A/N Thanks as always to my beta ABG . SM still owns the characters, all the errors are mine.

How can you just leave me standing?
Alone in a world that's so cold
Maybe I'm just too demanding
Maybe I'm just like my father…

When Doves Cry—Prince

After Bella ended things, I began walking back to my dorm. It was cold as fuck outside but I didn't have choice. I couldn't stay with someone that didn't want me.

I felt somewhat unhinged as every repulsive emotion within me rebelled, seeking to overtake me.

First, I felt guilt for being the one to put that dead, conquered look on Bella's face. Then, there was shock because without any hesitation, she asked me to leave twice in the same day. I expected more from her. To top it all off I was frustrated. Frustrated because she didn't listen to me when I told her to be careful and wound up trapped in a room with Jasper. Sighing, I pulled my hood over my head and tried to push the events of the night out of my head.

Bella and I were over and there was nothing I could do about it.

However, believing those words proved an impossible task. I knew that my life was about to return to its usual state where I was alone and no one bothered with me, and I cursed my idiocy for thinking that I would ever receive more from life than rejection. Yet and still, I couldn't accept that we were over. It was too…final.

When I was about a mile away from Bella's place, Em showed up from out of nowhere. He took one look at me and told me to get my 'sorry ass' in the car. My expression must have made it clear that I wasn't in the mood for insults or conversation, therefore we spent the ride in silence: me with my head pressed against the passenger-side window as he continuously cleared his throat, attempting to ask me about what happened.

I indistinctly remember thanking him for the ride before I slammed the car door and made my way to my room.

My head was swimming from too much liquor and too much drama, and I steadied myself against the wall before searching for my keys. Pulling out my cell first, I glanced at the display, noting it was well past three in the morning.

I stared at my screensaver a moment longer, gazing at the picture of Bella I took from the night we broke into the amusement park. That day felt like it happened a million years ago, not the short two months it had actually been. And as I thought back to the 'I love you's' we exchanged for the first time, that dark debilitating emotion came over me again; vibrations of it simmering just beneath the last bit of my control.

With trembling hands, I continued my search, reminded for the second time that I didn't have my keys. I leaned my head against the door, wishing that something would just work out for me.

Just this once.

"Fuck!" I hissed, kicking the door to release some of my pent up frustration. The exertion felt good, and I started hurling my fist into the same wooden door, ignoring the stinging sensation that immediately followed.

Some guy came scrambling out of his room to see what caused the noise. Scratching his jaw, he took one look in my direction before his eyes widened and he went scurrying back into safety. His sudden appearance calmed me long enough to get my bearings, and I used that moment of clarity to head upstairs to Tanya's to get my keys.

When she opened the door, I was assaulted by the smell of vomit and mouthwash. Instantly recoiling, I asked her for my jacket.

"Are you okay?" she asked.

"Where's my jacket," I demanded, pushing past her to see if I could spot it on my own.

"You might want me to…um…wash it first," she giggled before placing her hand on my shoulder. Turning around to face her, I saw that she was struggling for balance. Obviously she was still enjoying her buzz.

Lucky for her.

Walking her over to the bed, I sat her down, nodding curtly in response to her grateful smile. I resumed my search for the jacket, praying to God it wasn't in a vomit covered heap in her bathroom.

"Edward…really, tell me what's wrong," she pouted, patting the spot beside her.

"What's wrong is that my keys are in my jacket and I can't get into my room," I spat, quickly losing my temper. "Where is it?"

"You're bleeding," she gasped, her gaze settling on my hands. At my glare, she rolled her overly concerned eyes. "Calm down, Eddie. I'll try to remember where I put it." Tanya stood on wobbly legs as she began searching in the pile of clothes on the floor nearest her closet. Her breathing was a bit erratic, hitching every now and again before she emitted a deep sound from the back of her throat.

In spite of her condition, she still wanted to help me, and I was being an ass to her. Shutting my eyes tightly, I reigned in my emotions and spoke without looking at her.

"Bella left me," I whispered, embarrassed at how weak I sounded in that moment. I wanted to…I wanted to do something to stop the pain I felt, but it only increased with every breath I took.

Tanya slowly turned back to me, her expression unreadable. After a moment, she sighed and disappeared into the adjoining restroom. She reappeared with a towel and first-aid kit, reaching for me so that she could tend to the bloody mess. Once she had my sleeve pushed up, she cleared all the evidence of my earlier outburst, and then led me to her bed.

