhibited smile and headed off toward Algebra 2/Trigonometry.
At lunch, Alice took one look at me and said in a hungry, excited voice, "What happened?"
Her eyes lit up as she read the letter, and she gave me a hug that nearly knocked me out of my chair. When Jasper joined us, Alice gave him a small smile, but the air between them was not as easy as it had once been. It wasn't until LitMag that I even heard Jasper speak. He wasn't much of a talker to begin with, but he usually had a few words to spare.
"So, Bella," he said as he set the contents of pages four through six on my desk. He stuck his hands in his pockets, opened his mouth, shut it, opened it again, and blew out a long breath. "Do you think we could hang out after this?"
"Um, sure?" I said, and though I didn't want to be rude, I had to ask, "Why? I mean, not that I don't want to hang out with you, but we never really do anything without Alice."
"I know. It's just…" He went through his routine again, adding rocking on his heels to gaping like a fish. Finally, he threw up his hands and let them fall to his sides. "Alice is mad at me right now, and I have no idea what I did."
I chuckled at Jasper's helpless admission. "You want the inside information," I guessed.
"Yes." Jasper sighed, relieved. "She's so passive aggressive sometimes, and when I ask her what's wrong, she gets even more mad at me!"
"I'll help you, but it will have to be later. I have to meet with Mr. Cullen after Litmag is over." He gave me a grateful smile and told me he'd meet me at Sara's Café when I was done.
I tried very hard to focus on my editor duties, but every poem I looked over, every short story I skimmed reminded me of my dilemma. The clock was taunting me. Tick, tock, tick, tock—it was a steady tattoo that didn't seem to move the minute hand an inch. How long until all of these people would leave and I could talk to Edward alone? Edward must have been able to read my anxiousness because he called the meeting over fifteen minutes before we were done. Being so close to the winter deadline, he should have kept us as long as possible, but I was glad he didn't.
We went to work immediately, listing both my completed works and those I was still writing. We each picked our top choices and came up with a few new ideas as well. Eventually, we decided it would have to be something I was already working on, since the deadline was less than a month away.
"Just one more thing to worry about," I said.
Edward raised his eyes from the story he was reading, tilting his head slightly. "Are these serious worries or more teenage hardships?"
I resisted the urge to smack him with my paper stack for teasing me, and said, "I'm trying to teach my dad how to cook, and he's not making it very easy for me. I feel bad leaving him for Thanksgiving."
"I'm sure he'll be fine," said Edward. "He did live on his own for fifteen years before you moved in."
"Filling his arteries with grease," I grumbled. "He's going down to the reservation to eat fish fry. Who eats fish fry on Thanksgiving?"
Edward chuckled and leaned back in his chair. "You're going to have to give it time, Bella. He's set in his ways, and nagging is not the type of thing a man like the Chief will respond to."
"I do not nag!"
"Sure you don't," he said, grinning from ear to ear. "I just like to get your goat."
"Get my goat?" I snorted. "Okay, Mr. Cullen, I think you need a lesson in modern thinking."
"Mmmh," groaned Edward, stretching his arms above his head. I let my eyes rake over where his sweater tightened across his chest and biceps. "It's after five. You can't blame me for what comes out of my mouth this late."
I glanced at the clock and sighed. I supposed it was time to get going. We cleaned up the classroom, gathered our things, and Edward walked me out to the parking lot, making conversation with phrases that should have been left in the decades he was pulling them from.
"See you later, Alligator."
I looked askance at Edward and primly said, "Goodbye, Mr. Cullen."
"Oh, come on!" he said. "You've got to say it."
"I don't think so."
"Bella," he warned playfully.
"Mr. Cullen," I said right back.
"Please?" he asked, all pouty smile and sparkling eyes.
I sighed a loud exaggerated sigh and grumbled, "In a while, Crocodile."
"See? That wasn't so hard."
"Says you. My young soul is breaking right now."
Edward laughed, clear and carefree, and looked as though he might give my shoulder a goodbye squeeze but thought better of it. "Come in before class and we can wheedle down the selection."
"I'll be here, bright and early."
"Bright and early," he repeated.
It was time to leave, but neither of us made a move to do so. It was stupid, really, to be so reluctant to spend fourteen hours away from him, but I hated every single goodbye. Our conversation in Port Angeles was in many ways a release. Then there were moments like this, when I wanted a proper farewell from someone I knew cared about me, and all the wishing in the world would do nothing to change the fact that it could never happen.
