Yes it's me. Yes it's been forever. Yes, I'm sorry. :)

This chapter was an important one to the storyline. Bella's back at school, talks to Charlie and Mandy. I'm sure that I put too much pressure on myself, but I can't help my own perfectionism. (Not saying in any way, shape or form that I think this little story is perfect. Simply that I have in my mind the emotions and words I want to convey and sometimes I get caught up in trying to capture that.) I find myself trying to conform to my phrases and scenes that I had jotted down when I outlined originally instead of where the story organically wants to go. Once I convinced myself that I didn't have to stick with them, I had a much easier time finishing this chapter.

Next up is EPOV, we haven't heard from him for a while.

Anxious to hear any feedback on this chapter and where the story is going in general. Still have quite a bit of story left to tell.

Thank you for continuing to join me on this little journey.

Once again, I own nothing…well with the exception of a quirky and sarcastic sense of humor.

First off in italics is a reminder of where we left off. Bella is preparing for her return to campus on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

He was visibly concerned when I turned back toward him. Even though technically he couldn't read my mind, he was very perceptive. He'd gotten very good at interpreting my mannerisms and movements, and sensed my trepidation.

"What is it?" he asked.

"There's something I need to tell you." His demeanor shifted as I paused, almost as if he was mentally preparing himself for whatever words would be leaving my lips. I'd scolded him before about always thinking the worst, but it was unlikely he would ever change. "It's probably not anything—"

"Bella, please," he pleaded.

"I think Jacob tried to call me," I whispered. Edward made an effort to mask any response, but his eyes spoke volumes.

"Please explain." His voice maintained an even level, but not without effort.

"Well, when I listened to my voice mail, there were these hang-ups. Several of them."

"Bella, it could have been anyone," he attempted to reason, clearly a bit relieved at my explanation.

"Six of them?" I countered, a little miffed that he was downplaying my concerns. "I heard him in one of the messages, Edward. I know it was him. It's the only logical explanation. Mandy and Charlie both left several messages."

Any attempt to disguise his anger was unsuccessful by this point. He turned and focused his attention out the front windshield, staring into the parking lot.

"Why do you think he was calling?" he asked in a cold, monotone voice.

"If I knew that, I probably wouldn't be so worried. I don't know if he's going to show up here since I wouldn't answer his calls or if he's going to try—" I inhaled sharply before turning to look at Edward. "What if this is why Alice can't see me clearly?"

My heart felt as though it was going to beat out of my chest. Edward leaned toward me with his arms open and I found refuge in his embrace. His hand slowly smoothed my hair as my head rested on his shoulder in an attempt to console me.

"We still don't have enough information to make any assumptions."

My concern about Jacob hadn't subsided yet.

"Charlie said in one of his messages that Jacob came to see him. What if they're going to gang up on me and…" I mumbled against the front of his shirt.

"Bella, you are safe. I won't let anything happen to you." His hands slid up and down my back affectionately. "We have no idea why Jacob would be calling you. As much as I find it insufferable to say this, for all we know he could've been trying to apologize."

"You're sticking up for him?" I asked him in disbelief.

"No, simply trying to keep everything in perspective and attempting to think rationally. I don't want you to worry."

"But, what if he finds me on campus?"

"Relax, you won't be alone. If I can't be with you, I'm confident that Alice would agree to spending additional time with you."

"This isn't going to be easy, is it?"

"Nothing worth doing ever is."

Now onto Chapter 24: Flesh and Blood….

The drive from the phone store to the campus hadn't been nearly long enough to suit me. Edward continued to insist that I couldn't avoid what was inevitable, even when I begged him to keep driving and not make the turn onto the familiar street that would lead me to the very building that I was presently standing in.

Not even an overtly suggestive (and more than likely inappropriate by Edward's standards) display of physical affection in the parking lot had weakened his determination to make me go back to school. My plan of last resort had begun with several respectably innocuous kisses placed on his lips while we stood beside his car. I was surprised when he returned my affection wholeheartedly with several slow, soft brushes of his lips against mine. How could his lips be so rigid and unyielding, but yet touch mine with such gentleness? How did he do that?