"Do you wanna talk about it?" she asked, sitting next to me so that she could apply a bandage to my left hand.

"I don't know what happened," I told her honestly.

She scooted closer and my body tipped slightly toward the extra weight now close by my side. Her hand worked its way from my palm to the crook of my elbow, her icy fingers trailing an indiscernible path. She meant the action to be soothing, but it only served to remind me of the warm fingers that had touchedme in a similar way—fingers I would never feel again. Tanya cleared her throat, her eyes locked on the movement of her own hand.

"She doesn't deserve you, you know? You need someone who appreciates you, someone who loves you just as you are. You're better than her," she added casually. Her hand moved to cup my jaw and she was staring at my lips as she slowly, methodically inched even closer to me. Realizing her intentions, I batted her hand away and jumped to my feet.

"What are you talking about? Bella does appreciate me. She gave me a chance when I insulted her in the worst possible way," I yelled, recalling our first introduction. "She's been there for me whenever I needed her and I never even had to ask. She just…knew. When I lost everything she stayed with me. A lesser woman would have left me and all of my baggage long ago…"I cut myself off as the realization of truth of my words hit me hard, shattering the last remnants of my composure. "I'm the one that doesn't deserve her, I never did. She was…is, more than perfect for me. Better than anything I could've imagined. She was ideal and I fucked it up," I stated, my voice growing hoarse from shouting. My impromptu speech must have awakened something in Tanya, because she was in my face seconds later.

"Well, maybe if you would've said that a week ago instead of letting some girl trash talk her, you wouldn't be standing her with me now," she snapped.

Her statement pissed me right the fuck off and that familiar daunting emotion gained strength as she looked upon me with undisguised revulsion. In my current state, the unknown emotion was exposed, and I no longer needed to guess at what it was.

I was angry.

"What did you think Tanya? That Bella and I would break up and suddenly I'd coming running to you? That I would want to be with you?" I knew I was being harsh, but I didn't give a shit. Tanya didn't know anything about what Bella and I had. She could keep her fucking opinion to herself.

"You're standing in my room. You called me and asked if we could hang out and," she paused, moving just close enough to grab my shirt, her pungent aroma wafting up to my nostrils again, "and I'm pretty sure that's my lipstick on your collar."

Slinging her hand off of me, I turned my head to the side, seeing the irrefutable evidence of her claim. I combed my hands through my hair, fitfully pulling at the strands as I remembered trying to carry Tanya to her room when she couldn't walk, figuring that must have been when the transference took place. My stomach plummeted as I wondered what Bella thought upon seeing it.

Thinking my temper was momentarily subdued, Tanya released a rugged breath. Reaching her hand up to me again, she pushed strays hairs away from my forehead.

"Once you calm down…" I grabbed her wrist, successfully stilling her movements and shocking her into silence.

"If Bella and I don't speak again, I would never choose to be with a mediocre version of Rosalie." I smirked, slowly and deliberately dropping her hand to show her how revolting her touch felt to me. Tanya hated being compared to her sister, especially in any way where she was made to feel as if she were second best. I didn't feel bad about using that against her now.

Her words were too painful to bear and I just wanted her to shut up.

That same hand I discarded came up again and slapped me across the face. Hard. I closed my eyes for a moment, reveling in the burn spreading over the side of my face. When I opened them, Tanya looked wonderfully murderous.


"This is your fault, Tanya. If you hadn't got so wasted trying to get anything with a dick to notice you, making me chase you around all night, we could have left. Then I would've been there for her. Bella would still be mine. You did this," I shouted, then tilted my head from side to side until I felt the satisfying crack of muscle.

"I'm so sick of being everybody's scapegoat! You did this to yourself, Edward. Don't try and put the blame on me," she retorted, letting a sinister smile settle on her face.

She swiftly moved to her closet, and I turned as well to see what she was doing. I wanted her to come back. No, I needed her to come back and fight so that I could get some type of release from the storm brewing within me. Her voice was slightly muffled, making her tone sound softer than what the moment called for, but her words were so poignant it felt like she was screaming into a bullhorn.

"If you think your so-called friends are going to take your side over Little Miss Perfect's, you're an idiot."

Debilitated by her comment, I was caught off guard when she came back out, throwing my jacket at me. The smell of it as it breezed by told me she'd definitely hurled in its vicinity. My keys followed, grazing my chin before hitting the floor with a shrill clank.

