A/N: My apologies – it's been difficult getting into the mood to write lately and I want to try to make these last few chapters decent. I'm aiming for 40 (or less) chapters in total.
Anyway, thank you to thequeitlife, Irritable Grizzzly and revrag. Also huge thanks to simmerk for helping me with Seth's character.
And thanks for reading. :)
Disclaimer: Twilight belongs to Stephenie Meyer.
Chapter Title: Strange music
"It is difficult and painful for the ear to listen to anythingnew; we hear strange music badly." Nietzsche
Last chapter: Bella started group therapy and met Seth, aka iPod boy. He's constantly listening to music and doesn't contribute or do the homework. At the end of the chapter, Bella is trying to do her therapy homework for week four: finishing the short story she began in chp8/9.
I kept trying, but it just wasn't happening. I felt like I had to saysomethingand I was painfully aware that I had nothing to say. Describing the trees was a whole bunch of nothing and I just…didn't care.
In the end, I decided to write whatever the fuck I wanted to write.Who cares if the only person who understands it is me?I was the only one who'd ever read it anyway.
My mind dredged up a promise I'd made what seemed like a lifetime ago.
I promised Edward that he could read it when it was ready.
Is it ready?
Is it ready?
The answer appeared to me - sudden, visceral. Indisputable: Nope.
It wasn't ready. It was crap. It was filled with mistakes and it probably read like the mental vomit of a twelve-year-old girl, but if he still wanted to read it…
Edward had promised to play one of his songs for me in return. I'd never heard Edward play the piano and honestly, for all I knew, he could be terrible. It didn't seem like he practiced very much – not while he was at college anyway.
His songs might be complete garbage, but even if they were, I knew I'd still want to hear them because they were… his.
But that's different. Edward's Edward and I'm…well, me. Plus I bet even without practicing he's really good, whereas I'm genuinely awful.
I exhaled loudly and, because apparently I was a masochistic moron, I started skimming through some of the other pages.
I'd written in my journal a lot over the last few months, but one thing I'd never done was go back and read the results. First because I didn't want to – the idea alone made me feel queasy – and second because that wasn't the point. It was just a way to unload some of the thoughts that polluted my mind.
I read the entry immediately following my first attempt at writing a short story, the restless butterflies temporarily muffled by morbid curiosity.
Had I really written that only months ago? Christ.
I turned the page and read the next entry. And then the one after that and the one after that.
I couldn't stop reading, my face inching closer and closer to my journal. There it all was – so tangible, scrawled across the clean pages. Fragments of unfinished thoughts; blurred snapshots of old feelings. It kind of felt like I was in one of those Halls of Mirrors they have at fairs, surrounded by dozens of warped reflections, wondering which was the real one. Which was stupid, of course, because none of them were.
Some of it sounded a lot worse than I remembered it. Geez, Bella – teen angst much?
Some of it didn't sound nearly bad enough.
There were some entries that didn't make any sense. They didn't even sound real – just faintly bizarre, almost comical.
Had they ever made sense to me? Did I really write that?
A considerable amount of them (still) did make sense though, and some of them were definitely (still) true. For me, anyway.
What I wouldn't give to spend the day in someone else's mind! What do "normal" people do all day? What do they think about? I suppose they're too busy "living their lives" to overthink everything the way I do.
Most of all, though, I was struck by how many of the things in my journal Edward already knew.
I told Edward that right after we said "I love you" the first/second time.
Even the parts that I hadn't explicitly told him – he'd seen almost all of it for himself firsthand. He'd seen me freak out and worry and worry and cry.
And okay, my ramblings weren't anything special, but they were uncensored and they were mine.
I tore out one of the last pages (as well as one other page, the contents of which I wanted to die with me), scribbled a short note to Edward, and placed it inside the journal carefully, precisely.
