A/N: Thanks to swill122 for the suggestion that Edward get tested with Bella as moral support. My thanks to algonquinrt and adorablecullens for the sanity checks along the way. Also, to dazzlemebetch, who I believe was the first to point out to me about the timeline. Many of you mentioned that their wait wouldn't be six months, since it had been a while since she was with Jake. Also, several people mentioned Tanya and Jasper – that was always intended to come up in this chapter, but I completely love that you guys all think about these things and mention them to me. I love your reviews and ideas/suggestions so much, keep them coming!
Supah thanks to my betas, Siouxchef and TwilightMundi and Sexy Eagle Eye SweetDulci.
All copyright and trademarked items mentioned herein belong to their respective owners. The remaining content is all mine. No copying or reproduction of this work is permitted without my express written authorization.
"I'm sorry, Bella."
It was the first time he had apologized for what he'd done to me. To us.
It was my turn to be stunned into silence.
"I'm here. You just... you've never apologized before."
"Well, I mean it," he said, then let out a long sigh. "I know it wasn't a good situation at the time, but I think you finding us that day was probably the best thing that could have ever happened for all of us. I'm sorry that I hurt you, and that I've continued to be a complete toolbox, what with emailing you and being rude. You finding me that day forced me to face what I was doing. What I had become." His voice lowered further. "What I am."
"And what is that, Jake?"
I could feel my eyes welling with tears, but I needed to hear him say it. To extinguish the last little ember of hope that I might have allowed to continue to burn, despite all the hurt and pain he caused me.
"I'm …" The faintest whisper of a word crossed through the phone line, "… gay."
"I'll always love you as my best friend, Jake, and I am proud of you for finally being honest and true to yourself."
Tears were streaming down my face and the heaving sobs were building. I could sense our conversation was almost over. I just needed to make it a few more minutes.
"I love you too, Bella. I want you to know that I'll stop emailing and harassing you. When you think we can be friends again, please contact me. Email would probably be best, as Mike and I are headed somewhere else. We aren't sure where yet, but we just can't live in Forks anymore, you know?"
Sure, I could imagine. Forks was a small place, full of old thinking and not likely to accept Mike and Jake. Had I still lived there, the shame and embarrassment of our situation, of Jake cheating on me and everything else tangled up with it, would probably have driven me away, too.
"Well, Jake, why don't you send me an email when you guys figure it out. I'd like to stay in touch, as long as you can maintain this new sense of normal." I broke into a sob that I masked as a giggle at the end.
"Okay, Bella. Thanks."
He was optimistic as ever and we hung up. My body lurched with another sob, the reality overwhelming me again. He was gay. I'd loved him with my whole heart. I was ready to give my entire life to him. How did I not know? Was it possible that I never loved him at all, I just loved the idea of him? What would've happened had I not found Jake and Mike? Would we have gotten married, wasted years of our lives pretending?
I felt sick. I was going to be sick.
I opened my bedroom door and Alice and Jasper were snuggled up on the couch together. Edward. I desperately wanted his arms around me to reassure me. Had I been wrong about Edward, too? No, I really loved Edward. We weren't pushed together through circumstance or geography. We were putting in effort to make it work, not taking it easy with the nearest possible warm body.
My feet somehow carried me out of the dorm room and down the hall. I couldn't stop long enough to answer Alice's frantic questions as I ran, I just had to go and explain later. I didn't want to get sick in our room bathroom, I wanted to maintain some level of privacy while I indulged myself in the unscheduled nervous breakdown I was about to have.
The bathroom door flew open when my palm smacked against it. I found the nearest toilet and got straight to business. I was sobbing, heaving my body toward the white porcelain bowl that most college kids seemed to worship for vastly different reasons than I was right then. I heard the door open and close behind me, but once my stomach was empty, I just sat there. I let all of my previously held hopes and dreams out in the form of tears, for what felt like hours, head resting on my forearms.
The door creaked open and closed again, as it had repeatedly during the time I was on the floor, alternating between dry heaving and sobbing. Sometimes a girl would stop and try to talk to me, ask if I was okay. I could only shake my head no and wait for them to leave. The lock to the main door clicked, and the sobs came faster. Please, all I need right now is for some psycho to be locking him or herself in the bathroom with me.
