AN: It's written, so I figured why make you wait? It's not like this hasn't been three years in the making already! This is the final proper chapter of LNIF.
Thanks to everyone who has reviewed, favorited, alerted etc. And a special thanks to all of those who hung in there and waited out my two year absence.
BTW if you don't have the Jess POV but want it let me know. Everyone who asked for it should have it by now. However there were a few people who don't have PM's enabled. So check that before you let me know.
Alice made me put on heels for our dorm mixer, I only conceded because she had originally insisted that I wear a ridiculously short dress and heels. I figured if I gave into too many of her wardrobe demands now then I was doomed for the rest of the time we would be living together. But she put in a good argument when it came to the heels saying they made my legs look ridiculously long and my ass look 'spectacular' in the jeans I was wearing. Whatever, I just wanted to see Edward.
We met a group of girls at the mixer that seemed like they were going to be a bit of fun. We all introduced ourselves, stating where we were from. I didn't mention Forks, just Phoenix, which made Alice look at me strangely, but I'd only lived there for like, 7 weeks or something. Tanya & Chelsea were rooming together and had just met that afternoon, both from California and Bree, who was from Wisconsin had come and introduced herself to us saying her roommate was too scared to come out of her room. Apparently she was worried about 'the drugs'. Tanya was a gorgeous girl with strawberry blonde hair and was almost as tall as Rosalie. Chelsea was little and blonde and cute, but in a voluptuous way that she seemed really comfortable with. And they were definitely on the prowl.
"Hey Tanya," Alice said as she took another sip of her drink, "that guy over there is definitely checking you out." Tanya not so subtly turned to her right to check out the guy who was looking at her.
"Eghh, not my type. I much prefer them taller and way better looking than that Alice. Hey you girls said you were heading to a bar off campus before didn't you? Let's say we shake this thing and go check it out. I think I'd prefer not to be fishing in the pond I'm going to be living in close quarters to if you know what I mean?"
Alice had been filling our drinks with some vodka she had stashed in our room so after a few drinks at the party I was feeling nice and light headed. And while I was feeling a little nervous about seeing Edward again, I was nowhere near the mess I had been this afternoon as I waited for him and Jasper to come over to our room.
We made our way over to the bar, Tanya leading the way, her looks obviously giving her the supreme confidence she was exuding. The place was really just a pub, obviously frequented by uni students who could really only afford beer and cheap spirits. The place sort of felt like it would get hosed out at the end of the night, but I kind of liked it, although I felt a little over dressed in my heals.
"Oooh, two hotties, three o'clock." Tanya signaled with her head to her right, just in case none of us could tell the time. I didn't even look that way as I scanned the bar for Edward. "Keep your hands off girls I get first dibs and I want the one with the darker hair."
Alice simply giggled and I turned to see Edward and Jasper sitting at a table. Edward tipped his drink in our direction.
"Hey, eyes off squirt, I said they're mine." Geez, possessive much? I was starting to think this new found friendship wasn't going to last very long.
"Eww, Tanya, I wouldn't touch the dark haired one with a forty foot pole. The blonde on the other hand, now he's more my type."
"Well good. Let's go to the bar ladies and then head over. They've got some spare seats and I can see my name on one of them."
Tanya really was going to make a fool out of herself, I hope. I mean I could be wrong. Maybe she was Edward's new type. I don't know. I just know that the nerves were back full swing and my stomach was close to losing the contents of the alcohol I had consumed earlier.
We grabbed our drinks from the bar, Alice making sure she and I were the last ones to make our way over to the boys table. Alice seemed to want to make out that we didn't know them, and they seemed to be playing along. When we arrived there were no more seats available. Tanya was grinning from ear to ear as she sat next to Edward, effectively shutting Alice and me out of the group. It seemed she saw us as competition….and for good reason I guess.
Jasper looked up at the two of us and then winked at Alice.
"Well don't just stand there darlin'" he said, putting on his best southern accent. "Come and have a seat just here." Jasper said as he slapped his leg. I saw the look on Chelsea's face drop a little as she watched Jasper's attention turn to Alice.
