I know, I know, the last thing I need is another new story with all my unfinished work lying around. But I am a true, all over the place, can't leash my imagination or inspiration writer. I just can't help myself. It's only going to be a short story, nothing too epic. But it is going to be an intense ride. So buckle up, or hang on or some other driving metaphor.
"You don't…want me?"
The single word came out in a whisper. But the intent was clear. There was nothing even close to vacillation in the tone. It was one word, quiet but resolute.
"I don't understand," he said in response. She shook her head slowly, rolling her eyes at the same time.
"We had some great times, we laughed, we cried. It was really great. But it is over. I'm sorry."
She wasn't really. But apologizing always seemed to ease some of the tension.
"You are a bitch, Bella," he told her. She shrugged. Nothing she hadn't heard before. She knew all that already. She had gotten a similar response after her first boyfriend from college had gotten the boot after six months of romance and an attempt at hot and heavy sex. The end result was the loss of Bella's virginity, more roses than she could hang upside-down to dry and a messy break up where she told him she didn't love him, didn't want him anymore, that he should take his shit and go. He had been devastated. She had wondered briefly if that was what she looked like when he told her he didn't want her anymore, but it was only briefly. She couldn't linger on that thought for very long. It made her want to do horrible things to forget about it.
For a long time she had sunk into depression. It had been catatonia and then depression, a deep, sinking emptiness that she could never fill no matter what she did or how badly she had wanted to. Jake had tried to help, Charlie had tried, Renee, Angela, countless shrinks, everyone had tried to 'help her move on' 'find peace', 'regain control over her life'. She didn't want to move on. She didn't want to find peace. But she did want control.
So she told the shrinks to fuck off, told Jake he would be better off without her, told Charlie and Renee she loved them both, thanked Angela for trying and moved to the East Coast for college. She applied to schools all in the northeast and got accepted into Mount Holyoke, an all female college, and her first choice. If she never had to see another man it was all too soon. But even though she went to a college for all women, when she got a job as the clumsiest waitress in history, she was flooded with male attention.
The one thing he ever taught her thoroughly enough to stick was that she, Isabella Marie Swan, wasn't good enough for anyone. She wasn't even plain or ordinary, she literally repulsed and repelled. She might have been pretty enough to catch someone's eye, but it didn't matter. The thing that mattered was that she either drove away the people she wanted to be with most, like him, or she hurt them, like Charlie and Renee.
So at first she ignored it all. She played Good Girl Bella, studying, working, acing her classes. She was quiet. Hardly said a word really. Didn't complain when her roommate had sex with her boyfriend while Bella was trying to sleep in the room.
But about halfway through her freshman year of college, a guy she worked with hounded her again and again for a date until one day she broke down. He had been asking her at least five times every shift.
It was after his last "Bella, come on, we would have fun together, we should really go out tomorrow night." That she shouted "Yes for the love of God Anthony, I will go on a date with you if you will stop irritating me!"
He had accepted it with a grin. The next night he picked her up at her dorm and brought her to a frat party at his own college.
Good Girl Bella left the building the moment she was offered a beer. She was just so tired of being quiet, tired of being sad, tired of letting the bastard, Edward, continue to take her life away from her. He had taken a year with his lovely words of adoration and beautiful proclamations of love, and then he had taken another after claiming he didn't want her, hadn't ever really loved her, couldn't really, because she was just a human, just a distraction. Well fuck it; if he could use her as a distraction, she was more than capable of doing the same.
So she drank all night. She downed beer after beer until she felt light as a feather. And then she went outside onto the patio with her date. He kissed her. And God it felt good to be distracted by lips and hands. There were no boundaries. Nothing preventing her from doing everything she had once begged for. She wouldn't have to beg now. She would only have to mention it and she would be given her every desire.
That was it. The power was there. She could tell him no. She could make him love her and then tell him she didn't want him, didn't love him, that he was a distraction. She felt something new in her, something dark and smoky and constricting settle under her skin. She didn't have sex with Anthony that night. But they dated for six months and she did sleep with him over that period of time. Because she wanted to know what she had always wanted with him and if it had any merit. Turned out it was mediocre. It had been awkward and short and nothing even close to enjoyable.