Edward and I turned our heads in alarm to see Jasper standing in between his car and my truck, his eyes downcast, purposely not looking in our direction. It was a clear sign he thought he'd seen something he shouldn't.
Edward's eyes found mine, serious and concerned. I tried to smile to let him know everything would be fine, but I wasn't so sure myself. I wasn't sure what Jasper could have seen—Edward and I weren't doing anything wrong—but suspicions and judgments needed little fuel to set the imagination ablaze.
I followed Jasper to Sara's and met him inside. We sat in silence, fiddling with saltshakers, pretending to read the menu, shifting uncomfortably in the booth seats. Jasper was the first to speak.
"I figured I'd just wait around for you. It's easier to do homework in my car, where it's quiet."
I tightened my fingers around the napkin I was picking at, and then set it aside. "That's cool. Um. So, Alice is mad at you?"
"Yeah," Jasper said, and he seemed relieved to be talking about something else. "She goes on and on about how the school is messing with her future, and then she takes it out on me."
"It's more that you don't seem to care."
Jasper looked appalled. "I do! But Cosmo said—"
"You read Cosmo?" I asked, my jaw dropping with incredulity and hilarity.
"Whatever," Jasper said, waving a hand nonchalantly, but I could tell he was embarrassed by the deep red his ears were turning. "Alice takes forever to get ready and that sort of thing is always lying around."
"Mmh-hmm," I said.
"Anyway," he looked pointedly at me, "it's not that I don't care or that I don't want to help her. I do. But I kind of think school is important. She's already dropped a class to take this internship, and she's falling behind on her homework."
"Have you told her that?"
"No," Jasper said, pouting and looking down at his soda. "I read that girls want their boyfriends to listen, not try and fix things."
"The problem with Cosmo," I tried not to smile as I said it, but realized I failed when Jasper frowned and rolled his eyes, "is that it generalizes all women and all situations. Alice just wants you to support her. Sometimes, supporting someone doesn't mean agreeing with them, but trying to help them through their hard times."
"You sound like a shrink," he said.
"I watch a lot of Lifetime movies."
Jasper gave me a reluctant smile and threw a napkin at me, and the rest of our late lunch was spent discussing ways he could approach Alice and help her find a solution to her problem.
The tense atmosphere that had at first surrounded us began to return as we got ready to leave. Jasper fidgeted as we said goodbye, not able to meet my eyes, and it made me nervous. I retreated the second he was done hugging me, but not before he called out, "Bella, wait."
I turned slowly, dreading the deep, determined breath he took and the way his blue eyes bore into me. "Yeah?"
"I just want you to know that… if you need… Ugh." He rubbed his fingers against his forehead in frustration. It was a moment before he said, "Is he Romeo?"
"Who?" I asked.
"Don't mess with me. You know who."
I could have lied. I wanted to lie, but I couldn't. I nodded.
"All right," he said, somewhat resigned. "Just… be careful. I love you, you know? And this kind of thing… it's not really… I mean, I don't want you hurt, all right?"
"It's not like that," I said quietly.
Jasper rolled his eyes. "Yeah, it's like that. Just… I've got your back."
"Okay," I said, and Jasper nodded, heading off toward his car.
Edward and I cooled it exponentially in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. We still talked and joked if we could, but he kept his distance. There was never any question of impropriety in our meetings.
The weight of my bracelet helped me to ignore the way my heart ached. Someday—Edward's promise to me, sealed with a kiss. With the thought of what our future could hold, it was easy to bury my emotions. It wasn't until my third day in Florida they finally caught up with me. The sun was warm on my skin, a feeling I had craved nearly all my days of living in Forks, yet my mind raced with anxiousness to go back. I missed Edward.
"Bella, honey, are you okay?"
"Hmm?" I looked away from the singular palm tree in the back yard and smiled at the sight of my mother in a floppy purple sun hat. It was large enough to shade her bare shoulders, but was just slightly the wrong color for her blue sundress.
"Is it the scholarship? Is that why you're so distracted? Honey, you have to know how talented you are. And even if you don't win, Phil and I do all right for ourselves. I'm sure we could take out a loan—"
"No, Mom. I already told you that I could work it out. I love you, but you have to let me do this."
Renee shifted her bottom lip from side to side as if struggling either to find words or to hold them back. "Fine," she said after a sigh. "Just know that if you want it, you have it."
"I know, Mom," I said.