"Well I don't mind if I do." Alice sat in his lap like it was the most natural thing in the world. "I'm Alice."
"And I'm Jasper." He gazed into her eyes and then gently placed his lips on hers. The girls' mouths dropped open at the clear connection that existed between the two, not understanding that they'd known each other since they were kids.
Alice swung her arms around Jasper's neck before pulling her lips away.
"Jasper, Edward. I'd like you to meet our new friends. This is Tanya, Bree and Chelsea and they all live in our dorm. Girls, this is my brother Edward," she paused for effect. "And this is my boyfriend Jasper." The girls just sat there with open mouths and I watched on in amusement.
"And you forgot Bella," Bree said, much to Tanya's chagrin as she motioned back to me as Edward stood, offering me his chair before getting a new one for himself that he muscled in between his original chair that I was now seated in and Jasper's, putting me between himself and Tanya.
"Bella already knows the boys, she lived in Forks with us for a while before going back to Phoenix," replied Alice to Bree's oblivious statement.
Tanya bristled slightly beside me but I couldn't pay attention as I noticed Edward's leg up against mine underneath the table. I knew it wasn't on purpose, with six seats squashed around a table for four it was inevitable.
I smiled weakly at him, completely unsure what type of mood he would be in. Typically I would have expected him to be playing the role of the martyr here. Ignoring me so he could piss me off and drive his point home that he had the shits with me for whatever reason. But he'd stood and offered me his chair, and instead of sitting on the other side of Jasper where there was probably more room, he sat next to me. I took this as a good sign, so I turned to him.
"So, how was your Summer?" Easy question I know, but we had to start somewhere.
"Oh, ahh, quiet. I don't know. Lots of parties I guess. We went on a huge camping trip."
"Alice wrote me about it."
He simply nodded.
"Oh, where did you go camping Edward?" Tanya asked, butting into our conversation that I would rather have kept just between the two of us.
"Just into the National Park near home," turning to me, "down at La Push," he finished. I nodded in acknowledgement, and he didn't turn his attention from me back to Tanya.
"How about you? What did you do this Summer?" His brows furrowed as he looked down at the drink in his hands, twisting it around and picking at the label. I understood the meaning behind his question though. Why didn't you come back to Forks?
"Um, I went to Europe with a friend from Phoenix, Sarah, who I stayed with. We left right after graduation." He looked up at me and smiled nodding his head. "That's why I didn't come ho…back…to um Forks this Summer. I was travelling. We had a great time."
Edward and I continued to talk about my travels and Tanya tried hard to put her two cents worth in here and there but it was pretty clear that Edward only wanted to talk to me.
As I looked into his eyes I could see the hurt of the last few months sitting there. I knew I'd broken his heart when I didn't come back. I was heartbroken with the decision, but I knew I needed to deal with the nightmares of the past.
While our conversation had mostly flowed, we stuck to very safe topics that held little emotional involvement. Edward's hands were constantly in his hair, as if holding himself back from what he really wanted to say. We were both very obviously skirting around the elephant in the room, so I was relieved with Edward's next words.
"Bella, can we um, talk or something. Outside." Edward glanced at Tanya, and then to me.
"Sure" I replied, my heart leaping in my chest. He stood, pushing his chair back making room for me to stand, and as if without thinking he put his hand out for me. I took it, and after we said our goodbyes he led me out of the bar but he dropped it as we exited. As we began to walk back through campus we made more small talk. We ended up sitting on the edge of the Drumheller Fountain, taking in the beautiful buildings and scenery that were lit up around us.
With Edward sitting to my right I wasn't sure where this was going to start, but I knew where I wanted it to end. I just wasn't sure where he wanted it to end.
"Sorry, I just couldn't sit in there any longer with those girls pretending like there wasn't some massive elephant in the room, like there wasn't something going on between you and I when at least four of us at that table know there is."
She looked over at me hopefully. "Is there Edward, I mean, is there something going on between us?"