Edward's return of my advances provided me with the confidence I was lacking. Before I lost the nerve, I traced the strong outline of his jaw tentatively with several open mouthed kisses, waiting for him to stop me. This time however, he made no effort to break away, quite the contrary in fact. I could hear intermittent low growls and groans emanating from his chest as I grew closer to the area behind his ear. Knowing that I was the source of his pleasure was gratifying. The close proximity to Edward combined with the sensually charged atmosphere around us enhanced my reaction to his allure. The scent that was categorically Edward seemed to intensify and I knew in that moment that I would comply with any request he made of me. It was a powerful weapon that vampires possessed and I easily fell under his spell. Then, as quickly as it was cast, the spell was broken.

"As much as I appreciate your enthusiasm," he chuckled lightly, "the circumstances remain unchanged."

My hands dropped to my sides and I let out a huff in exasperation as I pulled my lips away from his skin. I wasn't entirely sure what I was hoping would happen. Maybe I thought that he wouldn't want to let me go if I tempted him enough. Whatever my motivation was in the beginning, the thrill of the physical interaction we just shared was priceless.

Even though I was upset that I hadn't gotten what I wanted, I was still basking in the knowledge that my feminine wiles had affected him. That information would be filed away for later. One thing I for certain, Bella Swan, Seductress Extraordinaire, would definitely be making a return appearance in the future.

Edward didn't appear to be having as difficult a time as I was with my return to school. The thought that he might not want me around as much or that I was a burden to him plagued my mind. Even though he had told me several times that I wasn't a bother, my own insecurity raised doubts.

The landing at the top of the stairs provided a place to rest for a moment. I had been determined to make the trek without assistance from Edward, but after scaling half of the stairs I was very receptive to his offer to help. The additional support of his hand under my elbow and forearm bolstered me just enough to ascend the remainder of the steps and I hoped to avoid drawing any attention to the situation.

Of course the long-drawn-out climb to the landing hadn't escaped the other residents notice. I was torn between avoiding my room and at the same time wanting nothing more than to run toward it and barricade myself inside. My whole life I had been the klutz, the uncoordinated buffoon or the laughingstock of my peers. I had heard all of the jokes about not being able to walk on a flat surface or how I couldn't walk and chew gum at the same time. While I was confident enough with myself to find humor at my own expense, I was tired of the attention that came with the stumbles, trips and any resulting injuries. Was it really too much to ask to be graceful or dignified?

"Would you like me to carry you the rest of the way?" Edward offered.

"Yes, because that would make things soooo much better," I said disdainfully. "Everyone is already staring at me." The angry, resentful words flew out my mouth before I could stop them.

"No one is staring at you," he attempted to reason with me, my spiteful words having no impact on his mood.

There was no reason to lash out in anger at him over the situation. It was unfair and I knew an apology was in order. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't be taking this out on you," I sighed in regret, sliding my arms around him.

"You're scared," he said as if that made it okay to talk to him that way.

"It doesn't give me the right to take it out on you, especially when you're only trying to help. But please, let me have a modicum of dignity?"

"Certainly. As long as you agree to tell me if you need any assistance." His eyes were trained on mine, waiting for my response. Figuring it was the best offer I was going to get, I nodded my head in agreement.

Edward extended a hand out to me and I knew that I couldn't stall any longer. I slipped my hand into his and we walked the remaining distance down the hallway together. Fatigue continued to take its toll and my pace diminished with each step.

My hand rested on the doorknob and I hesitated. My other hand was still linked with Edward's, the texture and temperature of his skin providing comfort to me. He lifted our joined hands to his mouth and kissed the back of my hand. My eyes lifted to see his lips pressed to my skin, lingering as he delicately placed a kiss on each of my knuckles. My eyes shifted to glance at his as we shared this unspoken exchange of affection and appreciation.

His eyes motioned toward the door and squeezed my hand gently. I took a deep breath and exhaled as I turned the doorknob. Before the door was opened fully, I heard Mandy's voice filling the room.

"Thank God! I didn't want to—" she stopped mid-sentence, presumably when she noticed I wasn't alone, and the slight smile on her face vanished. "—have to call your dad."

"Hi," I mumbled anxiously.

She returned my single syllable greeting and turned her attention toward Edward. The hostility in her eyes was unmistakable. .

"Decided to set her free?" Her voice was laced with sarcasm and acrimony.

The need to protect Edward stirred within me. He had done nothing wrong. "Mandy, don't start." I made no attempt to hide the aggravation in my voice.