I stood up, determined to fulfill my promise to Edward, feeling sure of myself, even though I didn't know why I was sure at all. I didn't want to think about why, or to analyze this into unrecognizable pieces. I just wanted to do it.
I hurried to his dorm room before I could change my mind and knocked on the door. It was early, so I knew Edward would still be in class. When Mike answered, I lied and told him I wanted to check whether I'd left something in their room. He shrugged and let me in and I pretended to search around.
When I was sure Mike wasn't looking, I retrieved the journal from the bottom of my bag and stashed it underneath Edward's pillow.
Then I practically ran out the door and said, "Oh, I guess I must've left it somewhere else. Thanks anyway, Mike. Bye." Maybe I wasn't very convincing, but I didn't care right now. I just wanted to leave the journal for Edward to find tonight when he got into bed and then get the hell out of there.
As I walked out, I thought of him reading the note I'd left:
You've probably completely forgotten about this, but…I finally, finally, finished that short story, if you're still interested and want to read it.
See you tomorrow night.
P.S. You know you don't actually have to read any of it unless you want to, right?
He didn't call or text me all day. I hadn't expected him to. He had class and then he was watching some kind of sporting event with his friends which would probably be followed by (more) beer and video games until they got bored. I knew he'd be busy all day. He'd decided it would be easier if he didn't come over tonight and probably wouldn't discover the journal for a while.
I had plans of my own with Angela and Kate, so I tried to focus on that.
It wasn't so much that I was worried. I actually felt pretty good. I could feel that little spark of excitement in my stomach, tumbling around with all the stupid butterflies in there. It occurred to me that he could easily read past the short story – I had given him the whole journal after all – but I decided that I (mostly) didn't care. He already knew most of it anyway.
"Hello?" I mumbled groggily into the phone, squinting at my alarm clock.
Quarter to two in the morning? Who do I need to be mildly annoyed with for calling me at quarter to two in the morning?
"Damn, did I wake you? Sorry, I didn't realize how late it had gotten."
Edward. Did he just find the journal? Okay, I'll be mildly annoyed with him later then.
"It's all right."
I heard him swallow uneasily and automatically copied him. The gap in the conversation widened loudly and I tried to think of a way to fill it.
"So, did you have fun with –"
"So, I was just calling to say –"
We both began speaking at the same time, adding an extra layer to the nervous energy between us.
Edward chuckled and said, "You go."
"I was just asking if you had fun tonight."
"I did. I hope you had a good night too." He cleared his throat and cut me off before I could answer. "I'm just calling to say, um, thanks. For the short story. I'll read it and give you back your journal tomorrow? Or maybe buy you a new one since this one looks almost full…"
A new one? Is that a hint or is he just being nice? He sounded unsure, so maybe he didn't know either.
"Yeah, there are only a few blank pages left. I actually already bought a new one this afternoon. So um, there's no rush or anything. I don't need it back…"
"Oh, okay. I'll hang onto it for a little while then…" he trailed off awkwardly. "I won't read any of the other entries, promise."
How do I let him know he can read anything he wants without making it seem like I need/expect him to read it?
I hated awkward conversations like this, but they still happened all the time – even with Edward. They made me feel blind, shoved into darkness and forced to warily feel my way around. With Edward, though, I was much less cautious because I trusted us to give each other a little elbow room now and then.
"You can read the rest if you want to. But you don't have to. It's not a trick to see how much you'll read. I just wanted to keep my promise. It's not exactly thoughtful stuff. Just me venting for the most part and some of my feelings have changed since then, so…If you read the other entries, don't take them too seriously, you know?"
"Okay, well I'll see what I end up reading. I'll definitely skip over any girl-related entries, though," he said, lightening the mood a little.
"Totally understandable." I smiled, reminded of the first time I'd had to tell him we couldn't mess around for a little while because I was on my period. Well, in reality, all I'd said was: "It's um, not the right time…of the month." And all he'd said was 'Oh. Right." He clearly hadn't wanted to know any of the details. I couldn't blame him since I wished I didn't know most of the details myself. I had zero desire to discuss it with him, and certainly couldn't recall writing about any of that stuff in my journal.