I ran both my hands through my hair not knowing exactly how I wanted to respond. "I don't know. I mean, I guess until a few hours ago I'd completely given up on it. But you've kind of thrown mean for a loop. I'm not going to lie and tell you I'm not finding this whole thing a little fucking confusing right now. But I think I need you to tell me exactly what happened. Jasper seems to think that…I don't know, there was more to you staying away than I know, that I didn't let you explain it to me"
She took a deep breath before looking out across campus. "Staying in Phoenix actually had little to do with James in the end, and I'm so sorry it meant leaving you. But to be honest I always had a hard time getting that point across. I probably should have pushed that with you, but you just didn't seem like you wanted to listen.
You just kept pushing me. You were always asking me when I was coming back, and I'd try to tell you that I had to do this for me. But you were so hung up about what this meant for you. In the end I was stressed so much about it all that I just couldn't take it anymore. School was whipping my ass because I'd missed so much of it last year because of the accident, you were hounding me and I was trying to concentrate on therapy as well to make sure I could come back with a clear head. So in the end something had to give. And if it didn't I wouldn't be here today. With you."
Fuck, had I really been that bad? What had I done? "I'm listening now."
"There were things in my life that weren't right Edward, and I knew I needed to fix them before I could ever get better and move on from the accident, some of it was just subtle stuff, some of it was more obvious, but my therapist helped me understand that I was in a good position to fix them….fix myself, and if I didn't then some time in the future it could all come back to bite me in the ass."
"But you seemed like you were getting so much better?"
"I was, thanks entirely to you, but I still had a long way to go. Remember that night, when we were last together. I wouldn't let you ask me about my scars?"
"Yeah, I remember." How could I fucking forget. The scars were pretty horrific. Not because of the way they looked, because of what they meant had actually happened to Bella and what she'd obviously been through.
"And while I was at least at the point where I was somewhat okay letting you look at them I wouldn't let you ask about them. I couldn't talk about it. Then the next night Jess arrived and everyone was just staring at her new tits and I knew that I'd never be perfect. That I'd always have these scars, and seeing you so affected by something physical kinda made me doubt myself, it was like I regressed a little."
"I'm so sorry Bella." Fuck.
"No, no don't be sorry Edward. It's natural for a guy to check out a girls tits, Jesus, they were huge. I'm surprised I didn't catch you checking out Tanya's rig in there, I could see Jasper was."
"That doesn't make it right." To be honest I hadn't noticed.
"Of course it is. It's normal. But my point is, I had these self doubt issues when it came to my body that I'd never had before the accident." I thought about how confident Bella was with herself that first night. "It didn't take much to make me doubt myself because of the scars. You did nothing wrong. You were so amazing that last night, but I didn't know how to open up to you and tell you about what happened."
"Will you tell me now?"
She nodded her head, and then took a very deep breath. "As you know it was a car accident. I'd been out with some friends to celebrate Rachel's 18th birthday. She's a friend from school. I'd had a few drinks so I'd called Mom to come and pick me up. I'd taken my car, but we'd always had an agreement that if I drank that she'd come and get me."
"She let you drink?"
She nodded her head. "She was kinda cool like that, as long as I didn't drink too much or too often she'd let it slide. I think she was scared shitless that I'd get behind the wheel of my car and drink drive thinking I'd get in trouble if she knew I'd been drinking. So fucking ironic as it turns out.
"It was the first time I'd ever called her to come and get me because I thought I'd had too much. So she comes to get me from a friend's place. I can't tell you how many times since I just wished I'd made the decision not to drink, or to just stay at my friends' place. I spent so much time with that decision hanging over my head. But I know now that sort of thinking isn't helpful and it certainly won't bring her back.