Two days later she ended their relationship. And to her shock, he spoke words she herself remembered uttering. And she responded the way she had been responded to. It made her feel sick and powerful at the same time. She wasn't sad anymore. She wasn't empty. She was in control.
At school, at her job, when she was going through the motions of getting her degree and earning something like a living, she was Quiet Bella, the girl that didn't draw attention to herself. But when she went out, and she went out more and more as time went on, when she was in the mood to find something to give her the feeling that she was in control of something, finally, she was anything but quiet or tame. She was enthralling, she was charming, she stole boyfriends even. And she didn't care about any of it. Until she left them.
She did the same thing with every guy she dated. She let them romance her. She talked, she batted her eyes, she let them touch her, kiss her, kissed and touched them back. She made them want her, need her, crave her. And then eventually she let them have her.
And then she let them go. More accurately, she sent them away.
Do you know what the definition of insanity is? She asked herself after her latest breakup. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. It always ends the same. It always will end the same.
And then there she was, with her latest boyfriend hopeful, Christopher, an electrical engineering major at the local community college. He was a boy scout really, sweet and naïve and helpful. Sweet and naïve and helpful were good traits. She had been sweet and naïve and helpful once.
He was upset. He wouldn't cry; he was too proud for that. And she wouldn't either. She didn't care enough for that.
He left the coffee shop they had been sitting in together in a huff. The woman at the next table gave her a sympathetic look, thinking perhaps she would be broken up about the split. Bella just looked back at her. Eventually the woman got uncomfortable and looked away.
It was a Friday. She knew she could go the frats tonight, pick up someone new. She was aching for a challenge. So she went back to her apartment. She primped the way she never had before she started all this, got dressed for the party and then went out. She was greeted with joyous hellos from all the guys who for some unknown reason had taken to love Bella and cautious greetings from the girls who seemed to see something in her that she didn't want to reflect. She avoided the girls. Their eyes showed her something she didn't want to see.
So she took shots with the guys, downing vodka and gin like a pro that had been drinking all their life. And when she found the one who caught her eye—a Harvard transfer hopeful with broad shoulders and a dark complexion—she slipped him her number, gave him a wink like the minx she was accused of being and left the party, a cab already waiting outside.
He called her the next day.
"Listen, I know there is supposed to be some sort of waiting period here, but I just think that you and I should go get something to eat, or see a movie, or get a coffee or do whatever the hell you want," he said on her voice mail. There was no way she was going to answer the phone the first time he called.
Make him want you, always want you more than you want him.
She called him back about two hours later. Let him sweat it out.
"Dinner," she said, "sounds like a great idea, Carter. Maybe tomorrow night?"
"Absolutely!" he said. "I mean yeah, that sounds good to me."
His attempt at sounding more smooth than he was really capable was hilarious but Bella stifled her laughter. They agreed to meet at a restaurant at seven the next night and she hung up the phone before he could make more of a fool of himself.
Dinner was of course, tasty but boring intellectually. There was no way, she was sorry to realize, he was going to get into Harvard. Kid could still try though. But he was cute, and funny, and seemed like a genuine enough guy, not someone who was going to try and screw her over. So she told him he could call her again. Gave him a goodnight kiss. He nearly fainted when she gave him an innocent peck on the lips. She wasn't sure what he would do when things got hot and heavy. She knew they would. He had been itching to get his hands on her at the party; she had been able to tell.
She felt a Cheshire cat grin spread over her face when she realized she had hooked him. She went to bed victorious.
But this relationship was overshadowed. Every date they went on was good, progressed the way she wanted to, but he was so damned careful with her, never made a move to do anything other than some heavy making out. She was getting impatient. He was a nice guy, really, a gentleman even, but it was frustrating her.
"Is something wrong, Carter? Did I do something?" she asked. He looked at her, perplexed.
"It isn't that I don't appreciate you not trying to get into my pants from day one, but we have been dating for three months now, if you want to feel me up a little, I promise I won't cry 'rape'."
He blushed. The poor kid blushed.
There was a time when you would have too.
"I just…believe me, it isn't that I don't want to…just…something made me realize that we should wait, not push the physical stuff."
She was stunned. But she sighed and agreed. If he didn't want to push it, that was fine, as long as it wasn't that he didn't want her.
He kissed her thoroughly enough after she said that to convince her that not wanting her definitely wasn't the problem.