"Mike – he's at Jessica's tonight by the way – anyway, he told the weirdest, most disgusting joke tonight. Wanna hear it?"
"I don't know, do I?" If he's bringing it up now, then it's about girl parts and/or bodily functions. "Okay, tell me."
He started telling me the joke, back to his usual light tone, and the conversation quickly spiraled off into more comfortable territory. We were talking like we always did, the normality lulling me into a dangerous sense of complacency. If it hadn't felt so damn natural, I probably wouldn't have forgotten myself and acted so impulsively.
"Yes, yes. I'm still here, sorry," I said, quickly grabbing my phone again so I could hear what he was saying.
"Where'd you go?"
"Nowhere. I just did something stupid. Ignore me and carry on, please."
"What'd you do?"
"No way. You have to tell me."
"It's stupid," I said, regretting that I'd said anything at all. "Okay, I err…I took off my shirt," I finally confessed.
Silence. And then a small, "Why?"
"I wasn't thinking. I just did it. I've got this silly little…um…I've got this fantasy where I'm acting all casual around you even though I'm naked - like it's nothing – and we were talking so easily just now. It was just a stupid, spur-of-the-moment thing."
He laughed a little, but then said, "I have that fantasy too. And I'm not wearing a shirt but I can take off my boxers if you want."
"Really?" I smiled, gaining a little confidence. "Do you have any other… fantasies?" I asked quietly.
He laughed again. "Only a few hundred."
"Um. I'm not sure I should tell you."
Well, of course he doesn't want to tell you. You're so virginal (even now that you're not a virgin!) that it probably feels as if he'd be telling this stuff to a panda bear.
Shut up, please.
"Why not?" I asked, ignoring my first instinct to change the subject.
"You're gonna think I'm a sick pervert," he said lightly, trying to make a joke out of it.
"I won't think that. Well…how kinky are we talking? Never mind, it doesn't matter. I won't think you're sick," I promised. "I've seen 'adult movies' before, you know, so you're not gonna freak me out," I offered after the conversation threatened to lapse again.
"When did this happen and why wasn't I there?"
"Recently… very recently. Well, I've only seen one actually, and it was pretty tame I think. Kate sent me the link in jest and I…well I didn't look away."
I'd felt so weird watching it, but Kate had been teasing me about a particularly stupid/innocent comment I'd made (apparently the phrase is "spit or swallow", not "suck or swallow") and frankly, I was just really, really curious. So I watched it.
"It's always the quiet ones," he joked.
Then something suddenly occurred to me. "You're not mad, are you? You don't consider it cheating, right?"
I hoped no matter what, he'd want to try to work things out, but I knew that Edward considered cheating one of the worst possible offenses. As did I.
"No, that's not cheating in my opinion," he said, laughing.
"One thing led to another and it just sort of happened. I was thinking about you the whole time," I joked. Sort of. It was also completely true. "Have you ever seen one of those movies?" I asked tentatively.
"Um… yes. More than one."
"Right." Well, duh, Bella! Of course he's seen porn before. Welcome to the internet.
I wasn't sure how I felt about this stuff and we seemed to be splintering off into a weird area that I didn't want to explore right now. I left myself a mental note to find out what he considered cheating at some point (actually, finding out what I consider cheating might be smart too), and then tried to get us back to the original subject. "Well, anyway, we were talking about fantasies…Okay, look I'll go first."
I took a deep breath and tried to swallow down my nerves. It helped that we were having this conversation over the phone instead of face-to-face. It was embarrassing, but I wanted to show him that he didn't have to be so gentle with me all the time. I appreciated it and loved him for it, but it wasn't necessary, not anymore. He didn't have to edit so much – I didn't want him to hold back.
