Remember me? Yeah, sorry about the absence, I'm not going to bore you all with a long explanation. Exams. I had to focus. I only have one left now, so hopefully I'm back in the writing game!

Thanks to all who read, favorite-ed (I don't think that's a word!) and reviewed. Thanks to vjgm. And, of course, all the amazing ladies over at the thread! :) You are all wonderful. I hope you all like the chapter. Thanks for being so patient.

Everything Twilight belongs to Stephenie Meyer.

Chapter 10

Edward walked into school the next day with a renewed sense of confidence. No longer did he have anything to hide from Bella. Now he could talk to her, free from the guilty load of ulterior motives. Although their conversations before had never been born out of his long-festering goal to smack the arrogance out of the Hales, he felt much better knowing for certain that they weren't.

Taking a quick glance around the car park, Edward saw Bella's truck parked up at the front. She must have arrived early, but she was no where to be seen.

Unperturbed, Edward continued to walk towards the school, Alice by his side. He just wanted the chance to speak to Bella before Biology; he did not this he would not be able to last the whole day without saying anything to her.

However, the more he thought about what he wanted to say, the more he became secretly glad that he hadn't bumped into her yet and he felt the now familiar butterflies stirring in his stomach.

He rounded the corner and spotted Bella sitting on one of the school benches, an open book on her lap and her head thrown back, basking in the warm rays. Smiling to himself, Edward noticed how a content grin lingered on her lips. She had previously emphasized her love of the sunlight, and her resentment towards the near-constant cloud cover of Forks.

"I don't get it, why would you voluntarily move to a place like Forks?" she'd asked him one day in Biology, her irritation heightened because it had been a particularly wet day.

"My mom's always liked small towns, and the same with my dad. We don't mind the rain, either. Besides, Forks is beautiful." It was a simple, honest answer. Yet, Bella had sighed at this point, dropping her gaze to her books in the table.

"It is beautiful. I guess it'll just take a while to get used to the weather." She bit her lip, as thought she was trying to stop herself from saying something else. "It's weird living somewhere you didn't grow up, you know?" She fingered the edge of her textbook, flicking the page corners.

"No, actually, I don't," Edward had answered. "Our family has been globetrotting ever since I became a part of it. That is what I'm used to, what I grew up in. Moving to Forks was just another stop, I'll be gone by next year." Nodding in agreement, Bella apparently found some comfort in his answer.

And her smile, her simple acknowledgement of his words sent his heart soaring.

Edward was amazed at how light just talking to Bella could make him feel. She had sat before him, dripping wet, her pent up frustration visible, and she was almost vulnerable. However, she retained her strength by refusing to let her discontent get the better of her.

She looked to Edward for solace. He did not want to let her down.

"Do you regret moving here?"

There was a pause and Edward took a breath while he waited for her answer. He had taken a risk asking the question, and had feared an adverse reaction from Bella. At that stage, they had not known each other as well as they did now, and Edward did not want to be perceived as nosy. However, if he really wanted her to feel better, then he needed to know that she wanted to feel better.

Bella slowly lifted her eyes back to up to his, and he took her unreadable expression as a sign of confusion. "No, I don't regret it." Her chin raised slightly, she continued, "Renee and Phil needed some time together, and I hadn't seen Charlie in a long time."

She had already explained to Edward her reasons for moving before, and he should have remembered how defensive she had been then.

"I just like the sun, that's all."

Edward hadn't said much that class after that, as Bella had seemed lost in her own thoughts; most likely of her mother, or Charlie. That intangible moment of intimacy had passed, but Edward knew he wasn't going to forget it in a hurry.

It was this gravitational pull towards Bella which piqued his interest. She never gave him the full answers he so desperately craved. Occasionally, he could coax a truth out of her, but in the same heartbeat she would reciprocate the action.

Had they been playing the mind games Edward had been accustomed to, he would have said they were on a constantly even playing field. Neither could outrightly better the other, but neither tried. It came so naturally to them that it was almost scary.