Things progressed slowly. And the unfortunate thing was that whatever was left of Good Girl Bella convinced New In Control Bella that she should be falling for him the same way he was falling for her.
But she couldn't.
He could say the sweetest things make her believe he was in love with her, make her believe he wanted nothing more than to be with her, spend his time making her happy, but no matter how hard she tried, she would never make herself respond in kind and mean it. She said the words of course, oh I adore you too, Carter. Oh you mean the world to me, Carter. Please just come over and hold me, I want to be with you tonight, Carter.
And he ate it all up. Because she knew how to say the right things. And like every other man, everyone else who didn't look for an ambush in a beautiful girl, he didn't think twice.
When strange things started to happen, Bella didn't question them. Why was it strange to find flowers at her door? Carter always sent her flowers. Why did find more rest in her sleep now than she had in years? She must have been sleeping more hours than she had been able to for a long time. Why did she hum when she cooked or cleaned, fall asleep with a smile, feel safer walking home from work late at night?
It didn't make any sense, the feeling of calm that she was experiencing, the emptying of anger and hostility, but she accepted it as another stage of her life and didn't think too much of it. Things like that continued to happen, weird occurrences, strange emotional responses to things, like the way the Old Bella would have reacted. But again, it wasn't worrisome, only perplexing. But Carter was occupying her time. She didn't think about it.
Until she invited Carter over for dinner, and hopefully, finally something physically satisfying. He buzzed her apartment at exactly seven and she let him in. When she answered the door he had a bouquet of lilies which she took from his hands, set down and then hugged him. She was about to pull away and lean up for a kiss when she smelled, her face buried in his chest, a strange, familiar scent on him, woven into the fabric of his shirt.
She inhaled deeply once more, to be sure, and then she wrenched herself away from him.
It couldn't be. It just fucking couldn't be. There was no goddamn way. He couldn't be here, not in this town, not after three years, not after what he had done to her. He couldn't be trying to find her.
Couldn't couldn't couldn't.
Fuck fuck fuck.
"When…when did you see him?" she asked, her voice breaking, higher pitched than she remembered it being.
"Who are you talking about, babe?" he asked, confusion all over his face.
"The tall, bronze haired asshole who had his hands on your shirt, probably trying to make some stupid point about my chastity or innocence or some other bullshit like that, when did you see him?" she demanded. She was furious. More than furious she was fucking livid.
"Which time?" he asked back. His voice conveyed that he had no idea why she would be so upset. That meant he had no reason to lie.
But the words 'which time' honestly made her blood boil and freeze. He had seen him more than once? He went to see this guy, this nobody in her town more than once but hadn't deigned to come and see her, not one single time. Not that she wanted to see him, but the satisfaction of slamming the door in his face would have been more than worth the increase in nightmares.
"Every time," she practically growled.
"The first time was…right after we started dating. He told me to…not be too eager with you when it came to sexual stuff. Said you were innocent, fragile, that I had to be careful. Said he was your cousin. He was outside when I came to see you tonight. Said to remember what he told me last time. Told me the same thing as last time, if I mentioned it to you I would be sorry, you didn't like your overprotective cousins stepping into your life. I told him you didn't need his help, he…made his point pretty forcefully," Carter answered quickly. She stood, motionless. The flowers had been from him. The lack of nightmares were because he was watching her, guarding her sleep, leaving in time to make his scent dissipate or watching from outside her window. She felt safe because he was keeping her safe, watching over her when she was in possibly dangerous situations. She was becoming closer to Old Bella because he was around, and even if she didn't know it consciously, her body did.
She knew what he had been doing. He had been checking up on her. He had been doing that obsessive, irritating thing he always did even back when they were in high school and keeping tabs on her. She hated it then, when they were dating and he was making sure she was safe, and she hated it now when he had no fucking right to be keeping anything on her, let alone following her around. She didn't know why but she was damn well going to find out.
After she got rid of her current obstacle, the man she could never look at the same now that he had reminded her of him.
"Get out," she told Carter, her affect flat.
"Are you fucking deaf? Get out of my apartment. We are over, Carter. Don't call me. Don't send me flowers. Don't try to change my mind, just get the fuck out," she said. He said nothing. He blinked. His mouth opened and closed. He looked like a fish out of water, trying to breathe. She didn't give a fuck. She couldn't think about Carter.