I'm not gonna break and I'm not gonna run away.
"Okay, so you know when I'm kissing you... down there..."
I felt pretty pathetic saying this stuff out loud. Like I was violating people's expectations of shy little girls like me. Like I was the wrong type or something.
But I cleared my throat and began again, "You know when I'm giving you a blow job? Well, just before you finish, you push me away and then we usually clean up with a tissue. I've been sort of curious about…maybe not using a tissue. You know, just, um, kissing it off you?"
I can't believe you're saying these things, I chastized myself. Don't you know that delicate little wallflowers aren't supposed to have fantasies, desires and kinks? Apparently, they don't swear or go to the bathroom either.
It was weird because sometimes I thought this idea seemed a little disgusting, but other times it seemed intimate and close.
"Edward?" I asked, unsure if we'd been quiet longer than appropriate.
"Yeah, yeah I'm here," he said. "Not to discourage you in any way, but I've heard that it doesn't always taste good."
"No, I know." I'd already realized through my informal sex-ed classes with Kate (so informal that she had no idea she was providing them) that evidently that stuff didn't taste very nice at all. She'd said all sorts of scary things about horrible consistency and how she'd gagged her first time, so I left myself a mental note to research all this some more. For now though, I figured just kind of kissing it off his stomach might not be altogether disastrous.
I didn't really know why I wanted to try it. I just knew that I didn't want to be told what it tasted like. I wanted to know by finding out myself. "I'm still really… curious," I confessed to Edward.
And being curious was a lot more fun than being scared all the time.
Congratulations. You've discovered the existence of hormones. Only several years of puberty too late.
"So…will you tell me one of yours now?"
"You just described one of mine. Okay, um…" I waited for him to choose a fantasy to share. I'd chosen one of my tamest ones, and I knew he'd do the same. We usually started slowly, but whatever. Gotta start somewhere.
"I have a lot that begin with you stripping for me. Not like…you're not putting on a show or anything. You're in the bathroom, just finishing brushing your hair. You call my name and ask me to come in for a second. I do and you turn to me. You just stand there, look me in the eyes, and start unbuttoning your shirt."
I kinda liked it so far, but I was confused because my pajama shirt was a t-shirt i.e. no buttons. I can definitely buy a shirt with buttons though…
"Oh, in the fantasy you're wearing my shirt – the blue one you wore our first time, remember?"
It was safe to say that yes, I remembered. "Then what happens?"
"Well, then you're naked and I'm magically naked too."
I edited the scene in my head to include a little bit of stripping on Edward's part too since he hadn't included it.
"And then I kind of…bend you over the bathroom counter and we - you know - have sex."
Not face-to-face. We hadn't tried that yet. Huh.
And "have sex" not "make love"… Well, okay. It didn't hurt at all anymore and just because we didn't always make love, didn't mean we weren't "in love." Even I knew that.
"I'm still here." I cleared my throat, aware that my thoughts had drifted. "That's really interesting. I mean, I'm definitely interested. Um." I cleared my throat again.
"Yeah?" I could practically hear him relaxing and grinning.
"Just one question. Why in the bathroom? You do know that we pee in there, right?" I said teasingly.
"Yeah…not something I'd think about while you're naked. But I mean, I know what else you do in there."
"I know how much time you spend worrying in there. You used to always lock the door and I always had to wait for you to come out."
Oooooh. "I see. That's very…"
"Interesting?" he chuckled.
"Yes. Very," I said, smiling like an idiot.
"I wish we'd had this conversation tomorrow night when I can actually come over," he groaned and I couldn't help but agree.
"Yeah. That sucks."
I didn't realize just how much it sucked until we'd hung up one awkward goodnight later, and I was left alone in my room with the quiet. And the tension.
Great. How exactly was I supposed to fall asleep?