His voice was so faint, I was certain it had been a hallucination.
When I felt his hand on my leg, I looked up through the watery pools my eyeballs were still swimming in. He seemed like a hallucination behind the wavy patterns of my unshed tears.
"Love, I'm not even going to ask if you're okay, since you are so clearly not. Please, let me help you."
Edward's hand slid up my back and then I felt the other beneath my knees as he picked me up. Certain I was covered in vomit, snot and tears, I tried my best to protest, albeit weakly.
"No, no," I sobbed, shame and embarrassment at the forefront of my brain. "Please, this is awful and disgusting and I must look hideous."
Even as I was protesting, my body was curling into his, overruling my brain.
"Shh. It's okay. Let me take care of you."
So soft and light, his voice wrapped around me like a fleece blanket, holding me close to him, while he wrapped me in the warmth, comfort, and safety of his embrace.
"I'm just going to set you down for a moment. Don't panic."
He was still whispering and I nodded quickly.
We were in the back shower area and I heard the water turn on in the stall next to me. Edward reappeared and I couldn't bring myself to look up at him, even as much as I knew I needed to. I needed him to know how much I appreciated what he was doing for me by allowing me to surrender myself to him, to his touch, to his love.
His hands went first to my shoes, slipping them off and setting them behind him. He unbuttoned my jeans next, leaving them sitting on my hips as he pulled my layers of shirts off. My bra was still on as he stood and I could tell he was undressing as well, his clothes hitting the floor with less care and concern than he'd placed mine.
Edward bent to lift me again and I rested against him, his hands moving to pull my jeans down and off my body. I could feel the soft cotton of his boxers against my hips and the tears had begun to slow as my brain caught up with the realization that I would be safe again. Without even knowing what was wrong, Edward was here, holding me, loving me, reassuring me.
He led us to the stall with the water on and I flinched as we moved under the spray. The heat from the water stung my skin and I tucked my head in to Edward's shoulder.
As the water washed over me, his hands undid the loose ponytail that was now simply a pile of tangles on top of my head. His fingers wove through the mess, gently unknotting my hair and stroking it back. Each time his hands touched a bare part of my body, I felt a little better. A little stronger. A little more myself again.
Not once the entire time he was helping to rinse my pain away did Edward stop to ask me what was wrong. It was as if the cause had no space in his brain, his only concern was getting to the solution. He finished cleaning me up as best he could in a dorm room shower with no soap or supplies, then turned the water off.
"I left the towels on the counter, I'll be right back."
I laid back against the tile wall, resisting the dire plea from my knees to simply allow them to go weak and slide my body to the ground. Thankfully, he was back before I even had time to think about it twice, lifting my arms and wrapping me gently in a towel before he dried himself quickly with the other.
There was a soft knock on the door and I saw Edward wrap the towel around his lower half and disappear. Alice's soft voice carried through the room, then the door closed and locked again. I could see his feet as he put on what looked like plaid lounge pants. There was more movement and I assumed he was putting on a shirt. His hands moved to the edge of my towel and he hesitated briefly.
"I want to put some dry clothes on you before we go back to your room, sweetheart. Can I take off your wet clothes?"
Another sob heaved from my body; this man asked permission to remove my bra and panties, even after we'd already been so closely intimate. The contrast with Jacob, who almost never asked me anything, smacked me in the face again. I nodded quickly twice, my eyes focused on the tile patterns of the floor. My wet hair hung around my face, shaking with the movement of my head and dropping water around me.
Before he did anything else, towel still around my body, Edward pulled me into his body. His arms wrapped around me again and he rested one hand at my waist and the other between my shoulder blades.
"It's okay. Whatever it is, it will be okay, I promise."
His hand wove up through my hair and I took in a deep breath, my first real breath since I'd run from my room. I felt my body loosen in his arms, the tension and stress easing out slowly.
"Can I get you changed now?"
