Longing to Breathe
DISCLAIMER: I don't own Twilight. However I do like to borrow Stephenie's imaginary friends and play with them too. (especially Jasper)
A.N. - This is an AU fic where all characters are human. I'm giving fair warning now that in later chapters this story will contain language and mature themes: sexual situations, suicide, drug use, violence and some major angst in specific scenes. Despite that this isn't going to be a total depression trip but you should read at your own discretion.
Sometimes I have nightmares.
Tonight it's my choked scream that wakes me. And for one horribly long moment the line between dreams and reality is too blurred for me to catch my breath. My heart is pounding with pure adrenaline and my stomach is twisted in a viscous knot of dread. I can still taste the metallic flavor of blood in my mouth, a phantom coil of the dream still holding me ensnared.
And slowly, painfully slowly, the sheer terror releases me. My heartbeat steadies, my stomach unclenches and even the taste of blood fades. I don't even try to recall what I dreamt. I already know. I remember bits and pieces of the accident. On nights like this my mind is accommodating enough to fill in the merciful blanks in my dreams.
I sit up in my bed and wrap my arms around my stomach. It's trembling shakily. In the semi darkness I can't stop my mind from replaying the spotty things I can recall.
The ear-splitting groan of buckling metal.
The sting of flying glass cutting my skin.
The blood; in my eyes, my mouth and all over my white shirt.
I don't even realize that I'm crying until I feel a tear splash against my hand. I squeeze my eyes shut and take a deep breath. I can't think about the accident and not be overcome by the greatest loss of all, my best friend Jacob Black.
I didn't get to go to his funeral. I was in the hospital plugged with tubes and connected to machines barely holding my own. I never got the chance to say goodbye.
To this day that is what hurts the most. Not the five surgeries I had to undergo just to be able to keep my right leg, not the months I spent in grueling physical therapy relearning to walk… not even the constant reminders that remain with me every time I look in the mirror. All of that is nothing when I think about Jacob.
He was bright and funny and the sweetest person in whole world. He was only sixteen years old.
I hunch over pulling my knees up to my chest. The pressure in my hip sharpens into a dull throb but I don't care. I know I won't be going back to sleep tonight.
Very lightly someone knocks on my door. The voice is muffled but I think it's Edward. He sounds concerned. "Bella?"
I scrub the tears from eyes and hope I can get enough volume in my voice without it cracking. "Yeah. Come in."
The door creaks open slowly spilling a soft arc of light onto the beige carpet. Edward peers his head into the room hesitantly, his silhouette is completely black against the illumination behind him.
"I don't mean to bother you." He says sounding slightly contrite "I thought I heard something? Is everything alright?"
"Yeah." I manage but my voice is thick and wavering. I swallow hard against the lump of tears burning my throat. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to wake you up."
As if against his better judgment, Edward pushes the door open further and takes a hesitant step into my bedroom. The hall light brightens the room enough that I know he can see my splotchy face. He turns just slightly and I can see his profile.
Edward waves off my apology with a wane smile. "You didn't. Insomniac remember." He points to his head and rolls his index finger in the universal sign for crazy, but his attempt at joking is halfhearted. I can see he's worried. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine. Just peachy." I take a deep breath and smile, though its tight and uncomfortable.
"You don't look fine." Edward insist stubbornly. He watches me contemplatively for a moment, raking a hand through his unkempt hair. Then he jerks his head toward the door. "Come on. I'll make us some tea. I find it helps me calm down when I'm edgy."
He's being incredibly nice and has been ever since that day I stumbled upon him at the Mushroom. I'm glad we have become friends. I smile and this time it feels a little more natural. "Okay. I'll be there in a minute."
I drag myself out of the bed and limp my way the bathroom. Seeing my reflection in the mirror, I flinch. Edward is right, I look like shit. I splash some cold water on my face and readjust my scrunchie. Once I'm as composed as I'm going to get, I head to the kitchen.
Edward is standing by the sink filling two coffee mugs with tap water. I take a seat at the table as he moves over to the microwave. It suddenly strikes me that Edward is wearing shorts. I remember what Alice had said about him being on the conservative side and smile a little to myself. They're the school issued athletic shorts, green with the Tulane Greenwave emblem written in white. I've seen many students wearing them around campus. I just never pictured Edward wearing them. Or walking around the house barefoot either.
Its 3:15 in the morning idiot. He was probably about to go to bed.
I find myself staring at his toes. They're kind of cute.