Well, I knew how…I just didn't do that sort of thing very often. It used to make me feel really weird. I hadn't been very good at it before I'd figured out how to clear my mind (the idea of someone else picturing me doing that and thinking it was sick and disgusting would kind of kill the mood). Besides, now I had Edward around most of the time.
He's not around right now…
My hand settled tentatively just below my bellybutton, slowly inching lower, and I closed my eyes and told myself to relax.
Okay, think of boys and boy parts.
That immediately turned into Edward and Edward's parts, and I tried to imagine him whispering in my ear, telling me to just focus on the feelings.
Then a much more intriguing thought came to mind: Is Edward doing the same thing right now? I wonder if/how often he does stuff like that…
Once my brain had latched onto that idea, I was pretty sure I could handle all this on my own, but I couldn't help but think that it would be more fun if I didn't have to imagine it.
For the second time tonight, I did something stupid and spur-of-the-moment. I grabbed my phone to send Edward a text message.
Are you asleep? (Bella)
My phone rang almost immediately.
"No and I was just about to call you," Edward said, sounding almost as relieved as I felt. Thank God.
This broadening our horizons thing was a lot of fun and the days passed quickly.
Okay, they weren't lying - it didn't exactly taste amazing.
But I was still glad that I'd tried it and I still thought there was a weird intimacy to the act. It seemed like…acceptance? I guess it was just symbolic or something.
And Edward looked as if he really enjoyed "the view." Like a lot. That alone kinda made me want to do it again.
It can't be sick to want to make my boyfriend feel as good as possible, can it?
Whatever. I decided I was through wondering whether I was supposed to do these things and what other people would think.
I, we, were just gonna make up our own rules as we went along.
(Well, okay, I'd probably worry what people would think again in the future, but I figured the more times I learned this lesson, the more likely it was that it would stick.
Repetition, repetition. And all that. And all that.)
I knocked on Edward's door tentatively, worried about disturbing him. I'd had a thoroughly lousy day because I'd finally done my therapy homework for this week, week six, but I wanted to check on him. When I got my permission in the form of a gravely "come in," I entered.
"Hey. Feeling any better?" He'd been really sick for the past couple of days.
"Yeah, a bit."
I found Edward lying in bed, exactly where he'd been this morning and all day for the last two days.
"Photocopied some more notes for you." I left the small stack on his bedside table, not because I expected him to read them right away, but because his desk was in complete (apparently organized) chaos.
My journal was lying open on the little table, next to an almost empty bottle of water. Well, I guess being stuck in bed all day has made him bored enough to read it.
It looked like he'd gone well beyond the short story. I knew he'd already read some of it before he'd gotten sick, but we never really talked about it. Once he'd showed me a page and asked if I still felt that way, and then kissed me a few extra times when I'd told him that I didn't. Otherwise, he hadn't said much, which was completely fine with me. I was glad that he wasn't taking it too seriously and hoped that, with it happening this way, he didn't feel any pressure to keep reading.
I left the journal exactly where it was and went to refill his water bottle.
"If you're not cold, we should really crack open a window." It smelled like sweat and vomit in here.
He mumbled something about me not getting too close, but I ignored him. I kissed his forehead and sat down on the floor by his bed. He turned and just looked at me.
Thankfully, his forehead was a lot cooler. When he'd first started feeling ill, I'd panicked a little - inwardly (on the outside I'd tried to stay calm so that he wouldn't worry). What if it was meningitis or pneumonia or something? But after I'd begged and bribed him into going to the doctor and it turned out it was just the flu, I'd calmed down. Still, he felt terrible and I didn't like it.
I smoothed the damp hair away from his forehead, stroking it absentmindedly.
"I can bring you some proper dinner later if you want." It was a good sign that his appetite had returned.
"Okay, but not soup. I'm sick of soup. Can you make that pasta? You know, the nice one?"
"Thanks. That sounds great."