The hateful glare disappeared from her face as she turned her attention toward her desk and began to shuffle aimlessly through piles of papers. It seemed that she was employing any means to avoid interacting with me. The atmosphere was uncomfortable and downright painful. I wanted nothing more than to run away and never return, but I knew it wasn't an option.

Undoubtedly, Mandy was giving Edward a flurry of information, either intentionally or unintentionally. His facial expressions divulged nothing and I was anxious to find out what he had learned. Even though I was pretty sure she had been told about Edward's extrasensory talent by the pack by now; it would be extremely difficult for her to block his ability. Alice did so successfully at times, but I wasn't sure if a human would be able to maintain the same level of concentration as she could. Of course instead of trying to keep him out of her mind, Mandy could have been screaming at him with her mind. I knew I'd have to wait until Edward was able to tell me.

Edward began to unpack the bags that he had carried. Whether he was doing so merely to save me the trouble or simply trying to prolong his exit, the reason didn't matter to me. Either way the action was appreciated. With storage space at a premium in the dorm, I brought only a small amount of things back with me. There was no chance that the excessive number of items Alice had bought for me would ever fit in this room. Edward removed multiple pieces of clothing from the bags and I noticed that he was carefully avoiding the bras and panties, which made me smile. His shyness was endearing, but it was also a bit flattering that my undergarments were what brought about his reaction.

After shamelessly enjoying his embarrassment, I finally let him off the hook and lifted the delicate pieces of silk and satin from the bag. When I turned to put them away in my drawer, I noticed that Mandy was sitting at her desk with her back to us. She had given up the pretense of trying to locate something in the chaotic pile of paper that had been a constant fixture on her desk.

This was not going to be a fun night.

"Well, I'm going to leave you two for the evening," Edward announced as looked toward the door. My mind went into overdrive and the first hints of panic began to bubble to the surface. Edward's hand reached out and brushed along the length of my upper arm. I couldn't allow myself to look up at him because I already felt the tears threatening to form. "Walk me out?" he asked softly.

The time that I had been dreading was here. Edward was going to leave me here and once again I felt like it was too easy for him to do so. Shouldn't he be fighting this separation too? He had a whole house to himself. Why couldn't I just stay there? We had the same class schedule. It wouldn't any problem at all. Well, except there was one pesky, little detail—he never asked me to stay with him.

Reluctantly, I nodded my head in response to his question as his hand sli d down the length of my arm and wrapped around my hand.

He led the way back out into the hallway while I trudged behind him. The hall was filled with commotion as Edward appeared to look for someplace that had some measure of privacy. We ended up in the lounge at the end of the hallway, which was uncharacteristically deserted. He turned to face me, his eyes meeting mine as an air of sadness and fear began to envelop me. His departure was imminent.

"Come here." His arms slid around my waist, pulling me toward him. "You have nothing to be afraid of. I won't be far."

But he was going to be far away. Any distance that separated us was too great in my opinion. Edward was going to continue sharing classes with me; of this I was fairly certain. He'd escort me to and from each lecture or lab as well, but what about the rest of the days or evenings? He wouldn't constantly be beside me if my two left feet decided there hadn't been enough excitement in my life recently. If I wanted to ask him a question or simply talk about nothing in particular, my words wouldn't be able to reach him. At that moment I knew without a doubt that the time spent over the past week with him had left a lasting mark on me. There was no way that I could've prepared myself for the intensity of these feelings. His extended absence from my life had undoubtedly impacted my ability to cope with this upcoming separation. I was going to miss him terribly and it wasn't because I wasn't confident enough in my own skin to spend time alone—I simply didn't want to.

My arms latched onto him as if he was the lone lifeboat afloat after a shipwreck, desperately wanting to stay with him. My lucidity wavered and I began to feel myself going to pieces.

"She knows she was wrong." Every muscle in my body stilled in response to his words. My curiosity about Mandy's thoughts distracted me long enough to allow the panic I'd been experiencing to retreat. "She wants to make it up to you, but doesn't know where to begin."

"I don't know how to move past this." My words came out muffled as I pressed my head against his chest. "Am I supposed to act like nothing happened? Does she expect me to forgive her? I don't know if I can."

"You have a large capacity for forgiveness. I should know," he spoke quietly.