He had processed their many conversations during his sleepless nights. He tried, in vain, to discover the motive behind every glance. It did not take Edward long to realize that she had literally taken over his mind. No matter how much he tried to work her out, he couldn't. He could only come to one, basic, conclusion: Bella kept him interested.

Now, as she sat, soaking up the impalpable warmth, she again appeared to be content in her own mind. Edward did not want to interrupt her, and so hesitated.

Unfortunately, her moment of peace was disrupted regardless, as Mike Newton walked up behind Bella, shaking her shoulders to get her attention. Edward could not make out what they were saying, but he could see in Bella's polite, but strained smile that she was not entirely comfortable. Her shoulders were tensed defensively, as Mike rambled on.

"Hey, uh, Alice, I'll catch you later," Edward said to his sister, who had been walking alongside him.

Alice first looked up at him, and then followed the direction of his eyes to the bench where Bella was sitting, and where Mike had now planted himself. Her lips raised into a knowing smile, and the slight wicked glint in her eye flashed.

"Fine, I'll see you later," she said, making a point to look again in Bella's direction before she left. "Have fun."

Edward waited until she was safely inside the building, so he could have a personal second to try and collect his thoughts without ridicule.

Eventually, he succumbed to the fact that anything he planned would go out the window once he actually started talking to Bella. Rallying any sense of confidence he had within himself, he started the short walk towards the bench.

The closer he got, the more he noticed the extent of Bella's discomfort in her conversation with Mike. Her eyebrows puckered in frustration, as her mouth moved quickly, opening and closing again when Mike cut across her before she said what she wanted to say. She was wringing her hands and kept looking at her knees. As Edward gained more ground, he understood why.

"Well, if you're busy tonight, and tomorrow night-"

"Mike, I really don't think-" Bella bit her lip in frustration, as Mike interrupted her once more, finishing her sentence on his own assumptions.

"That you have much time? How about the weekend, then?"

Edward walked up quietly, and Bella was too engrossed in her own embarrassment to notice him. As Mike had his back to Edward, he was taken by complete surprise when Edward spoke.

"Hello, Bella," Edward said, his voice calm and steady. Instead of replying right away, Bella sighed and her mouth relaxed to form a genuine smile.

"Edward, hi!" she sang, her voice higher than usual. Mike spun around on the bench, and looked Edward up and down. His eyes narrowed.

"Sorry, Edward, me and Bella were kind of in the middle of something," Mike said, looking at Bella with confidence, as though hoping she'd back him up. Edward almost felt sorry for him in his delusion.

"Actually Mike, Bella and I had arranged to meet this morning. We have things to discuss." Edward stared at Bella, meeting her puzzled eyes and willing her to play along. The confusion turned into amusement, as her smile twisted in acknowledgment.

By the time Mike turned back to face Bella, her brow had furrowed and her lips turned down in a convincing face of feigned guilt.

"I'm sorry, Mike, but I promised Edward I'd help him with some homework."

"He needs help with homework?" Mike asked, the incredulity evident in his tone. He wasn't moving fast enough, so Edward thought he'd help things along.

"Yes, so would you please be so kind as to leave us alone?" As he spoke, he placed his hand on Mike's shoulder, pushing down just slightly. Jerking his shoulder from Edward's grasp, Mike stood up in one quick motion. Hopefully, admitting defeat.

He glared at Edward quite pathetically, his light blue eyes not capable of any real damage.

"I'll talk to you later, Bella," he said, his eyes still trained on Edward's. Stepping an immeasurable distance closer to Mike, Edward leaned in so the height difference between the two of them was even more pronounced.

"Thanks," Edward smiled, before taking Mike's seat on the bench. Still glowering at Edward, Mike retreated.

Now that they were alone, Edward was immediately conscious of Bella watching him. He did all he could to stop himself from meeting her stare. Relaxing into the bench, Edward mimicked Bella's previous actions and closed his eyes, opening his face up to the sun.