I sat on the floor and kept him company for a while, like I'd done over the last few days, just in case promises of sex, food and movies (his three favorite things) would increase the speed of his recovery. At some point he said he needed a shower and twenty minutes later, got up to take one.
"All right, I'll be back later with food. Call me if you need anything." I kissed him on the cheek and left. We decided that I'd come back in a few hours so he'd have time to shower and nap a little before dinner.
"What are you smiling about?" Seth asked about thirty minutes later, startling me like always and making me jump. He collapsed onto the bench next to me, one earphone still blaring music in his left ear. He only hesitated a little this time.
"Nothing. I'm not smiling." I shook my head, confused, noting his sarcasm two seconds too late. "Oh. Very funny."
With Edward still sick and that stupid therapy homework, I'd had a long day and I'd come to the river to not-think for twenty minutes, but I nodded at him and mumbled hello anyway.
"You're always here," he said.
"I like it here. It's still. And it's quiet, but not in a loud way." I liked coming here by myself, somewhere I could feel anonymous for a while, where my most immediate concern was whether the duck population was growing.
"How are you?" I asked Seth, attempting to focus on him.
He made an unintelligible sound that suggested he wasn't in a particularly good mood either. He hardly ever was.
"Something wrong?" I tried.
"No," he replied automatically. Then a few long moments later, "You?"
"No," I told him.
I'd bump into him from time to time and we'd sort of talk occasionally. Of course, I also saw him at therapy every week. I couldn't believe it was already week six. Man, that sounds so weird.
"Well, actually. It's nothing, just this week's stupid homework," I rambled, not wanting us to sit in silence. With Seth, I usually had to go first. I would've asked him if he'd done the assignment, but I already knew he hadn't. He never did.
"You talked to Banner today, then?" Seth confirmed, and I nodded glumly.
I really hadn't wanted to talk to him, but something had to give, and at some point when I wasn't paying attention, my priorities had shifted. I had my other class work and therapy homework every week and astronomy club and hanging out with Angela, Kate and Ben and trying to exercise regularly and take care of myself and Edward and it was all just too much.
I had to tell Banner that I just didn't have time to do extra credit assignments anymore. My last essay for him had really sucked. Actually, all my class work was being affected by my not spending all my time studying anymore.
"Yeah, I talked to him. He said that I should consider whether I want to do a masters' degree and that the extra assignments would look good on my application. He's right, but…I can't handle it all. I had to give up something." Banner had been disappointed – or at least that's the way it had seemed in my head –and I'd felt small, useless.
"It's not like you're dropping out of college. It was extra work," Seth kind of snapped at me.
"Yeah, I know." I'd already talked to Edward about this and I knew it was the right decision, but…"School is… it's the one thing I'm good at." For a long time, I'd thought of getting the best grades as my sole redeeming quality. And now… It felt like I'd shredded a part of myself – a really important part, like my right arm or something. The only part I'd actually kind of liked, and for what?
What if Angela and I drift apart? What if Edward and I don't work out?
Once you get an "A," it's yours forever; this other stuff was so risky.
"It was the one thing I knew for sure that… my parents…" I didn't know why, but thinking about my parents' opinion of me always made my throat kind of seize up.
"That your parents are proud of," he finished my sentence for me, this time not unkindly.
"Yeah," I confirmed unnecessarily. It was the right decision for me, though.
"Yeah, me too," Seth said, staring ahead at the water.
"Why was your day lousy?" I tried. Sometimes he'd actually share something in return. Not often, but sometimes.
Not today. He just shrugged, so we sat in silence.
The more Seth and I bumped into each other, the less I cared about the "no socializing" rule. I decided that since I couldn't describe us as friends, and since we didn't talk before therapy or disrupt the group, we weren't breaking Elizabeth's rules.
Seth didn't care at all. Actually, he seemed to enjoy ignoring Elizabeth. He was constantly ranting about how stupid some of her exercises were and how condescending she could be. I didn't agree with most of his rants (though sometimes I did), but could see that he needed someone to vent to. Better he say it all to me, than leave it inside to fester. Besides, I figured a little rule-bending wouldn't be an altogether terrible "opportunity" for me.