By the time Edward hands me my steaming mug with a steeping tea bag, I'm not feeling quite so horrible. My stomach's not quivering any more and I don't feel like I'll start sobbing uncontrollably if I try to talk. This time when I look up at my unconventional housemate my heart gives a sharp tug.
"Thanks." I say, referring to more than just the tea. I think he gets it. He smiles as he sits down next to me.
Edward doesn't say anything at first, just keeps dunking his tea bag into the hot water absently until his curiosity gets the best of him. "You want to talk about it?" He offers, not looking up from his tea.
"Not particularly." I respond dryly, cradling my hands around the hot mug and letting the warmth seep into me. Its hard enough to live with the memories. I don't think I could take Edward's pity along with that. But I don't blame him for being inquisitive. I'm sure the screaming and the crying have him wondering what kind of nutcase he's sleeping in the same house with.
His glittering green eyes slant my way. "Sometimes talking about a problem can help put it in perspective. Might do you good, never know."
I take a sip of tea and the hot liquid scalds my tongue. I can't come up with an argument to discredit his reasoning so I get a little snarky. "You're a shrink too. Wow, I'm impressed."
Edward looks back at his tea and I regret saying it instantly. I'm not trying to be a bitch. He catches me off guard when he chuckles.
"Me? A psychologist? That's funny." The self derisive tone is back in his voice. "I've known a few though. I find the concept extremely ironic. They earn a living sorting and solving your problems so they don't have to focus on their own."
I read between the lines of Edward's opinion and realize that I'm not the only one looking for distractions at odd hours. I have to let him know I've caught on.
"You just gave yourself away." I tease, taking another sip of tea. "I know an ulterior motive when I hear one."
Edward's smile comes creeping back as his eyes shift to mine. "I did, didn't I? You're very perceptive."
I shrug. "Not usually."
"You seem to read me well enough." Edward admits.
I don't know how to respond to that and Edward makes no effort to elaborate so we fall into a comfortable silence and drink our tea. I try to be nonchalant and watch him from under my lashes. His brow is creased in that familiar way as he stares pensively into his mug. I want to reach out and smooth it away. I but I don't dare. I force my gaze away from his face so that he doesn't feel me staring.
"So…?" I search for something to say but my mind is being a lame ass-monkey and drawing a complete blank.
Edward smiles. "So?"
Suddenly something comes to mind and I blurt it out.
"Uh… are you going to Phi Gamma Delta party this weekend?" I ask and then promptly curse myself a fool because it could be taken as a come-on and my face turns as red as a tomato.
If Edward notices he mercifully makes no comment. He listlessly shrugs his left shoulder and makes a slightly disgruntled face. "I haven't decided yet. Alice and Jasper keep bringing it up but I'm not really sure." He pauses, his gaze zeroing in on my scorched face. "Are you going?"
"I think I have to. Alice won't take no for an answer. I was just hoping I would know some people there. I think Ben is taking Angela. Did you know, he finally asked her out?"
"I figured Ben was sweet on her. She's all he talks about." Edward says, grinning.
"Angela said I could go with them but I hate being the third wheel." I admit, frowning. If I knew more people here it wouldn't be so bad. I know I'm only going to feel awkward and miserable if I have to sit by myself in a corner all night. I wonder what reasons green eyes has for not liking parties.
Edward runs a hand through his hair and looks at me somewhat uncomfortably, like he knows he's going to regret what he's about to say. "I'll make a deal with you Bella. If you go to the party I'll go too. Maybe we can keep each other from getting too bored." He says looking back down at the table, his shoulders tensed and his brow creased.
It takes me a minute to register that. Then I blush. "Really? You wouldn't mind?"
He laughs softly, relaxing slightly. "I wouldn't have offered if it was a problem."
I like his laugh. There's a rich quality to it that warms my heart and makes me smile in return. It sort of infectious in its own way.
"Thank you Edward." I say, reaching over and placing my hand on his forearm. "This is so cool of you. Now I won't feel like an idiot surrounded by complete strangers." Edward's looking at my hand with an odd expression and I pull it back quickly, blushing furiously.
Edward rakes and hand through his hair again leaving his copper locks in wild disarray. "Its alright Bella, really. I enjoy your company. You're an easy person to be around." He confesses, looking as if he's said too much.
I flush with pleasure at the compliment as my heart increases its rhythm. Its absurd how his simple words make me feel, like I've been spinning in circles really fast. And its pure madness that I don't try to make this feeling go away. I'm getting far too attached to Edward. I'm not sure what I'm doing. It scares the hell out of me.