I was grateful that his voice was still low; my head had begun pounding. I nodded and he moved back slightly, taking the towel down. He rested it against his own body as he unclasped my bra and lifted it off. "Arms up," he said, wrapping the towel back around me before reaching under to pull my panties down. He moved with such reverence and respect, keeping me covered when he could, knowing that this wasn't a sexual act or a moment for him to gawk or gaze.
He moved away again and I saw my plaid pajama pants come into view. Stepping in when he lowered them enough, he slid them up my legs, fingertips grazing my hips on his way to my waist. There was no way to get my shirt on with the towel still in place, so I simply dropped it. I was tired of holding up the wall anyway; I wanted him to see me completely. I needed him to know me. Edward never missed a beat, back in front of me with a shirt, slipping it over my arms. He gently maneuvered the shirt onto my head and once it was over my breasts, he let it drop and cupped my face, bringing my gaze up to meet his.
Although he had just gently dressed me, staring into his eyes, I felt even more naked than before. I was a grown woman who just had to have her fairly new boyfriend help her through what was undoubtedly one of the most profound displays of emotion she'd ever had. On one hand, I was endlessly grateful that Edward had been there for me when I needed him the most, and on the other, I was horrifically embarrassed.
He softly kissed the corner of my mouth and slid his hands down my arms to take one of mine into his. With his other hand, he picked up our discarded clothes and towels, then unlocked the door and led me out of the bathroom and back to my room. I was grateful that, contrary to what I thought might be the scene outside, there were only a few people wandering around.
The door to the room was open slightly and Alice and Jasper were nowhere to be found, but the other bedroom door was closed. Once we got into my room, Edward led me to the bed, where I sat. He brought me a cup of tea and a cinnamon chip scone, which made me smile.
"I should've made sure you had lunch or dinner before I left," he mumbled, handing me the scone.
I greedily drank the entire cup of warm tea in a few gulps. "I'm sorry, I only had Tyler bring the one cup. Do you want some water?" I looked up at his eyes again, soft and worried. I nodded, still unable to force myself to speak, even as much as my brain was shouting at me. Shouting at me to tell him I wasn't completely crazy... just a mixed up girl in a strange moment.
He left the room briefly, getting me a large cup of cool water at super speed. He set it on the desk next to the bed and sat with me.
"Eat some, please," he implored.
I'd forgotten about the pastry in my hand. I broke a piece off and brought it to my mouth, the soft dough crumbling on my tongue as the cinnamon chips melted. I made a low humming noise and Edward smiled.
His hand was on my leg, fingers splayed and occasionally moving in small patterns against my pants as he patiently waited for me to finish eating. When the scone was gone and I'd had more water, I started to feel better. Brushing the crumbs from my pants, I looked at him again.
"How did you know to come?" I asked.
"Alice called me. I packed a small bag as quickly as I could and raced over. When I got here, she was pacing outside the bathroom, keeping people out. She took my bag and handed me the towels, suggesting that I help you shower. After she set my bag in the room, she came back with the pajamas for us."
Thank you, Alice.
"Can we lay down? I want to explain, but if you don't mind, I'd much rather be curled up with you."
His smile grew. Perhaps he was worried this whole time that I was upset over something relating to him? Then I felt selfish; I'd taken him away from whatever it was he needed to get done before school.
"I'm sorry, Edward," I sniffled. "I forgot that you went home to get ready for the week. Really, I'll be okay if you need to go." I cursed the tear that fell onto my cheek, betraying every lying word that had just come out of my mouth.
"There's nowhere else I want to be right now. You come before everything else at this moment. I'm here for you. Lie down, let's talk." He leaned back onto my small bed, opening his arms for me.
As we curled up together, I told him about my conversation with Jake. I wasn't sure I'd been honest with myself, up until that afternoon, with how I felt about the whole situation. I hadn't allowed myself to feel the entire weight of the grief over losing my lifelong best friend and boyfriend on the same day I lost my father. The details poured out of me and I confessed the entirety of my previously held belief of my love for Jacob. I was honest that I wasn't even sure anymore if I ever loved him, but that hadn't prevented me from building grand ideas and plans in my head about our lives together, before all the tragedy and drama.