"I hope you're happy. You just lost your only friend," she tersely said. "Now get the fuck out!"

Eleven days had passed since I last saw Bella.

It was officially the longest we'd ever gone without some form of communication since the day I met her. Because of that, my motivation to do anything was severely lacking.

I spent the majority of my time in my room, lying in bed and avoiding the outside world. It was easy to ignore the phone calls from Emmett, my job, and classes, but harder to avoid Carlisle and Esme.

Hard, but still manageable.

For the first couple of days, I let anger consume me, incapable of sleeping without having nightmares of my parents or Bella. Each instance replayed the moment I was rejected by them. The dreams didn't end there. After the inevitable dismissal by Bella or my Dad, they would then begin taunting me; telling me through sadistic laughter that I was foolish to believe they ever cared for me.

When I finally awoke, bitter and breathless, soaked in my own sweat, I had to fight to lower my heart rate. The illusions were so powerful that the despair was palpable, making it difficult for me to do anything other than pity myself as I tried to regulate my breathing.

Unfortunately, the dreams wouldn't bury themselves in the dark recesses of my mind. They stayed with me, tormenting me throughout the day.

By the third day, I couldn't take it anymore. So, I stopped sleeping altogether, taking fifteen minute naps when I couldn't keep myself upright anymore.

After going hours without sleep, I found that I was completely unaware of the exact date and time. I knew it was dark out, but couldn't remember seeing the sun rise or set. The pain that I thought was only in my head—in my heart—began to manifest itself physically. My body trembled, despite being wrapped in a thick comforter, and my vision would blur at times before things rapidly snapped back into focus. I was numb in some respects and painfully aware in others. The cognizance of how pathetic I'd become was enough motivation to get up and do something.

Cathartically going through my things, I tried to physically rid myself of any reminder of what I'd lost. A shoebox with postcards and a few pictures of me and my parents was the first thing I sought. My intention was just to chuck the whole thing, but I found myself carefully going through its items.

Seeing tangible evidence of my unrequited affection wasn't helping, and without a second thought I plucked a photo from the stack and ripped it in half. The sound of the paper tearing was oddly pleasant, so I took my time shredding each one. Once I moved to the postcards, I started to notice a trend. All the cards had the same signature—from Mommy Dearest—but the handwriting was only consistent in groups of three or four. Understanding set in instantly.

"They didn't even write these!" Throwing the box against the wall, I slid back until I was huddled in the corner of my room, placing my head between my knees as I desperately tried to catch my breath.

I stayed in that position for hours.

When I could no longer overlook the pressure on my bladder, I slowly made my way to the restroom, crossing paths with a picture of me and Bella inches away from the destroyed postcards. My anger ignited easily as a match as I ran to the restroom, expelling the contents of my stomach.

A week went by before the RA knocked on my door.

The last thing I needed was a suspicious upperclassmen questioning me, wondering if I needed to be on suicide watch or something. With that in mind, I opened the door, scowling at his back as he walked away whistling. Soon enough, my gaze was redirected to the cardboard box labeled 'Masen' that he'd left at my door. Picking it up, I belatedly realized it was heavier than it looked, straining my fatigued body as I heaved it into the room.

Like my parents, Bella had successfully reduced my position in her life down to a single, cumbersome box.

The calls from Emmett and the Cullens kept coming, increasing every day. Rosalie even came to the dorm once, but I successfully hid myself away until the tenth day. That was the day that Carlisle showed up, slipping a note underneath my door when I didn't answer his plea for entrance. I was too ashamed for him to see me in my current state; I didn't want him to be disappointed in me.

The note he left, scribbled on the back of a dry cleaning receipt, asked that I come by as soon as possible. And a small—albeit brief—smile snuck onto my face after I read it. Everyday someone stopped by, even though I ignored them all.

Tanya was wrong. They hadn't forgotten about me.

Like any inconsolable man, I progressed through the stages of grief.

I was in the first stage, denial, since my parents left Portland, and it took Bella's absence to show me how not fine I was.

Anger—the second stage—had always been with me, hiding just beneath the surface. Mostly it was aimed at my parents, but in my disposition I included Bella. My whole life changed because of her and I no longer knew if it was a good or bad thing.

Maybe I never would have known love if I hadn't met her, but maybe my parents would've came back and been there for me. I followed this circular train of thought for hours before I reached a conclusion. Bella had always been the right choice. She showed me that life could be about more than angst and regret; that my past didn't have to decide my future. She taught me that no matter how bad things were, you could live through them and come out happier on the other side. As the resentment began to ebb and fade, I knew that I would choose her again.