We hadn't been poor, by any means, while I was growing up. I'd always had food, clothes, and a roof over my head. I'd had a television in my room and toys overflowing from the chest at the foot of my bed. But coupons were Renee's best friend and a two bedroom apartment had been the only thing we could afford in most of the cities we stayed. Though she and Phil had a bit more spending money now, college tuition would be stretching the limits of their bank account, and I didn't want to take from them what I didn't need to.
"Mr. Cullen is helping me with my entry for the final round, and I feel pretty okay about it. I mean, I know the pieces need work, but he's really good about pumping me up."
Phil popped his head out the door to ask my mom a question, while I let my mind continue wandering. I could imagine Edward sitting with the beautiful blonde woman in his photograph, laughing about times long past. I smiled. I truly wanted that happiness for him.
Renee's fingers snapped in front of my face, her brow drawn down in suspicion and a hidden smirk at the corner of her mouth. "This is about a boy, isn't it?"
"What? No, of course not," I said a little too quickly.
"Oh, it is! Look at that blush!" Renee sat beside me on the picnic bench and wrapped an arm around my shoulders. "Tell me all about him. Is he cute? He's got to be smart if he has your attention. I'll bet he's top of the class."
"He doesn't… really… go to my school," I said, and realized belatedly that I was lying. He did go to my school; he just didn't study there. "It doesn't matter. It won't happen."
Not yet, anyway, I hoped.
"Of course it will, baby. You just have to put yourself out there. Any boy would be lucky to have you."
"It's not that," I said, debating on how much to say.
It was harder for me to resist my mother's charms in person. I really did want her advice, and Heaven knew she wasn't going to give up until she got everything she could get out of me. But this was Edward. Even though I wanted to shout to the world how much I loved him, I could never do anything to jeopardize his career. Perhaps if I left out his name and any identifying details, I could talk about him. As great as Alice was, I really wanted my mom to know about Edward, at least in some small way.
"He's older," I said cautiously. "We've talked a little about how we feel, but there's this huge barrier between us."
I watched Renee's smile falter, and then flatten into a thin line. "How much older?" she tried to ask casually.
Renee let out a heavy breath and laughed. "Dear God, Bella, by your tone I thought he would be forty!" Her eyes softened into wistful resignation. "I always knew it would be an older boy. Or… I guess he would be a man, wouldn't he? You've been a little woman all your life, so grown up for someone so small. Bella, honey, if he makes you happy, don't let this stop you."
"Really?" I asked. "You're really okay with it?"
"As long as he treats you right, I don't think I have any say. You have to follow your heart, baby."
I wrapped my arms around her neck and held tight. "Thank you so much, Mom."
"All right, now tell me why you don't think you can be together."
Frustrations and fears of the last couple months—the last year, if I was honest—came bubbling to the surface. I made sure to keep my sentences vague, only abstractly mentioning Edward's wish to wait until I graduated and never even hinting at his profession. The weight on my shoulders lifted as I spoke. I hadn't realized how worried I'd been about my mom's approval.
Renee knew I wasn't telling her everything. She would often ask direct questions I couldn't answer. She would smile when I deflected, but I could see some motherly concern in her eyes. It took everything I had not to give in and tell her the rest, and by the time I boarded the plane to go home, I was exhausted. Who knew evasion could be so tiring?
I met with Edward on Monday, excited to see him after the long weekend. He beamed when I entered the classroom a half-hour before the bell. "How was your Thanksgiving?" he asked.
"Fun. I had some long-needed girl time with my mom, you know, talking about boys," I teased. "She, uh, trusts me… to know who I want to be with. What about you?"
He shrugged. "Nothing special. Just had a small get together with my sister. We made plans for Christmas."
I smiled and ached to reach out and hold him. To anyone else, we were making small talk, but in fact, I had given him reaffirmation of how I felt about him, that we would be together in just six months, and he had been brimming with emotion at his small step in repairing his relationship with Rosalie.
"Do you have some time to go over my scholarship options?" I asked to keep myself in check.
We spent the next twenty minutes looking over the pieces we both liked. I really wanted to stick with a life's lessons story about a girl and her sisters, but Edward was encouraging me to go with something a little more daring—a political thriller I'd fooled around with over the past few months. I wasn't at all comfortable with letting what was basically a personal experiment decide my future.
"Will you just listen to me for a minute without closing me out?" Edward asked, aggravation lacing his words. I pursed my lips but nodded for him to continue. "Crisscross Girls is safe. It's what someone would expect an eighteen-year-old girl to send in. But this… this will make them think. It will make them remember you."
"Yeah, they'll remember a shoddy attempt to be something I'm not."