"Well… its late." I say, trying to find a diplomatic way to escape from his influencing presence. "I really appreciate you babysitting me… and for the tea. I feel much… better now." I suck at lying but I need some space to think. "Goodnight Edward."
As I get up I reach for my mug intending to bring it over to the sink but Edward stops me by placing his hand on mine. My heart slams against my ribs and I forget to breathe. The warmth of his skin is so acute that it burns me, in a good way. Damn my traitorous body because I can't make myself pull away.
"Leave it. I'll take care of the mess. Go get some sleep."
"Yeah… sleep." I repeat dumbly. Edward moves his hand and my brain kicks back into gear. "Right… uh… thanks again." I mumble.
I can feel his eyes on me as I beat a hasty retreat.
Angela and I are sitting on Alice's bed as she applies the finishing touches to her makeup. Angela has been filling us in on her progress with Ben and their first date.
"He's so shy sometimes." She laughs. "He can act on stage in front of a hundred people without breaking a sweat but getting him to kiss me after our date was like pulling teeth. And I'm not forward either so I sort of stood there outside by bedroom door and tried to give him a seductive look- which I have no idea how to do by the way- and waited. It took him forever but finally he leaned in and kissed me on the cheek."
Alice makes a face. "That's it. A kiss on the cheek?"
"Well…" Angela's cheeks turn pink. "I kind of turned my head as he pulled away and kissed him on the lips."
I applaud. "Good girl! Show him how its done."
Angela giggles. "I was so surprised at myself that stammered out goodnight and ran into my room. I'm a total dork."
"But he's taking you the party tonight so you did something right." Alice affirms, giving her black hair one final fluff before facing us. "How do I look?"
Alice looks positively fetching in her skin tight burgundy dress that's casual but still manages to make her look like a miniature runway model.
"Fabulous darling." I laugh, imitating the snotty tone most of the girls on campus have.
"Great as always." Angela agrees.
Alice eyes me. "Are you sure you want to wear that?"
I look down at my white eyelet shirt and my faded blue jeans. The shirt is scoop necked and daringly low cut for me. It's vintage, circa the seventies. I came across it at the thrift store. I think it's cute.
Giving Alice a sour look, I ask, "What's wrong with what I've got on?"
"You look like you're going to summer camp, not a frat party." She sighs wearily. "Why won't you wear the clothes I bought you?"
"I will but not tonight. I'm nervous enough as it is. This is my first time doing the college crowd thing, you know."
It's true. This will be the first thing I've done besides hang out with my housemates. I don't usually leave the house except to go to class or the library. I don't count when Alice drags me out on shopping expeditions. That's not being sociable, that's cleverly disguised torture.
"That's not the way to get Edward's attention." Alice's sings childishly.
Ugh! I should never have told her about the deal Edward and I made. She had started reading more into it almost immediately.
"We're not going together." I say, stressing the 'together' part. "He just said that he would go if I did so we'd each have someone to talk to. That's hardly a date or anything remotely close."
Alice and Angela share a look that clearly says they don't believe a word of that.
"It's not a date." I insist. "Edward's going to meet me there when he gets off work. That's why I'm going with you and Ben." I remind Angela just in case the match-maker bug caused her to forget.
Alice rolls her eyes dramatically.
"But Bella there's one little factor that you're overlooking. Edward's not a freshman. He knows quite a lot people here and he won't have a shortage of friends and acquaintances to interact with." Alice says smugly. "Don't you see? That was clearly an excuse to be with you."
And damn it to hell if my heart doesn't splutter into a frenzied pace as that little bit of information sinks in.
Of course it never occurred to me, but Alice has a very good point. Edward already has two years under his belt of getting to know his fellow students. He works in a music store also frequented by Tulane students. Obviously he would know enough people to attend the party and mingle easily. So did that mean what Alice said was possible? Was this an excuse to hang out with me?
An hour later I'm still wondering about that as I walk with Angela and Ben to where the party is going down a few blocks away. I can hear the steady thumping base pulsing in time with the dance beat way before we actually arrive at the house. The entire front lawn is spilling with people, most holding plastic cups and chatting. Everyone seems at ease, some smiling and some flirting, but all looking as if they belong right where they are.
It's like a scene right out of a movie.
It doesn't take me long to realize that I'm not in my element. This why I don't do the whole party thing. I always feel silly, like I don't quite fit in. And I'm not crazy about large crowds of people, especially intoxicated undergrads chugging alcohol like there's some kind of award for stupidity and a god complex.