With his sensitivity to sound heightened, Edward heard Bella sigh, followed by her shift back into the position she had been in. He could only guess that she also had her eyes shut too.

When she sighed again, Edward could not prevent himself for starting a conversation.

"I thought you liked the sun." He lifted his lids a fraction, and saw her own snap open.

"I do like the sun."

"You just don't seem very comfortable," said Edward, trying not to smile at the petulant look on her face.

She opened her mouth and bit her lip, frowning as she seemed to struggle to find the words she wanted to say.

"Did you chase Mike away for the fun of it, or did you come over here to talk to me?" she said quickly, and all in one breath. It gave the impression that had she not, her words would have been lost to her own embarrassment.

Edward's lips curved. He was almost certain that, as he watched the blood rush to her cheeks, his own were having a similar reaction.

Bella widened her eyes in a silent plea, willing him to answer before she had to ask again.

"I thought he was bothering you, so I was just stopping him." Edward tried to placate her, but it didn't seem to work. Her eyebrows puckered in frustration and her bottom lip pushed out. In what was becoming a common occurrence, Edward could tell there was something on Bella's mind that she wanted to say, but wouldn't.

Since he knew she'd never reveal what she was thinking, he decided to change tactics.

He sat up straight on the bench and leaned over to her. Placing all his weight on his elbow which was resting on the table of the picnic bench, to stop himself from shaking, Edward lowered his voice just enough so Bella would have to lean towards him to hear it and said with a straight face, "Unless," he began, before stopping, because Bella had inched in, so they were now almost inappropriately close. In a rare moment of clarity, Edward knew that as soon as Bella noticed how small the inches of air that hung between them were, she would retract her entire body. Like she had done before. Not wanting this to happen, he held her gaze with intense concentration. He continued, "Unless, you wanted him to stay."

Her reaction was delayed, as it so frequently was. Edward often wondered how anything he said even registered with her, she was always so lost inside her own head.

She shook her head, simultaneously freeing her from the trance she was in, and responding to what Edward had said. "No, no, of course not." She bit her lips and sighed. "Mike's a nice guy, and everything, but he's not really... ." Her fingers twisted together and she trailed off.

Edward noted the larger distance between them now, even thought he had not moved.

The school bell rang, and they both turned to see the grounds behind them were populated with their classmates. When Edward looked at Bella again, aggravation was evident in her expression.

Why won't you tell me what you're thinking? He wished he could ask her this outright, but knowing that he would be unable to answer the question in return, it was impossible.

"We better get to class," said Bella. She sprang from the seat, taking her bag with and throwing it over her shoulder, narrowly avoiding Edward's head. He stood too, lifting his things at a slower speed. The crowds of people were close to engulfing her, when Edward called out.

"Bella!" Spinning around, she stopped in her tracks. There was a look on her face that Edward couldn't place, but it prompted him to follow through. "Have lunch with me," he said, taking large strides to catch up with her. "With Alice and me," he added in response to her raised eyebrow. "Sit with us in the cafeteria. Today."

Her single moments hesitation was enough to feed the nerves Edward felt, and his stomach clenched. However, just before regret set in, he recognized the formation of a smile at the corners of her mouth. The smile developed into a beautiful example of the kind of personal sunshine Edward always considered Bella carried with her from Phoenix. The light she didn't see herself, but he looked forward to seeing every day.

She nodded her head, "Sure. I'll see you then."

Edward could only smile as he watched her walk away again. Even when Mike Newton ran up to Bella, and undoubtedly interrogated her, Edward just kept smiling. He went so far as to wave at Mike when he glanced back, shooting daggers in Edward's direction.

He was buzzing all the way through his next class, and when the ball rang, he dashed from the room in an effort to catch Alice in the hallway before she reached her next lesson.

"Hey, Alice." He caught her by the arm. By the way she jumped and snapped her head around, it looked like he'd scared her. "You alright?" he asked, dropping her arm.