My head lifted from his chest and our eyes met in silence. He lowered his head slowly until he was painfully close. His eyes never broke their connection with mine—until I felt the faintest brush against my top lip. Unconsciously, my eyes closed as my mind attempted to process the sensations I was experiencing. The blissful scent of his breath wafted around me as he turned his attention to my lower lip. Marble lips felt like polished perfection as their icy, smoothness caressed mine. Fingers traced a delicate path down the length of my throat and my worries and concerns momentarily evaporated.

Desire permeated my senses and my hands clutched the fabric of the back of his shirt tightly. My heart pounded out of control and my stomach tingled as he continued to shower me with tender kisses.

My skin was ablaze. His arctic breath flowed across my cheek. The contrast between the two temperatures produced a series of shivers that traveled through my body. The outside world disappeared around us. Nothing else mattered—no one else existed.

I felt Edward relax and pull back slightly. When I looked up at him, I immediately noticed the color of his eyes—black, coal black. Regardless of what my instinctual response should have been, I wasn't frightened, quite the opposite really. This was a glimpse into a part of Edward that he attempted to mask on a continual basis and it was intriguing.

My legs were wobbly, still reeling from the effects of our kiss, as he led me back down the hallway. When we reached the door to my room, he turned to face me. We gazed at each other intently. No words needed to be spoken. We'd already said everything with our kisses and embraces. It was time. He leaned down one last time to kiss the top of my head and then walked away.

When my thoughts cleared, I scolded myself for letting him go so easily. I hadn't even tried to get him to stay, which left me wondering if he had employed any of his vampiric abilities to dazzle me into submission. I planned on asking him about that later.

The closed door, and the conversation that was sure to occur once I walked over the threshold, loomed before me. The knob turned slowly in my hand as I shuffled into the room. Mandy was on her phone and appeared flustered when she noticed I had walked back into the room. She ended the call abruptly leaving little doubt that my return was the topic of conversation.

What other reason would she have to hang up so quickly?

The identity of person on the other end of the phone wasn't too difficult to guess either—Embry.

Why would he care where I was?

My subversive inner voice made a very good point. I attempted to come up with several perfectly logical reasons for his interest, but my mind was obsessing on one in particular. An image of glossy, jet black hair and reddish-brown skin infiltrated my mind. My stomach suddenly felt heavy, like I swallowed a bowling ball…or quite possibly a four door sedan.


The questions whirled around in my head until it began to ache. Were Mandy and Embry helping Jacob? Was he just waiting around until I got back? What if he was on his way here right now? Would she tell me the truth if it I confronted her about it?

The silence was unsettling, but I was determined to be strong. Until more details were known about what had taken place in my absence, I tried to disguise any outward reaction to my frantic thoughts. My initial fear began to recede and left in its wake was anger and insult.

"Now you're spying on me for the pack?" My hands rested on my hips as I snapped at her. No attempt was made to mask my irritation and to be honest I was miffed a bit at the idea of my every move being reported back to La Push.

"He's worried. They all are actually." Her emphasis on the word 'all' didn't escape my notice.

My only response was an exaggerated huff in disbelief over what I was hearing.

"Besides, he made me promise to call when I talked to you."

"Why? So Jacob can come running back here?" I found myself silently praying that Edward was listening somehow and would intervene if it were really true, no matter how much of a helpless coward it made me.

"What? No! I wouldn't do that." Her head shook fiercely from side to side.

"I don't know what's going on, but let me make this clear." My feet took controlled, purposeful steps, stopping a few feet in front of her and my voice articulated clearly with confidence and conviction. "If I wanted to talk to him…I would."

Her hands rose up in defense and waved back and forth. "Bella, no one is trying to force you into to talking to Jacob. Sam wanted to make sure that you were okay. I told Embry so that he could pass the information on to him. Charlie's been beside himself, too."

Mandy's answers sounded plausible enough and her reactions did seem genuine, but I still reserved my doubts. She leaned against her desk as her eyes studied me, waiting and watching, while she fiddled with her phone. It felt as though a lifetime had passed since I last saw her. The reality however was that it had only been a short window of time during which a host of things had transpired.

Who was this person looking back at me? Friend…or foe?