I follow Angela, picking my way carefully through the mass of bodies. It's even more claustrophobic as we enter the house. I grit my teeth against the ache in my hip as I keep twisting myself to squeeze between people. A young man bumps into me, his beer sloshing over the rim of his cup. "Sorry baby. Didn't see you there." He says with inebriated friendliness. He pats my ass and turns his attention to someone over my shoulder, shouting out a greeting.
How did you get talked into this shit Bella? Next time you're going to be a bitch and say no.
That moment of distraction was all it took for me to lose sight of Angela and Ben in the crush of bodies. I maneuver into the hall but there's no sign of them. But I do notice a pair of French doors leading out to the backyard. I duck through them and breathe a sigh of relief since there is a little more room to move outside. That's when Alice spots me.
"Bella! Over here!"
She holds out her hand in silent invitation for me to join the small group she standing with. I know Jasper, he and I hit it off pretty well the handful of times he's hung out at the house. He always puts me at ease. However, I don't recognize the gorgeous blond supermodel standing next to Alice or the really big bear of a guy standing beside them. Blondie intimidates me instantly.
"Bella come here. I want to introduce you to my friends." Alice gushes, pulling me to her side and looping her little arm trough mine. "Guys this is Bella, my insanely awesome housemate. Bella this is Jasper's sister Rosalie and her fiancé Emmett."
"Hi. Nice to meet you." I say going for a bright smile but probably failing miserably.
The blond, Rosalie, smiles politely.
Her fiancé grins like a madman. "Hey there."
Jasper gives me conspiratorial wink. "I'm breaking the rules right now. See, Rose and Em are grad students at LSU and this fucker is trying to get my ass kicked by wearing that hat." He explains pointing the purple and gold cap Emmett has turned backwards on his head.
"I have to represent dude." Emmett says laughing.
Even though I'm not a sports fan, I am well aware of the rivalry between Tulane and LSU. "You're brave." I tell Emmett with a smile.
"Or crazy. I'm not sure." He jokes.
"I told you not to wear it." Rosalie says, flipping her blond hair over shoulder in a way that's both elegant and disdainful. I notice her southern drawl is a lot less pronounced than Jaspers. She turns her blue eyes on me and grimaces. "I maintain that the male brain ceases progressive development at puberty, wouldn't you agree Bella?"
I nod. "You might be on to something."
For a moment Emmett looks serious. "You know baby, that hurts."
Alice snickers. "The truth hurts."
"Keep it up Shorty." Emmett warns jokingly. I notice his hazel eyes focus on something behind me and he grins widely. "Yo copper top! I didn't think you were coming bro."
From behind me Edward's voice steals my concentration. "I had to work late."
My nerves kick into gear and I try desperately not let it show. Edward joins our little group and I discreetly give him the once over. He's wearing a Slipknot t-shirt, blue jeans and his wrist brace. As usual his hair is messy and his five o'clock shadow is scruffy in a sexy way. I have the strongest urge to rub my fingers over the stubble to see if it feels as good as I imagine. I clench my fists just to be safe and quickly look away, my cheeks flaming.
Rosalie is watching me calculatingly. She doesn't have to say anything, I can tell she knows where my interest lies.
Edward shakes hands with the guys and nods his head to us girls in greeting. He's sporting his lopsided smile as he converses with Jasper and Emmett and its so hard for me not to stare. I could make a hobby of watching him and never lose my fascination. He glances at me, his green eyes glittering, and I look down trying to pay attention to what Alice is saying.
"So how is this semester going?" She asks Rosalie.
"The same. Labs, lectures and more advanced math than any one person should ever have to deal with." Blondie sighs.
"What's your major?" I ask, more to keep my focus off of Edward than because I'm actually interested.
"Pediatrics, specifically Neurology." She answers.
Killer legs and a brain. I didn't feel the need to say much after that.
Since its looking like I might be at the party for a while I excuse myself to get a drink. It takes me a short eternity to make it back inside to the kitchen where the two liters of soda are set up right next to an impressive array of hard liquors. I scoop some ice from the ice chest on the floor and pour myself a plain coke.
I was fully intending to return to my group outside when unexpectedly an arm snakes its way across my shoulders and a slightly slurred voice whispers in my ear.
"Bella, I didn't know you'd be here."
It's Mike and I can smell the beer on his breath.
"Hi Mike. What's up?" I say hoping to make this short and sweet. He leans his weight on me a little apparently needing the added balance. I grimace as my hip smarts.
"I'm so glad you came." He smiles stupidly.