"Sorry," Alice said, closing her eyes for a moment. "I was just in a daze." Her cheeks were red, and her forehead wrinkled. "Coach made Rosalie and I run laps of the court the whole class. Evidently, we are not mature enough to handle the raw competitive sport that is soccer." She made no effort to mask the disdain in her voice.

"Well, you exactly haven't proved yourself so far." Edward stopped himself from laughing when Alice's small features grew more irate. She put her hand on her hip and glared up at him.

"That's not what I was thinking about, anyway. Now, if you'd stop with your hilarious little jokes, I might tell you." She waited until Edward arranged his face into a more suitably serious expression before elaborating. "There's something bothering Rosalie, Edward. She was... not herself."

"What do you mean-" he started, but Alice cut across him when she realized the halls were empty.

"Look, I'll explain it to you at lunch."

"That's actually what I wanted to talk to you about. I invited Bella to come sit with us, is that OK with you?" Even though he was not particularly embarrassed by this, he could feel the heat rising in his cheeks. It didn't help that Alice suddenly adopted a patronizing, mother-like grin.

"Of course, that's great," she said, a little too enthusiastically. Edward knew that she was going to tell Esme about this later. If Alice had other friends, he would have seriously considered ditching her when lunch came around. Unfortunately, Bella and him were her only options. "I'll seen you then." She practically skipped down the hallway,leaving Edward to run to his classroom through the now empty halls.

When Edward arrived to the cafeteria at lunch, his eyes immediately fell on the table which he usually occupied. Alice was already sitting there, alone. Before he could even register her expectant smile, his heart did a quick free-fall and he searched the large room for Mike Newton and his normal group. Bella wasn't there.

Relief washed through him, but mingled with it was embarrassment at his panic, and guilt. He shouldn't be placing his happiness on someone else's hands, on their presence. Still, he took comfort in the fact that she hadn't rejected him. Yet.

"Wow, Edward, for a minute there you looked nervous," Alice teased, pulling a mock confused expression. "What in the world could possibly shake the cool, collected, soul that is Edward Cullen?" She tapped her fingers on her cheek, staring off to the side as if in deep thought.

Edward was not amused, and it must have been obvious because Alice stopped her giggling.

"Really, you're going to have to lighten up if you want Bella to enjoy herself."

Shifting in his seat, Edward could feel his nerves building again. He really hated the experience of caring so much about what another person thought of him. Running his hands through his hair, he pulled at a few stands. Somehow the slight and fleeting physical pain distracted him from the task at hand.

"There she is," Alice said softly.

Reacting immediately, Edward looked up and sought Bella's face, catching her scanning the cafeteria. She looked lost, and unsure. The intervening time between Edward's proposal and right now seemed to have fed her insecurities, and Edward worried that she might not sit with them because of it.

"Maybe you should call her over?" suggested Alice.

Edward hesitated. There was something ostentatious about shouting over the drone of the lunch noise just to get Bella's attention. That kind of behaviour was usually reserved for the jocks, or the eccentric drama crowd, and not for Edward Cullen. However, if he didn't do something soon, he might regret it.

So, torn in his indecision, he stood up awkwardly, not extending his legs fully so he was half crouched beneath the table. Beside him Alice sniggered. He sat down again. Tapping his fingers on the table, Edward mulled how he could attract Bella's attention with some sort of subtlety.

Luckily, saving him from further embarrassment, Bella chose that moment to turn her brown eyes on him, in them both uncertainty and hope. When she saw Edward, her mouth lifted slightly into and half smile. He could see by the twitch in the corners of her lips that she was holding the second half back.

Returning the smile, Edward lifted his palm from the table and wiggled his fingers at her. A laugh escaped him, as she blushed even at that small gesture.

When she neared, Edward pulled out the chair beside him, and she slid into it, setting her tray on the table. There were a few minutes of silence while they all ate some of their food. Racking his brains, Edward tried to think of some conversation in which both Bella and Alice could participate. However, it was Alice who took the chance to break the ice before Edward did.