I choose her now.

I went into the bargaining stage without conscious thought, wishing that one of those calls or knocks at my door would be from Bella. If she would've reached out to me in any way for any reason, I would've snapped out of this funk. She didn't. And wishing for it left me depressed.

It was in that state of mind that I finally left my bed and showered, calling Carlisle back to let him know I would see him tomorrow. I wouldn't allow myself to go through that last stage of grief.

I couldn't accept that she'd never be mine again.

Carlisle wasn't there when I arrived, so I sat with Esme as she worried over my 'bony' appearance. I didn't bother with lying to her by telling her that I was fine, I just didn't say anything at all. Not discouraged by my silence, Esme led me to the piano room and asked me to play for her. I really didn't want to, but I owed her. She and Carlisle didn't turn their backs on me as I assumed they would. They welcomed me with open arms in spite of me and Bella's parting. Esme even went as far as to assure me that there would never be a time when I wasn't welcomed back home.

Sitting at the piano, I asked Esme how she knew about the situation between me and Bella.

"Did you really think you could disappear for a couple of days and no one would notice…or care?"

"Well, yeah," I replied. Without intending to do so, I began softly playing as she resumed her story.

"It started with Emmett. He came up for dinner one night and said he was worried about you, he asked if we'd seen you. I told him that we hadn't but that he didn't need to worry." She placed her palm on my shoulder and squeezed. "You've been dealing with a lot lately, so I thought you needed some time alone.

"The next day, Rosalie contacted us, basically saying the same thing. She said she could 'smell you' through your door but you wouldn't let her in," she laughed lightly, adding levity to our conversation. "Needless to say we were all concerned, dear. Carlisle spoke with your boss—gauging how much he knew about your whereabouts. When he learned that you weren't at work the previous day, and didn't call in, he told your supervisor that you had to take emergency leave and that he was sorry he forgot to notify him. Carlisle also informed your professors, so don't be surprised if someone thinks you've had pneumonia," she giggled, a mischievous glint in her eye.

Her laughter subsided, leaving a thoughtful but concerned expression upon her face. Even though I was happy knowing how much they cared for me—the lengths they would go in order to protect me—I didn't want to see that look on Esme's face. The same pained expression I'd seen on Bella's the night… Stopping myself from slipping down that rabbit hole, I began to play I Love to See You Smile, appeased once again when she granted my wish.

At some point the music began to change, flowing erratically, yet still in sync with my emotions. I continued to play until the scabs over my knuckles began to split, sending a fresh burn pulsing through my hands and radiating throughout my body. Practically banging at the keys, I allowed the bile to rise once again.

Resentment toward my parents for discarding me without a second thought; disgusted when I found out that all those post cards I received were written by whatever staff member was around at the time. Most damaging of all was that they failed to do their primary function. They didn't teach me anything! Not the kind of things you learn in books, but how to love, when to hold back, and how to live when it felt like your heart was being ripped out of your chest.

Their absence left me deficient; worthless to the one person I needed the most in my life, the one person I desired above all others.

With those thoughts spinning around in my head, my hands froze, unable to remember what the next note was or what composition they played moments before. Silent tears fell onto the keys, and the moment was made worse by my embarrassment at not being able to pull myself together.

The sound of feet padding toward me was enough to catch my attention, and I bowed my head and bit the inside of my cheek, not wanting my misery seen or heard. Esme re-entered, pausing a minute to look me over. I wasn't surprised that she slipped out to give me privacy—she knew me better than my own mother—but I was surprised by what she said when she finally spoke.

"We we're always concerned about you, Edward. But Carlisle didn't come by until Bella expressed her worry," she said slowly, cautiously. "I didn't know if it was a good idea to give this to you now but…" She sat down on the bench beside me facing away from the keys, giving me a choice in whether or not I wanted her to continue. A slight shift in my posture and a tilt of my head and I found her eyes intently studying mine.

"Carlisle's in his office when you're ready," she said, placing the folded paper on the piano top. Rising to her feet, she kissed my temple and exited the room. As soon as the door shut behind her, I opened the note.

"Page 24," I said lowly, reading the contents of Bella's messily scrawled letter aloud. I slipped the piece of paper in my pocket, thinking that Bella was still as—infuriatingly—baffling as ever with her cryptic messages.