I'm pretty sure my smile is a bit less enthusiastic. "Well, it was cool running into you…" I trail off politely wishing he'd get the massage and let me go.
Unfortunately the alcohol, or maybe its just the blond hair, makes him slow on the uptake and he settles his arm more securely about me efficiently holding me in place by his side. If I try to duck away he'll probably teeter on top of me and knock me down. I'm doing a better job of holding him up than his feet are. My hip is killing me.
"Come with me Bella." He slurs, leading me back into the crush of people. He sniffs me. "Mmm, your hair smells good. Like strawberries."
That makes me uncomfortable but since he's drunk I keep my mouth shut and shuffle along slowly, a little reluctantly and half afraid that if I move too fast he'll do a face plant. If I can find a wall to prop him against then I can possibly make a quick get away. I don't have much experience dealing with plastered people. I mean, with my dad being a small town sheriff I made sure that my friends and I were responsible. It was an expectation not an option.
I don't have any luck with my wall plan when Mike squeezes us into a section of the crowd near the middle of the room. I recognize two faces from my classes but the rest are strangers. I sip my coke while fighting back a smile. They are all like little clones. The same gel spiked hair, the same Gap or Abercrombie clothing and its no different for the girls. They've all got the sorority look going on. I don't bother chiming in the conversation. Instead I try to come up with a new way to ditch Mike.
Every few minutes I try to maneuver a little bit of space between us and just when I think that I can slip free of Mike's arm he pulls me close again and leans on me. After the third time I start to get a little miffed. Drunk or not I don't have to stand here if I don't want to. I really draw the line when he starts petting my hair and sniffs me again.
"Uh… Mike I'll be right back." I lie as I start to shrug off his hold. His grip tightens.
"No you don't. You stay right here with me." He whispers in what I think he thinks is a persuasive tone but it comes out sounding creepy.
"Mike let go." I'm quickly losing all patience.
"Now baby don't be like that." He cajoles sliding his other arm around my waist. His beer comes dangerously close to spilling on me.
Did he just call me "baby"?
I glare at him. "I'm serious. Let go!"
He pulls me flush against him and I cringe. One of his drunk friends sees my discomfort and laughs, amused by my distress. But it's the last straw and I about snap when he starts nuzzling my ear. "Don't be a bitch Bella. You know you want it so top playing hard to get."
I turn my face away and shove at him frantically as I ball my fist ready to start swinging if I have to. I know I won't do any damage because I am pathetically weak but maybe I can stun him enough to let me go. More of his loser friends start laughing, though whether at him or at me I can't tell.
From behind me comes a warning that stops Mike in his tracks.
"She said let go Newton. Don't make Bella say it again."
I didn't expect to get help but I breathed a huge sigh of relief when the menacingly soft voice cuts through the snickering. Of course I know the voice. There was only one person I have ever met that can make my skin tingle just by speaking. But I don't dare turn to look at Edward. I yank away from Mike instead and curse when his arm knocks my cup spilling coke all down the left leg of my jeans.
Mike casts a dirty look over my shoulder. "Fuck off Cullen! This is none of your business."
I can practically hear the smirk in Edward's words. "I'm making it my business."
Mike growls, his round face turning red with irrational anger and he reached for me. I stumble back quickly and duck behind Edward, my face flaming with embarrassment. The miscalculated movement almost sends Mike tipping over but one of his friends steadies him. They start snickering again.
"Perhaps you should sober up." Edward suggests patronizingly. Grasping my hand, he looks down at me with a hard grin. "Are you alright?"
I nod, dazed by the anger simmering in his eyes. Its beautiful in a terrible way. I can tell he's making an effort not to act on his impulses. It makes my temper pale in comparison. Edward's fists could do damage, a lot of damage. Suddenly I want to be anywhere but here in this crowded room with these rowdy people.
Edward reads my mind. "Ready to get the hell out of here?"
"Yeah." I breathe.
As Edward takes my hand I almost want to tell him that I would follow him anywhere.
A.N. - First of all I am so sorry I killed Jacob off. Please put the pitchforks down. Remember of you kill me I can't finish the rest of the story.
And now Eddy's got Bellie right where he wants her… (cue evil laugh)
Actually this chapter sort of had a mind of its own. But the end result is even better than what I had planned and I've already started with the next chapter. I just had to make Mike a shmuck, sorry to all you Newton fans. And I bet you all saw Ed saving the day. I know, utterly predictable. But he had to find some way to get Bella alone right? Lol. The next chapter is entitled "Too little Too Soon". I'll leave you to think about that until next time.