"Why?" he said, tossing down the story. "Why can't you ever admit how absolutely wonderful, and talented, and brilliant you are?"
Heat flooded my cheeks. Before our coffee date, I would have written off his words as being strictly about my stories. With all that I now knew, there wasn't any way I could miss Edward's passion and see that he meant all of me.
The impulse to lean in and kiss him was powerful. Perhaps Edward could feel it, too, because in the next second he was rattling on about a well-placed word here or a subtle foreshadowing there and avoiding my eyes at all cost. As his other students trickled into the room for class, the bubble of closeness burst completely, forcing me into my seat and miles away from everything I had felt only minutes before.
I worked closely with Edward every day, whether for LitMag or my scholarship, yet the distance between us was like a great chasm. When others were around, Edward was cool and detached. He aided me where necessary and treated me like anyone else; I was nothing to him in those moments. It was easier to remember the kiss he had placed on my cheek and his plea for me to wait for him when we were alone. Though we never crossed into the realm of personal, there were implications and meaningful looks and secret smiles that we could get away with when no one else was watching.
It was harder than I had anticipated. Seven months seemed longer now than it had in the café parking lot. The first month had been an eternity of increasing frustrations and uncertainty, and I wasn't sure what effect the next six would have on my sanity. I knew my feelings for Edward. I knew that he was the only one for me. It was his feelings that troubled me. I didn't know them. I didn't know if I was the only one for him. I had been so sure at the beginning, but time had eroded my confidence like waves across a crumbling rock.
I wasn't as talented as Edward in hiding my emotions. I tried, but I often found myself scowling and hurt when he gave me nothing more than a "very good" or "nicely done." Every time I attempted to force myself away from the doubt, doubt pushed back with vengeance.
It was late December. Winter vacation meant Edward and I would be apart for two weeks without even our disguised small talk to take the edge off. I started noticing the pucker between Edward's eyebrows as he glanced at me in worry, and it slowed the storm tearing up my insides. If he was worried for me, that meant he cared. I felt foolish and angry with myself. Loving someone meant trusting him, and I trusted Edward with my life.
We were looking over the finished issue of LitMag on the last day before vacation. Edward wasn't happy with the arrangement on page nine, but overall he thought the magazine was a success. We already had several comments from the student body about their favorite pieces. When we had finished laughing about a particularly witty review, Edward turned toward me and seemed to be considering what to say.
"You look better today. You've been… out of sorts lately."
"Oh, that," I said, laughing nervously. I could feel my cheeks heat. "I was stressed over graduation and how far away it is. My mind was blocked, but I'm working on it."
"Was it very hard on you?" Edward asked, that worry wrinkle making an appearance between his eyebrows. I shook my head, unable to find words, but Edward knew I was lying. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be. I did it to myself."
"I have to take some of the responsibility. I haven't been giving you the… attention that you deserve, as my student. I'm sorry."
"Please don't blame yourself," I whispered, breaking pretenses for the first time since the café. "It was me. I was letting myself get caught up in what was happening instead of trusting you. It was my own fault."
Edward sat back and stared me, tapping his pen on the desk. The worry wrinkle was still there, but there was something else going on behind his eyes. Finally, he sighed, shook his head, smiled, and said, "Charles Dickens is on your reading list for next semester." I blinked, taken aback by the change in topic. "I'm going up to Seattle to see A Christmas Carol on the nineteenth, the matinee showing."
My eyes widened. Every year of Edward's childhood, the Cullen family would make a trip to The Allen Theatre to see ACT's production of A Christmas Carol. This would be the first year since his parents' deaths that he would attend.
"You should try to see it if you get the chance." He swallowed and cleared his throat. "I'm sure the theatre could use your support."
There was no question in my mind that Edward was really the one asking for support. This would be hard for him and he needed me. I nodded. "Of course. I'll get up there to see it."
Edward smiled, relieved. "Good. That's good."
We didn't talk much after that, and only then about LitMag. I fell into bed when I got home, and as I stared up at the ceiling, I started to cry. I felt stupid for doubting Edward, relieved to know I was being stupid, and so immensely happy that now, after weeks of resigning myself to polite, impersonal conversation, I was going to be with him, free to do and say as I pleased. It wasn't going to fix the next six months, I would have to work on that myself, but it was a gift of reassurance and hope for the future.
A/N: Looks like the lovebirds are having a rough time of it. What do you think? There seems to be a debate over if they'll give in or wait the 6 months to graduation. Decisions, decisions...
Thanks for reading!