Yet, she reached out to me.

As I made my way into Carlisle's office, I was greeted with a warm, welcoming smile. He stood, giving me the same inspection as Esme had before promptly producing papers he needed me to sign.

"I know this isn't a celebratory moment, but I hope that it can bring you some sort of closure, son." I nodded. The lawyer just needed me to sign an affidavit giving my side of the story for the record. The case was closed and all of my funds—and any other assets due me—were to be immediately disbursed. I definitely didn't feel any better about my father disowning me, but at least this way I could move on without constant reminders of his contempt.

"What happened exactly?" I asked. The court documents were in legalese and there were several reasons given for my supposed incompetence; why granting me my trust was a mistake. Yet, there was nothing listed in the documents about my relationship with Bella.

"Mr. Masen," he began, and it wasn't lost on me that he didn't refer to him as my father, "was in a rush to get this pushed through, and the only available judge at the time was Cornelius Nahuel."

"I don't get it," I said, raising an inquisitive brow.

"As you can see, he couldn't prove you were in any way unfit to manage your own trust. And he couldn't list his own…prejudice as proof. If he had, the case would've been thrown out right away," he scoffed.

"At any rate, he used his contacts to have the process expedited, and when he realized that things weren't going in his favor he lost his temper, revealing that you were in a—what he believes to be—inappropriate relationship. Cornelius was a civil rights lawyer before he became a judge and is of mixed heritage himself. Needless to say, he wasn't impressed with Mr. Masen's bigoted rant."

"Then I'm lucky that this ended up on his desk," I remarked, handing the papers back to him.

"Yeah," Carlisle said, the corners of his mouth turning up ever so slightly, "lucky." He filed the papers away and then steepled his hands on top of his desk. "You probably already know this, but I need to reiterate some facts," he began. "This wasn't just about your relationship with Bella. I think that Mr. Masen was shocked to see you thriving without him."

"It's not like I had a choice," I shrugged.

"True. But instead of being proud of your accomplishments, your strength, he took it as a personal affront," he exhaled. "I'm afraid that Esme and I didn't help matters by treating them as visitors when they were here; as if they were visiting our son. It's hard for a man to see someone else fill his role, especially one he's been negligent in. I think hearing me call you 'son' was the last straw," he paused to gather his thoughts and then looked me in the eye.

"I'm sorry—we both are—for anything we did to contribute to this debacle." I opened my mouth to interject, but he put a hand up to silence me. "More than anything, I want you to know I'm proud of how you handled everything."

"Yeah, I handled things with Bella real well," I mumbled off topic. It didn't go unnoticed by Carlisle.

"Given what you've gone through, I'd say you did well there, too." I shrugged again, disagreeing with his assessment but not willing to say more.

"It's normal for those who've been neglected to latch on to someone who willingly gives of themselves. You were blessed in that Bella loves you just as deeply as you love her. Trust me, there are worst things that could've happened," he explained, shaking his head as if to clear a memory. "You aren't capable of any of those things, so don't sell yourself short."

Quietly taking in his words, I tried to reconcile my past to that of someone that had been 'neglected'. For me, the word was synonymous with children who were physically abused and I didn't fit that bill. Still, I couldn't overlook all the other ways in which my parents were derelict in their parental duties.

"Latch on?" I asked, particularly interested in what he had to say about that. Carlisle flushed before he answered. He looked…guilty.

"It's not uncommon to hold close the things you treasure because at some level you don't want to lose them. It works the same in relationships. If you're worried that you'll lose that person, you attempt to protect them, which can lead to shutting that person off from the rest of the world or even trying to control them. Usually it's something you don't realize you're doing until…"he trailed off, his voice cracking.

"After Esme attempted…suicide, I took a sabbatical," he quietly disclosed. "I wanted to be there for her like I hadn't been before, and if I'm being completely honest with myself, I was afraid she'd try again. At first, I wanted to assure myself that she was recuperating physically—mentally—but at some point I became angry. How could she even think of leaving me, through death at that? Hadn't I lost children, too?" He took a second to compose himself.

"I didn't talk to her about my feelings then, and I went from being her husband to being her warden. I wanted to make sure she never left me—in any sense of the word. Thankfully we were able to resolve things before they were beyond repair," he finished, shaking off his memories.

I couldn't help but see certain parallels in our situations, and I was flooded with guilt as things started to fall in place.

I did this to Bella?