We had a weird set-up going. Talking to him was really easy sometimes because he understood what life was like for me. He didn't have the exact same issues, but he understood the depression, the doubt. We had a lot in common. Unfortunately, this made our "friendship" rather odd because twenty-eight percent of the time, I kind of hated him. It felt really effortless to be around him because I didn't have to constantly explain myself, but at the same time he reminded me of all the things I hated about myself. I guess at some point, there were just one too many "me-toos."
He didn't say anything for a while and I wasn't feeling very talkative either. It was getting late though, and I still had an errand to run. "I should probably get going, I'm sorry. I'm planning on making pasta tonight and I need to go find this special sauce."
Edward's new favorite – the "nice" pasta - was this flat pasta with a special smooth cream sauce. I hadn't been able to find it last week, but hoped I'd get lucky today since he'd specifically asked for it.
"So you're going to the store? I need some milk. Can I come with?"
I nodded and we walked to the store quietly. I smiled and said "Hi" to a girl I knew from astronomy club who was just leaving as we wandered in.
Officially, I'd introduced Seth as someone I knew from an old class whenever I'd bump into anyone while he was with me.
Initially, I'd told Edward the same thing (having promised in therapy not to tell anyone outside the group how we knew each other). Once it became apparent that our weird bump-into-each-other thing would be a semi-regular occurrence, however, I'd wanted to tell Edward the truth.
It was technically against the rules, but I didn't want to create the same mess that happened when I'd first started talking to Angela, with Edward worrying needlessly, so I told him. He would never tell anyone else and besides, I got the feeling that he'd already figured it out for himself. I still had "secrets"– things I'd learned in therapy or that Seth had shared with me that just weren't mine to pass on to anyone else – but I tried to be as open with him as possible. Edward seemed fine with it, which I hoped meant that he trusted me.
I'd also stopped calling him Edwin in front of Seth, mainly because now that we were sort of talking to each other, Edward's name would inevitably come up a lot more in conversation.
Seth mainly followed me around the store in silence, hands shoved in his pockets, one earphone still attached. It was becoming obvious that he was in an especially dark mood. He rejected all my attempts at restarting the conversation, looking thoroughly uninterested. I tried to think of a way to cheer him up, but knew my efforts would be futile unless and until he let me cheer him up.
"Can you see it anywhere?" I asked, after briefly describing the jar.
"Um..." He looked around, almost looking a little helpless, before he finally reached into his bag and extracted a pair of glasses. He put them on so cautiously, I half-expected them to explode.
"New glasses," I stated the obvious stupidly, and he nodded.
Ah. I guess this was why he was in such a bad mood. He finally got glasses.
I didn't have to ask, because he'd already told me how much he was dreading getting them. He knew that it was stupid to get so upset – it was just bad eyesight – but he'd said it seemed kind of like…confirmation. That he couldn't really see anything around him, that it was all slowly slipping away.
I could understand. If he already felt like the people around him were unreachable, not even being able to see them properly would probably seem symbolic or something.
"They suit you; they make you look really smart. They look good," I tried.
"Thank you, Elizabeth." He didn't believe me; surprise, surprise. I wasn't lying though. The glasses really did suit him. "Here's your stupid sauce," he grumbled, shoving a jar into my hands.
"This isn't the right one."
"Who gives a fuck? They're all the same!"
"Edward does." The guy was actually kind of picky about certain foods. He only liked the smooth pasta sauce; cucumber tasted better when it was cut into strips, not circles; he liked white bread over brown, etc. It was cute except for the times when it was kind of annoying.
"Just let him fuck you. Then I bet he won't care what sauce you use."