Her comments reminded me of another unpleasant task that I faced. Stepping over to my bed, I picked up the newly purchased phone with shaking hands. The room remained silent making each tone emitted sound deafening as I dialed the familiar number. I was acutely aware of Mandy's presence in the room. Lack of privacy hadn't bothered me before, but now it was an uncomfortable fact of my college life. I exhaled deeply while I waited for my call to be answered.

"Swan residence." The familiar voice was somber.

"It's me," I said, my voice barely audible.

"Bella." He breathed my name in relief. "Where are you?"

"My dorm room."

His long sigh spoke volumes. I looked down at the quilt covering my bed and picked at a loose thread.

"Do you have any idea what you've put me through?" He spoke calmly, which both surprised and relieved me, but I could tell that he was holding something back. As I looked up briefly, Mandy shifted her gaze elsewhere in record time. I pulled myself up onto my mattress and sat with my back facing the room's other occupant while I listened to Charlie exhale into the phone. "Now, I'm not going to bother to rehash the details. I'm just relieved that you're back at school and safe. Do you need anything? You said you were hurt when I talked to you on the phone."

Tiny fissures in the carefully controlled tone of his voice attested to his current state. I'd always been able to pick up on the slight vocal changes when something was bothering him. My theory was that since we had talked primarily on the phone instead of in person while I was growing up, I learned to differentiate the changes in his vocal inflection just as most kids would learn their parent's different facial expressions.

Charlie had never been an overly affectionate or emotional father, and yet I had never doubted his love for me. With the exception of a few weeks spent together during holidays, we lived many years separated by miles of plains, mountains and forests which hadn't been conducive to forming that sort of nurturing relationship.

Mainly, I felt relieved upon hearing his words. Fighting with him again was the last thing I wanted. I needed to know where I stood with him though. What did he think happened that afternoon at La Push? Why had Jacob been over at the house last week?

I cleared my throat briefly before mustering up the courage to speak. My mouth felt like a desert. On one hand, I really wanted to know…but there was a nagging feeling that I might wish I hadn't pushed the issue. "No, I don't need anything. My ankle is getting better. It was pretty messed up, though."

"Good. Glad to hear that." The awkwardness between us was palpable. Neither of us was skilled in idle chit chat, especially when there was an elephant the size of a small third world country lurking in the room.

"Um, you're message said that Jacob came to see you." I paused and waited for him to divulge what the visit had been about.

"Yeah, about that. He's really in a bad spot, Bella." I couldn't believe that I was hearing this. "Now before you get all up in a tizzy, he admitted to me that he had hurt you. I already laid into him and gave him a piece of my mind."

I was outraged and couldn't contain myself any longer. "So, why exactly does he deserve any of your sympathy? Remember, me…your daughter? I'm the one he hurt; shouldn't you be taking my side?"

"I'm not taking anyone's side. Bella, I've known that boy since he was born." He let out another sigh before going on. "I've always thought of him as a son. This isn't easy for me either. I feel like I'm being forced to choose between my two kids."

The Black family and the Swan family had always shared a close relationship. Both found themselves without a mother figure and even though the reasons for that were very different, a bond was formed between the fathers and the kids in time. Both Billy and Charlie took on what I could only describe as a father figure role with all of us kids. As single fathers, they needed the support from one another. I hadn't really given much thought to how the situation that I found myself in currently affected anyone else other than me.



But when you got right down to the nitty-gritty, I was just a daughter who wanted her father's love and protection.

When mistakes are made by a child, I do understand that a parent can't just walk away. Their role is to help the child learn from the mistakes and be a better person. Was that what Charlie was doing with Jacob? Why didn't this make me feel any better? Even though he yelled at him and may even be trying to help guide him, it didn't ease my mind a great deal. Nor did it make up for his disbelief when I first told him what had happened. I still didn't think that Charlie had any appreciation for how precarious my situation had been. How could I make him understand without revealing anything about what Edward and Jacob truly were?

"Dad, I don't want to hear about him being in a bad spot. I get that you feel a fatherly connection to him, but I'm your own flesh and blood." I tried to contain my emotions, but the tears were already forming. There was no easy answer, no wave of a wand that would make everything revert back to the way it was before.

"Of course you are, Bells. I'm not trying to undermine your feelings. It's going to take time to get through this, but we will…together. There's something else...uh…I don't even know how to ask, but I have to."