I cried again, for the loss of all the things I thought I'd have with Jake. For the loss of my parents, again, because it crept up on me in that moment of weakness. I cried for the relief and overwhelming happiness that Edward's comfort brought me. He didn't ask questions and didn't offer solutions, he simply listened. When I stopped crying, we laid quietly together.
A smile spread across my face as I felt the warm sun on my body. It was a new day. My heart felt lighter and my mood was measurably happier. I opened my eyes and realized that part of the warmth was from the body next to me. Or, more accurately, the warm body wrapped up with me. I brought my hand up to Edward's head and tucked his loose hairs behind his ear. His breathing changed from slow and even to ragged. I brought my leg up over his hip and pressed my body further into his, feeling just how happy he was to have me that close.
"Good morning, love." He leaned forward and kissed me softly. I broke our kiss first, nuzzling my face into his neck.
"Thank you, Edward. I wish I could think of something good enough to say 'thank you,' but all I have right now are the words."
He let out a soft hum and pulled me closer, his arms strong and warm around me. "It's more than enough."
I finally moved my eyes from the bed over to the nightstand and saw that it was already eight thirty. I had a nine o'clock class, so I jumped out of bed and frantically began searching out clothes to change into. Once I was at my dresser, I threw off my pajamas and pulled on some random comfortable underwear, then began to fidget with a bra when I felt Edward behind me.
"Are you sure you have to go to class?"
He was kissing down my neck, hands in front of my body and cupping my breasts underneath my still unhooked bra. Fuck. I was really tempted to skip class and show him just how thankful I was for his listening skills, perhaps indulging a little in his other various skills, but I knew that was a habit we'd get into if we allowed ourselves, and I just couldn't do that to either of us.
"Seriously, I'm standing here in," I looked down, "peace sign, happy face underwear and the most generic nude-colored Target bra ever, and you can't keep your hands to yourself?"
He was playfully irritated and began to take his frustration out on my breasts, teasing my nipples with barely-there touches. His body was pressed up against mine, still lavishing my neck and shoulders with kisses and licks. I was ten seconds away from caving and spending the day in bed with him when he gave one last gentle tug of my nipples before withdrawing his hands. They trailed around to my back and he stepped away to hook my bra for me, then placed a kiss between my shoulder blades.
"I never want to keep my hands to myself when I'm with you. And, I like seeing you in normal clothes. Sure, sexy lingerie is great, but this is the real Bella. This is the Bella I want. The Bella that I need every moment of every day. Thank you for keeping us on track."
At the mention of being on track, I turned to the closet and grabbed the closest pair of jeans, tugging them on quickly. My shirt was another random selection from what I had at hand and I pulled it over my head discussing last minute details of our days with Edward as I shoved everything I'd need for class into my bag.
"Hey, let's go get the blood draw today?" he asked.
Edward had that lusty look in his eyes and I knew he'd simply removed his physical self from my body, but his brain was working overtime thinking about the next time we could be together.
"Yeah, sure," I replied. "My last class is at eleven, so I could meet you around one?"
I turned to face him and say goodbye and he fell back on the bed with laughter.
"Edward, I have to go, seriously. One, cafe? Yes? No?"
He was still just laughing and I was as fucking clueless as I had been thirty-seconds before. I grabbed my messenger bag and threw on my glasses from the top of my dresser; I didn't have time to put my contacts in. Pulling my hair back in a ponytail, I noticed Edward had moved to lean against my closed door, watching me run around like a chicken with my head cut off.
"First, that shirt is hysterical, and hopefully very true. Second, love, you'll be okay if you're a few minutes late, I promise. Let me put my clothes on and walk you to class?"
Curious, I quickly glanced down to see I had pulled on my Hello Kitty t-shirt that said "I heart nerds".
"No, Edward, I hate being late. I can't wait, but I'll see you at the cafe, okay?"
I leaned into him and wrapped my arms around his waist, intending to steal a quick peck on the lips before I rushed out the door, but somehow the Edwardness of him sucked me in and I was softly moaning moments after we began. His hands moved to my ass and I was ready to give up my entire college career then. Just throw me down right over there, my mind was begging. It was his turn to be strong, though, and he reached behind, turning the handle and pulling the door open as he moved us.