"Bella did say she needed space," I revealed. "I didn't completely understand why."

"I can't speak on specifics because I don't have them, but generally someone says that when they need physical and emotional space. I believe it's fair to say that Bella is the only person you share your life's troubles with?"

"Yeah," I sighed, seeing where this was going. "She understands me the best and I trust her, I love her. I didn't realize that I was…suffocating her."

"Energy is not lost or destroyed, it's merely transferred," he muttered absentmindedly. "Bella enjoys taking care of people. Even more so with those she loves. I'm sure she didn't always feel suffocated," he said, using my word. "We, as human beings, inadvertently feed off of the emotions of others. An emotional transference if you will."

"Misery loves company," I said, to which he nodded.

"Though it's not always a negative thing, we like to absorb the good feelings as well," he clarified. "But with all you were dealing with, and I know Bella's had a hard time with her mother lately, perhaps it just all came to a head for the both of you. Maybe you both needed that space."

"There were some things that bothered me in the end," I ambiguously offered.

I didn't like the fact that she was always busy with something; that she seemed to be drifting away when I needed her the most. Looking back, I could see the instances where the stress was becoming too much for her. I did overreact to her absence whenever my dad called and reminded me of the huge mistake I was making, which was frequently. I didn't take it out on her in a bad way, but I did focus on my problems, letting her coddle me until I felt better.

When she did express her feelings to me—about her day, her mom, or whatever—I wasn't nearly as attentive as she was to me. It's no wonder she bothered talking to me at all! The more she pulled away, the more I clung to her, and on some level I knew I was losing her. I just assumed it would be to some other guy.

Even now the thought of Bella with someone else...

"Usually something serves as a catalyst, Edward," Carlisle thankfully interrupted my train of thought. "It may feel that it came out of left field, but whatever it was has probably been mounting for awhile. If you examine the events leading up to the disagreement, it will help you better understand it."

"Carlisle, I don't just want to understand it. I want her back!" I asserted, feeling the heat rise to my face at my curt tone.

"It'll help with that, too," he chuckled, waving me off before I could apologize. "It takes two to make or break a relationship. Neither party should shoulder all the blame," he finished.

After several minutes of silent reflection, I thanked him for everything. I felt a like I could breathe again for the first time in days. Before I crossed the threshold to exit his office, I turned back to him.

"For what it's worth, you've been the closest thing I've ever had to a father. I'm…honored that you'd fill that role for me." He sucked in a breath of air and inclined his head, not saying anything in return.

Ready to head back out, I found myself face to face with Esme before I was enveloped by two sets of strong, unrepentant arms. I stood in between them, letting myself finally grieve for all I'd loss and appreciate what I gained.

And thinking of the piece of paper safely sheltered in my pocket, I allowed myself to hope.

"What did you do?" Emmett asked, handing me a cup of coffee with an exasperated huff.

He was tired of me giving him the runaround, and after he heard from Esme that I was in the neighborhood over a week ago and didn't stop by, he showed up outside of my science lab. We walked to the common area, both deep in our thoughts, and before we even exchanged greetings he wanted to know what happened. After I told him we weren't together anymore—giving him a vague explanation as to why—he immediately jumped to the conclusion that it was my fault.

"Why do you assume it was me that did something?" I retorted, mildly offended. He paused with his drink halfway to his lips before giving me the most sarcastic look he could muster.

I really didn't think Em would understand my situation with Bella because Rosalie was as Anglo-Saxon as they came, and as Bella pointed out, one of her biggest issues with our relationship was how people saw us—black and white. I just didn't see what experiences in his own relationship could be parallel to mine. There was, however, another issue I could get his opinion on.

"This whole week that I've been back in class," I said, changing the subject. "I haven't seen Bella once. Isn't that…weird?"

"No, not really," he responded, a contemplative expression settling over his features. "You two have been so far up each other's asses that you haven't let any of us get to know you better as a couple. I do know you as individuals, and from what I've seen, I think it's safe to say that you more than went out of your way to make damn sure you did see Bella," he hedged. "Either that, or you were stalking her."

"I was not stalking her," I asserted, even if unsure of some of my past actions.

"Maybe not. Besides, you don't really call it stalking when you're in a relationship and the other person welcomes the attention. But the fact is, you two were always with each other and now…not so much," he paused, carefully choosing his next words. "Does it seem that maybe you were the only one putting in the effort?" he asked.