She had to threaten to call the police before he got that she was serious and with aching eyes looked over his shoulder as he walked out the door he had only just come through.
But Bella's mind was consumed. She couldn't believe it. The selfish son of a bitch, how dare he leave her, leave her, and then try and dictate her life, tell her boyfriend how to treat her, leave her flowers, stalk her.
But the worst part wasn't the anger, and God was she angry. It was the tidal wave of pain that swept her over. The smell of him had lingered in her nose, reminding her of the fact that he was here, close by. She was no longer upset that he hadn't wanted her. She knew what she was worth. She knew she wasn't any good for anyone, least of all him, but the fact that he was here…it was unbearable. She could take knowing that he hadn't wanted her when he was far, far away and she didn't have to know about him. But when he was where she was, when he was near her, it made her whole body ache. And so she shoved the pain under, she made it disappear and focused on the rage that had been battling quite forcefully as her chief emotion.
She had half a mind to call him out right then. But she knew he wouldn't answer. He wouldn't come out and answer for the shit he had put her through three years ago and the trauma of smelling him on her ex-boyfriend unless he was forced to show himself. She had literally felt he heart tear in half again when his scent entered her senses and she able to tell to whom it belonged.
How could she possibly forget?
You are my life now.
The words, in his voice, floated through her mind and stung her all over, like bees or being covered in electrodes. She felt her insides fighting to stay above the line of depression, above the pain again. She pushed down harder, bringing In Control Bella to the surface, the cold, and calculating and detached bitch of a self she now occupied. If he was going to try and screw with her, he was entitled to do whatever he liked.
But he knew Old Bella, head over heels in love with him, would do anything for him, Bella. He didn't know New Bella.
And when you pushed New Bella, she pushed back.
So for a few days she pretended things were normal. She threw out Carter's flowers, put the trinkets he had given her into her ex boyfriend box and moved on. She worked. She went to class. She didn't make it seem like anything was wrong. But all the while she knew exactly what she was doing.
Saturday nights the bars down the street let out around the same time she got out of work at the restaurant. Ever since she had a seriously frightening run in with some drunks she always called a cab to take her home on Saturday nights. She knew Edward just couldn't help but rescue a damsel in distress, most especially when she played the damsel and there was a group of men harassing her.
But that Saturday night she did not call a cab. When her manager asked her about it, she said her boyfriend was picking her up at the end of the shift, not to worry. She walked outside in her black flats, black work pants, a shirt that was lower cut than she normally wore to work and her jacket slung over her shoulder. It was a little chilly but she was willing to face the cold.
The fastest way home was directly in front of the bars and she walked past them with swagger. God she was practically inviting something the way she was flaunting herself in front of drunk, middle-aged men.
She heard the whistles and cat calls. She heard them asking her what her name was. But that wouldn't be enough. So she looked over her shoulder and gave them all a nervous smile. One of them hesitated, but she heard him start to follow her. She grinned to herself.
She continued to walk, pretending not to hear the footfalls behind her, or the loud breathing that was getting a little closer until a hand wrapped around her arm. She was about to turn around and shout at the man to let her go when she realize the shiver that went down her spine wasn't just from what she assumed would be a confrontation with a very drunk deluded man. The fingers that curled over her skin were like ice. She turned and the breath left her lungs. He was so much more beautiful than the sparse memories that snuck through her firewall of a conscious state created could do justice. His perfect topaz eyes, shining even in the dim light of the street lamps, his bronze hair that was just as disheveled now as it had been years ago, the last time she saw him, his lips a hard, disapproving line, his brows knit together in annoyance, his face still beautiful no matter what emotion was cast upon it.
"Are you out of your mind?" he asked. She looked behind him and saw that the men had begun to walk off. He had done something to scare them away before she had even turned around. Bella shook him off because he wasn't holding on to her very hard and wasn't expecting it.
"It is very possible," she answered.
"Do you know what those men were planning to do to you? You would not have made it to tomorrow morning," he exclaimed, making his way in front of her before she had taken a single step.
"It isn't like you really care, Edward. You saved your damsel; you can go run back into the night now. In fact, keep running, get as far from here as you can possibly go, and stay there."