"Anyway, she picked me up, it was just before midnight and she swerved to avoid a dog on the freeway off ramp. We had slowed down pretty dramatically, but we were still going fast enough. Apparently the car flipped a few times and we ended up in the ditch. I don't remember a lot of what happened clearly, but it comes back to me in my dreams. They tell me Mom was killed instantly. Massive head injuries. But I have dreams...or nightmares I guess, where she's awake and I watch her looking over at me with the saddest look in her eyes, kind of like she knew that this was it. There was blood," she shivered as the memory came to her, "so much blood. And in my dreams I often remembered screaming. My therapist tells me I'll probably never know if it was all real or not, but she's helped me to deal with it as if it was. Other than what comes to me at night I don't actually remember much really other than this horrible searing pain in my leg."
"Where the scars are?"
"Yeah. The largest injury there was a compound fracture of the proximal femur. Highly contaminated, apparently."
"What's that mean?" Didn't sound pretty.
"Multiple breaks in the leg just here," she motioned to where I had seen her scars, "and the bone actually came through the skin, where the scar is all jagged."
"Yeah. I now have a 12 inch nail in my thigh, among other things. There was massive bruising, cuts, swelling, I was a mess. Nothing that gives me too much grief now, but it's not like I lead an especially active lifestyle, so…."
"Have you ever been able to talk about this to anyone before?"
She shakes her head from side to side. "Not until a couple of months ago. I couldn't even think about it, let alone look at the scar for a long time. During physical therapy I'd just switch everything off and do what I had to do to get up and walking again. Everything eventually seemed so normal on the surface, but the nightmares as well as the way I dealt with a few other issues, the scars for example, the way I couldn't think about my mom for so long, but especially the way I blamed myself for the accident, were proof of that. I needed to deal with them on my own terms. And I needed to say goodbye to my mother, I never really did that before. I was still clinging to her in so many ways. That's part of the reason I was back with James. Mom had wanted us to get married and I clung to that, it just seemed so important that she knew the guy I'd end up marrying one day. I needed to deal with that shit back in Phoenix, instead of running away to Forks where I could ignore it on a daily basis."
"As hard as it is to admit, I get where you're coming from."
"You do?" She looked surprised.
"Yeah. Fuck, I'm not gonna lie Bella. It was confusing when you left. And it hurt like hell when it all became apparent that things between us just weren't working out and you completely stopped communicating. I blamed you for so long. I just couldn't figure out why you didn't want my help, or why you wouldn't come back. I couldn't figure out why you didn't trust me to be there for you. I was so fucking in love with you you know that?" A tear escaped one of my eyes as I admitted that to the one person I thought I'd never have the chance to admit that to. "But you know what? Why should you have trusted me? I was with Jess. The entire time you were back I had a girlfriend, and I cheated on her the entire time. OK maybe I wasn't physical until the last weeks but I wanted it to be. Fuck I wanted you so badly, and I got you. I was so fucking selfish to do that to you, to put you in that situation. And then I was just obsessed with James. I couldn't get past him getting to be near you while I was a thousand miles away. I should have trusted you."
We both sat silently as we let it all sink in.
"I'm so sorry Bella."
"It's okay. I mean it was all so intense before I left, we were so close to finally being together for real and then I just up and left. I get why you were frustrated and angry, but I just couldn't handle you taking it out on me anymore."
"I can understand that." But she was here, now. What did that mean for me? I mean us. "So why U-Dub then? Why not Phoenix?"
"Why do you think Edward? I know I left, and stayed away, but it was never going to be forever. While Ali and Jasper and being closer to my dad are definitely bonuses, a very big part of my decision to come here was always because of you."
"Then why didn't you tell me you were coming?"
"To be honest, I thought you'd still be pissed at me. I…thought, I mean, Ali mentioned you were thinking of going East. A part of me kind of figured you'd run a mile if you knew I was coming here. I just wasn't sure."
I shook my head. On one hand I knew what my heart wanted, it wanted Bella, there was no doubt about it. But my head was a little foggy, but I'm pretty sure it just needed some time. I wasn't blaming her anymore. I knew that I'd treated her appallingly. The question was, what was I going to do about it? If she was here could I stay away from her? I already knew the answer to that. I'd spent the afternoon wanting nothing more than to be near her again.