His question took me off guard and I took a moment to seriously consider my answer before I spoke. Yeah, I may have been the one seeking Bella out, but she never turned me away. She provided me with so much more than mere physicality, but peace from the inner turmoil in both my mind and heart. Whether I was the one seeking her out or not, she made sure she was accessible to me.

Right up until the end, anyways.

"No," I firmly answered. "She gave more than she got and never really complained." Em nodded his head, pleased with my answer. "It's just that not seeing her…well, I didn't realize how much I'd been insinuating myself into her life," I said, annoyed with the whole fucking concept of hindsight.

"You do that when you're in love." Em said, lifting one shoulder. "Finding balance is key...Dorothy." A grin spread across his face, the same one he got when he was verbally sparring with Rosalie, and I knew where his mind had gone.

"So, when's the big day, Blanche?" I asked, watching the grin morph and stretch clear across his face.

"She's moving in with me…" he began, and I temporarily shelved my issues so that I could share in his joy.

Two days later, I found myself back in my room, staring at the box Bella left. I didn't know why I refused to open it, but since it held the majority of my wardrobe, I could no longer put it off. I continually reminded myself that it was just a piece of cardboard filled with fabric, nothing more or less. Still, I was inundated with feelings of finality. Taking my time, I pulled off the tape, gradually opening each flap.

"Fabric," I breathed, feeling irrationally relieved that I didn't find my still-beating heart lying on top of the box.

I never did get around to asking Carlisle for those hormone suppressants.

Carelessly sorting through my things, I put my clothes away, throwing the gold strip of condoms into my dresser drawer. And again, I was illogically comforted that Bella hadn't seen a need to keep them. By the time I reached the bottom, any sense of contentment fled as I looked upon the remaining item.

She'd found a way to give my heart back after all.

I stared at the book of poems I gave her for her birthday. The book that told her what I felt before I knew how to verbalize it. Really, had it come to this? Was the damage I'd done so irreparable? Replaying random events of our relationship and Carlisle's words, I thought that maybe it was. The argument with my father during his surprise visit continued to distress me, forcing me to see things I didn't want to deal with.

How much of him was in me?

Bella telling me that I created some type of racial divide in our relationship bothered me. It wasn't my intention, but was I inadvertently acting like a self-entitled bigoted prick? Intended or not, if she perceived me to be that way…then I was no better than my father. At least when he saw her naked, he told her to get dressed. Whereas I stripped her in a far more intimate way, leaving her emotionally raw and bare for all to see.

For years I tried to follow in my father's footsteps, did anything I thought would earn his admiration. However, as of late, I was hell-bent on doing the opposite. I thought I was successful up until this point. Perhaps the Masen blood ran too thick and our paths were just fated to diverge.

Picking up the book, I skimmed through its content, letting my inner masochist take over. I appreciated that it seemed to be well worn, especially given its relative newness. As I followed the dog-eared pages, I thoroughly read each word before I was suddenly hit with the reason Bella gave me the book back in the first place.

Page 24.

I flipped the pages so fast that a few were ripped out in my haste.

It took nine painfully slow readings for me to grasp its simple subject matter. Another twelve before untamed optimism prevailed. By the time I put it away, the words had been memorized, and I mentally repeated the last stanza until I fell asleep.

So I live for today.

Not looking back at the time that's past, not looking at the days ahead,

just knowing that today is one less day I have to wait to be with you again.

Bella was waiting for me.

"Well, well, well hok'at." He greeted, once I identified myself.

"That's not your native tongue, ship-hok." I shot back. "Or does this mean you finally realized you're not black and I should be calling you something else?"

"Jackass. I see Bella's taught you a few things with that capable tongue of hers," he retorted, drawling the words and making me regret that I called him to begin with.

Shaking my head, I ignored the implication that he knew anything about the wonders of her mouth. Bella did speak several languages. Granted, her knowledge was limited to greetings and words that held any racial connotations—she wanted to know if she was being insulted in any language. She didn't give me much of an explanation for this random knowledge, but I knew Mike was to blame. Snapping out of my drifting thoughts, I cleared my throat, ready to get this conversation back on track.

"Jacob," I paused, seriously questioning my own sanity at this point, "I need your help."

A/N Hok'at – non Native, Caucasian. Ship-hok - Black man. (From the Quileute Language Dictionary). The poem is by E. McCandless. It, as well as other entries from Bella's book of poems, can be found on my LiveJournal Page.

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