"Bella, I was only―"
"Do not," she hissed. "Do not speak to me, Edward Cullen. Don't you dare. You left me. You left me three years ago. If you feel guilty about it now, I don't actually give a fuck. I don't want to hear it. I want you gone, out of my life. You did so well being out of it for the past three years. Why didn't you just stay gone?"
He looked at her as though he honestly couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"I…I didn't mean to upset you," he said quietly.
"Then maybe you shouldn't leave me flowers or follow me around or watch me sleep or tell my boyfriend if he can or cannot fuck me," she shouted. He flinched every time she swore, more so when she spoke of having sex. "I am not innocent young Bella anymore, Edward. I am not nice or pure or any of the things I was. The girl you left doesn't exist anymore."
"What happened to her?" he asked, his voice like quiet silk. He looked down, at his hands, or his shoes, or her shoes even. He counted cracks in the pavement.
"She died. She was systematically murdered by the shards of pain you left behind, by not being able to love Jacob even though I knew he loved me, by the way Renee and Charlie tried to fix me like I was some appliance they had broken with shrinks that didn't understand that when I had said forever, I had meant it literally, by the boys I make fall for me and then screw and then push away hoping one of them will push back, will fight for me, even though none of them do because They can't. They won't. Do you know why? I'm not worth it. Even when they claim to love me, I am not worth fighting for. You taught me that."
His eyes rose and met hers. He looked as though he had just been sucker punched.
"I never meant―"
"It doesn't matter what you meant to do, Edward. This is what you did."
"You are so angry, Bella," he said, as though he was surprised. She almost laughed.
"What the fuck did you expect? Happy, sunshine Bella, living some sort of fucking fairy tale life, happy as can be? You didn't think it would hurt me when you left, that being told I was nothing but a distraction would change me? You told me that a year of my life, the best year of my life was a lie, that I didn't mean a damn thing to you. You confirmed my worst fear, the one thing I had always prayed you would prove me wrong about but in the end only cemented—I wasn't good enough for you. I am not good enough for anyone. You didn't think maybe, that would fuck with my head a little?"
"You must believe me, Bella, my intentions were only to give you the chance to have a normal life. I wanted to give you the chance for a life without the threat of death, without darkness. I wanted you to have light. I never thought you would become―"
"A bitch? A whore?" she provided, words to fill his silence.
"Like this," he answered. He looked upset, a little angry, and disgusted. She couldn't take the condescension.
"Don't look at me like that, Edward."
"I promise you, Bella, I'm not trying to…I just don't understand. Why all the men, why all boyfriends, one after another, never more than six or seven months? Why charm them, make them care for you, sleep with them and then shove them away?"
"You left me, and I can't feel anything unless I see it from the other side. You left me and I died, Edward. So yes, I am angry, and I sleep around, and I push people away, I make them care about me and then I shove them away like you shoved me away because I don't love them like you didn't love me and it makes me hate them a little for it. Because I feel what it feels like to know someone cared about me and not care about them and know that it is exactly how you felt. I am trying to understand. But they are just like me. I tell them to go the fuck away and they don't argue or fight, just like I didn't. How could you do it? How could you know how I felt and watch your words destroy me like I watch mine destroy them and just walk away?"
There were tears threatening to spill over her cheeks. But she choked them back.
"I didn't know," he whispered.
"No, you didn't know. If you had stayed, you would have known. If you bothered to actually care about anyone but yourself, you would have known."
"I did care! I do care! I love you now, I loved you then, and from what I can tell by these last three years I will never stop loving you."
The tears did spill. She clenched her fists and bit her lip and shook her head slowly back and forth.
"Please don't say that. Don't lie to me."
"It isn't a lie, Bella. I didn't leave because I didn't love you. I left, because I loved you too much to put you in constant danger. I was the biggest threat in your life, and I couldn't be okay with that. I thought you would get over it, get over me, and be happy. I knew it would hurt, I saw it hurt you, but I thought it would fade. I didn't think it would…damage you this way."
"Well congratulations, you ruined me by accident. Now if you will excuse me, I need to get home," she said, her voice wobbly at its strongest moments, a whisper at its weakest.
"Bella, please, don't leave, not yet," he said, desperately.
"So strange that the one person who has ever begged me to stay, is the one person I just want to leave."
She heard him say her name over and over as she walked away, like none of the others ever had, like she didn't when he walked away from her, and she had to put her hands over her ears to block out the sound.