"So, Bella, I take it you heard about my little run in with Rosalie Hale yesterday?" said Alice, as though she was asking Bella about the weather. Bella looked alarmed at Alice's question, her eyes widening. She looked at Edward, seemingly unsure of how to respond. Edward ground his teeth together and balled his fists. Taking a large bite from her apple, Alice chewed it slowly, swallowing it before justifying her ridiculous conversation starter. "What? I'm pretty sure every knows by now, and I want to here what people are saying about me," she said, shrugging.

Bella laughed silently, lifting her fork to her mouth in an effort to conceal her smile from Edward. He lifted an incredulous eyebrow at her. While Bella wasn't a complete wallflower, he worried that such a strong personality as Alice might intimidate her. Apparently, he had nothing to be concerned about.

With a shrug that mirrored Alice's, Bella cocked her head to the side and stared at him. "Come on, you know this school better than I do. People talk."

"I thought you didn't listen to gossip." His voice came out higher than he would have liked.

"Oh, I listen to it. I just don't get involved in it." She smiled a sweet, closed lipped smile of that of a child thwarting her parents and concealing a hidden sweet in their mouths. There was a devilish glint in her eyes that invited him in. He wanted to get closer to her, but at that moment, the kind close he was thinking of would not have been appropriate.

"Well, I'll keep that in mind," he smiled back at her. The more time he spent with this girl, the more she surprised him.

"Don't worry, I think I've already heard everything there is to know about you." At this, Alice snorted loudly, desperately trying to keep the water she had just drank in her mouth. Edward's muscles tensed, thinking back to what Mike Newton had said about him on Bella's first day.

"You don't believe them, do you?" Edward said through his teeth, glaring over a Mike, who was looking rather glum. Alice coughed, drawing Edward's eyes back to Bella. That defiant sparkle was still there, and Edward realized potentially just how dangerous Bella could be to him. As much as he tried not to, he watched her lips move as she spoke next.

"I'm still deciding."

Flicking back up to her eyes, they held each other's gaze for just a second too long. Edward felt the heat rush to his cheeks, as he watched it rise in Bella's.

He picked up conversation again, figuring it would be safest to focus on mundane topics, such as school. Alice fit easily into their conversation, occasionally drifting back into her own little bubble, staring off into space.

When the lunch bell rang, Edward remembered that he still had another hour to spend with Bella, albeit in the Biology labs. They both waved goodbye to Alice, and proceeded to walk to class. Everything felt so easy with Bella, like it was just meant to happen that way. Edward noticed a few people staring as they walked down the halls together, but it didn't bother him.

Like yesterday, they were watching a video. As they'd been talking all lunch, Edward was more than happy just to sit quietly. The feeling that he didn't need to say everything he wanted to say in those brief moments when Mr. Banner would stop talking was a great relief. At the end of the day, Edward asked Bella if she wanted to sit with them at lunch again, to which she'd agreed.

"What are you so happy about?" Alice said when he arrived at the car. Not answering, he unlocked it so they could both get in.

Edward sat in the queue of cars, trying to find an honest answer to Alice's question. His eyes settled on a red car a few ahead of them.

"I know that it was never official, but just the fact that we know we're out of the game now, it just makes me feel better. It makes things easier," he said, turning to face Alice. She was chewing the inside of her cheek, her focus on the same car just ahead. Her forehead was wrinkled in thought. "You know?"

She didn't answer immediately, but still stared ahead, to where the Hales were. Eventually, she nodded, turning to him and smiling. "Yeah, I know what you mean."

The line started moving, and in his rear view mirror Edward saw Bella's truck driving away in the opposite direction. Biting his lip so he didn't smile again, he pushed his foot on the gas, driving them home.

End of Chapter

OK, just to clear something up that some of you may have picked up on. Edward was not calling Bella slow, he was doing something else. Anyone care to guess?

Thanks for reading! All reviews are appreciated.