Man, he was irritable today! I couldn't stop my blush, but did manage to partially ignore him. He occasionally made comments like this. I was pretty sure that some percentage of the time, he kind of hated me too.
I didn't think it was because he was jealous of Edward, though. I got the feeling that he was jealous of both of us. Of anyone in almost any kind of significant relationship.
And that I understood.
"Found it!" I announced happily, grabbing two jars from the shelf.
"He's lucky. You're lucky," he mumbled.
"I'm very lucky," I agreed. "You're lucky too."
"No, seriously. In a way, you're really lucky because you don't have to wonder-"
"Wonder about what?"
"Whether you could've done all of this on your own." He didn't have to wonder whether any of this would have happened if he hadn't run into a guy in the library. "You know you achieved all this by yourself, for yourself."
I liked to think I would've eventually made some changes too, boyfriend or no boyfriend. I wanted/needed to believe that it would just have taken me longer.
"That might be true, if I'd actually achieved anything," he said, shaking his head and laughing to himself. "I guess we can't all be teacher's pet like you, Elizabeth."
I bit my lip, trying to decide whether to say something or not. On the one hand, I didn't want to make a scene in the middle of the store (though there was hardly anyone around) and I knew he was in a shitty mood and that I shouldn't take what he was saying too personally. I did like the guy and one of the best things about us hanging out together was that we could be as nakedly miserable and moody as we wanted.
On the other hand, he was starting to piss me off and I really didn't feel like holding my tongue.
"Maybe if you actually tried once in a while," I responded semi-calmly, trying to keep my voice low.
"I have tried."
"No you haven't! You don't do the homework; you don't participate in any of the discussions. How do you expect it to work, when you won't try?" I whisper-shouted. Watching him just sit there every week and then rant about how it was all stupid was so frustrating.
"I have tried! This isn't my first time, Bella. I've been in therapy for years. I've done all their stupid exercises before - Elizabeth's, plus three other therapists'. I've repeated their shitty mottos, but it just doesn't fucking work! I'm too stupid. Even when it's spelled out for me on a paint-by-numbers worksheet, I just don't get it," he said, raising his voice without concern over our very public location.
I wasn't particularly concerned about it now either.
"It doesn't work for me. But everyone else - they - you - waltz in and a couple of weeks later, you're all magically cured."
I was hardly "cured," whatever that was supposed to mean. I wasn't exactly Miss Popular. I had four real friends (Edward, Angela and possibly Kate and Ben - and maybe Jake too) and my big achievement was…well, Seth had said it, I guess – letting my boyfriend fuck me.
If that is what passed for magic these days, then magic was seriously overrated.
Well, okay, I'd achieved a little more than that, but still…it wasn't magic.
"Seth-" I tried, but he cut me off.
"So if it works for you guys but not for me, obviously the problem is me. The problem was me years ago, and it's still me. So please, Elizabeth, if all you're gonna do is lecture me about trying, then shut the fuck up and leave me alone!" he snapped and walked off and out of the store, leaving me in a weird state of shock.
Since I didn't know what else to do, I paid for my purchases quietly and walked out of the store, my mind still shockingly blank.
I froze mid-step when I saw Seth outside, sitting on the sidewalk. He was very deliberately not looking at me.
And then he did look at me.
Of their own volition, my legs carried me to him and I sat down next to him. He immediately looked away.
For a long time, the only sound was the jars of pasta sauce clinking together. It seemed to dance around us, refusing to fade out.
We both stayed quiet, staring straight ahead. Seth always won this game, though, so naturally I broke first. "Are you sure you've tried? Like a hundred-percent, honest-to-God tried?" I asked quietly.
He finally met my eyes and whispered, "Yes." It sounded like a reluctant confession of something sinful, shameful, and I knew he was telling the truth.
"And it hasn't helped?"
I stared into his sad eyes and just blurted out the first thing that came to mind. "If you're sure you've tried this and it hasn't worked for you…well, then… maybe… try something else?"