"Later. I promise," he said against my lips, pushing me out the door.
Practically sprinting to class, I thought of Edward and his body while running the entire way. I had to distract myself and turn my focus back on school or the whole day would be a waste. As I sat in my seat just before class began, I could hear my phone vibrating against my books, and looked to see a text from Edward.
Miss you already.
I had no time to text him back right then, but did so between classes. Checking my email, I saw that he'd continued sending me music. I read his thoughtful note and scrolled to the song; it was clearly labeled Chasing Cars. I smiled and played the song in my head.
Class with Jasper flew by. We had a whisper-level conversation in the back of the room, sometimes passing notes, to catch up on what was going on with him and Alice. He was clearly head-over-heels for her and I'd seen enough glimpses from Alice she felt the same. He asked me how I was doing, having partially witnessed my breakdown the night before. We hugged after class and I realized how much easier it was to be around and talk to him now, compared to just a few days after our... encounter.
With a few minutes to get to the cafe, I walked at a fast clip, eager to see Edward. As I rounded the corner of the building, I shrieked as someone grabbed me from behind.
Edward grunted into my neck and turned me so that my back was pressed up against the wall. The kisses began immediately, hot and needy as his hands went up to my face. I laughed into his mouth; the absurdity of being pinned against a campus building out in the open by this gorgeous man was not lost on me.
"Laughter wasn't exactly the response I was hoping for, Coffee Girl," he said, forehead against mine.
I tilted toward him and pecked his lips before responding. "I know, but it's really the only one appropriate for right in the middle of campus, wouldn't you say? Much as I'd like to throw you down and have my wicked way with you right here, I'm pretty sure that wouldn't go over very well with everyone else. Later, love, isn't that what you said to me this morning?" I smiled at him and he took a step back.
"Alright, are you taking me to get poked and prodded?"
Edward laughed and I blushed, realizing what I had said. I smacked him lightly on his shoulder and we ducked into the cafe to grab sandwiches to eat on the walk to the medical offices. Edward told me he was going to get tested along with me, since he knew I had an aversion to needles. I was grateful for that; it was sweet of him.
The nurse asked me questions about my sexual past and I explained the situation with Jacob. Edward was in the room the entire time, at my insistence. We also talked about Tanya and Jasper. My contact with Jasper was very limited, but the exposure was still there. I'd need to talk to both of them about the risk of HIV, no matter what the outcome of my blood test was.
After I explained that Edward and I planned to use condoms for six-months either way as well, the nurse chuckled lightly.
"You mean," she paused and looked up at the ceiling for a moment, "about three more months."
My brow furrowed and she pointed to the calendar.
"If your last exposure was back in June, you've already gone about three months."
Edward's face lit up and I laughed and nodded. "Yeah, that's true."
She explained that I'd have my results back within a week, then she did the physical exam. I asked Edward to come into the exam room with me and hold my hand, which he did without complaint.
"I think she deserves some ice cream after that, don't you?" the nurse said to Edward.
"At the very least," he smiled at her, then she turned, discarded her gloves, and left me to get dressed.
"I'm very proud of you, you know," he said.
Edward took my hand in his and we walked out together. "Proud of me?"
"Yes. A lot of people would rather hide from the truth. Bury their heads in the sand and pretend bad things would never happen to them. You're being responsible and respectful not just of yourself, but of me as well. I appreciate that, and I fully intend to take you for an ice cream sundae, if you'll let me." He squeezed my hand.
"That sounds good, but can we walk over to the ice cream shop? I'm sore and achey from falling asleep in a teensy bed with a very large man."
"Hmm... very large, you say?" He waggled his eyebrows and we both laughed. "Listen, let's talk practicalities. You're right, your bed is much too small. Will you pack a bag and stay with me tonight?"
It took me all of two seconds to decide, but I waited a respectable thirty before answering out loud.
"Sure. I have a class at nine tomorrow, though. Can you give me a ride?"
We were at the door to my room and I had the key in the lock, turning the handle to open it when he bent to whisper in my ear.
"I'm pretty sure it will be you doing the riding this evening."