I looked down at her pretty face as she sat perched on the edge of the fountain next to me. She looked different. Lighter, less burdened. There were no bags under her eyes. The shadow was gone. There was just hope.
"What do you want Edward?"
"To be honest I don't know." That's not true, I knew exactly what I wanted.
"You said you loved me?" It was a question.
"I did, I do….I don't know Bella." I still loved her. "I know what this wants," I said, motioning to my chest.
"And what's that?"
"It wants you Bella. It's always wanted you."
"I love you Edward. I wouldn't be here if I didn't."
She loved me. She still loved me. I stood as I let the feeling of actually knowing she loved me sink in. I ran my hands through my hair as I tried to figure my feelings out. "I…god. I'm so…I've….shit. I'm so in love with you Bella. But I don't know how we go from here."
Bella stood, looking up at me. "I think it would be a mistake to just jump back in to what we had. It clearly didn't work out for us in the past. Maybe we should…that is…if you want…maybe we could take it slow this time. Do it properly. That is, if you want to work it out?"
"Fuck, of course that's what I want. We never really had a chance before." I picked up one of her hands, holding it in both of mine, as I looked at it, studying the contours, the smoothness. "I never gave us a chance."
"Okay then." She said, squeezing my hand back as they now swung between us.
"Okay then. Slow. So, if I'm going to do this right I guess I should walk you back to your dorm room. Get your number from you." She was grinning from ear to ear. It was so beautiful I felt like I was flying. "Then I can call you tomorrow to tell you how good a time I had tonight and that I want to take you out on a date." Everything that I hadn't done that first night. Or ever, in fact.
"That sounds like a really great start." She smiled at me sweetly from under her eyelashes. Fuck, it was going to be hard to stay away. But it was so important I get this right. She deserved that much. And it was everything I thought I'd do if she ever came back to Forks after that first night but never had the chance to do because I was with Jess and she was with James.
"And maybe I can send you some flirty text messages in between. Maybe tonight?" I wagered.
"I mean, sure, yeah that could be good," she replied, nodding her head.
"And we can meet for coffee or something." I was on a roll. "Maybe I could take you out for dinner, then take you home and give you a good night kiss. Then maybe we should not just jump straight into bed with each other."
"Because, despite the fact that it's always been good, well, both times anyway, it hasn't proved to work out so well for us has it?"
"No, not so much. That sounds like a solid plan. I can woo you." Yeah, I nodded my head. This could be good.
"Yeah. Maybe that will work out better for us this time."
"Hmmmm, I think you're right."
"There's just one thing about your plan that kind of sucks though Edward."
Oh really, and here I'd been thinking that it was pretty good. "Oh yeah, what's that?"
"I don't think I can wait until you've taken me out to dinner for that kiss," she said cheekily. I could see she was blushing. So cute.
"Really, it's kind of been a long time, and I think I might need reminding, you know, just to make sure."
"You sure? You think you'll be able to not jump me. Because, you know, that's been a problem for you in the past." I asked, before lifting my hands to cup her face, my thumbs running over the pink that still graced her cheekbones.
"Yeah I'm sure, I think I can contain myself. Just don't wait too long to ask me on a date, alright?" she said, looking into my eyes, "because I love you Edward and I kinda want the chance to do this," she motioned between us, "whenever I like." And with that I lowered my lips to hers, moving softly and savoring the taste, the feel, the warmth of her. Not because I thought I'd never get a chance to kiss her again. I trusted her. I knew she wasn't going anywhere. But because I wanted to remember this kiss, the first of many more to come that I would never take for granted. I would listen to her this time, I wasn't going to fuck this up again.
AN: OK, so while this is technically the last chapter of this story, I know I'll get lynched if I leave it there, so there will definitely be some follow up on their first few dates, texts etc. We've also got a couple of "lose" ends to tie up (Jessica and Lauren specifically). Hope you didn't hate the ending, although I know most of you hated how we got there in the end.
Thanks for reading!