"Just ask and I'll do my best to answer." Who knew what was going to come out of his mouth at this point. There was no way to prepare.

"Okay, here goes. Um, has Jacob ever hurt you before?"


"I mean, you'd tell me if he had, right? You're not covering up for him or anything are you?"

"No, Charlie. He's never reacted that way before."

"You have no idea how relieved I am to hear that. I was… well… I was afraid that I had missed the signs or something."

"Nope. You can have a clear conscience now."

"Okay, and don't take this the wrong way. I'm not making excuses for him." This ought to be good. "But when Edward came back it was really tough for Jake." I couldn't believe I was hearing this. "Seeing his girl choose another guy over him—"

I disrupted his wacked out line of reasoning before he could finish. "Now I see where this is going."

"What exactly is that supposed to mean?"

"Edward had nothing to do with my decision to break up with Jacob. If that's what he told you—he lied."

"It only makes sense. You and Jacob were fine before he came back into the picture."

"It's not like that." I knew that I wouldn't be able to share the real reason for the break up with him. I was struggling with how to explain to him without divulging the existence of supernatural creatures.

"Then how exactly is it, because I'm obviously missing something? It just doesn't add up. No sooner than you break up with Jacob, Edward conveniently appears in the forest…and at the same time and in the same place? Sounds like it was planned. Did he put you up to it? To all of this?"

"I get that you're still pissed at Edward, Dad. I really do."

"You're damn right."

"But it's like that anger is blinding you from trusting me, from seeing the truth. You're so willing to give Jacob a chance to redeem himself without giving the same consideration for Edward? When does he get to stop by the house to chat like Jacob did? Preferably a chat wouldn't involve you brandishing a shotgun."

"Bella, you don't understand. As a father—"

"You're right. I don't understand. But you know what I do know?" I paused. "Dad, if he hadn't come along…I don't know what I would've done. I'm lucky he found me."

An odd silence followed my words and for a moment I wondered if we had gotten disconnected.

"Listen, Bella, about Jacob." I couldn't hold back my groan, which Charlie promptly ignored. "He knows that he did an awful thing and he wants to make it up to you."

"So, what…you think I'm going to get back together with him or something?"

"Well, that's your decision to make."

"My decision to make? Have you lost your mind? Since when would you ever give your blessing to a woman who had been hurt by her boyfriend or husband? You always said that a leopard can't change their spots. They do it once, they'll do it again."

"You can't categorize Jacob as an abuser, Bella. It was an accident. He didn't realize how tight of a grip he had on you. I mean, look at the size of him. He probably doesn't even know his own strength."

"Edward is every bit as strong as Jacob and would never hurt me." The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them. I dropped my head into my hand as I realized the opening that I had given Charlie.

"Okay, speaking of leopards changing their spots and since you brought it up again…Let's discuss the Cullen boy. Why would you go back to him?"

"Dad, I'm tired and I don't want to get into this tonight. It's too long of a discussion and I don't have the energy."

"Don't think that we won't revisit this topic later."

"Of that I have no doubts," I mumbled sarcastically.

"Get some rest and we'll talk later. I'm glad you're okay, Bella."

The line disconnected leaving me more conflicted than before his call. The display on my phone indicated that the call had lasted markedly shorter than how long I perceived it to be. Each minute that had passed during the exchange with Charlie had seemed to pass so very slowly.

Even though my back remained turned away from Mandy, I could still sense that I was being watched. I shifted on the bed so my back was now pressed up against the wall and let my head fall back against the wall with a dull thud. My eyes focused on the swirled texture of the ceiling but had yet to look directly at my roommate. My only hope was that time would make things easier with Charlie and Mandy.

As I exhaled a deep breath to release the tension that had built up inside me during the call, I took the opportunity to glance across the room. My eyes were met by a peculiar expression on Mandy's face. She almost appeared…sympathetic. Before I could know with certainty, she buried her nose back into her textbook.

With tentative motions, I slipped off the bed and picked up one of the many books that Carlisle had been kind enough to let me borrow from his library. Once I had returned to my previous perch on my bed, I opened the well-worn cover and let the coarse grained pages slip through my fingers, releasing a familiar musty aroma.

Reading had always been an escape of sorts for me. Growing up, most of the kids my age were clamoring about the latest movie released and I was content to bury myself in a book. I had always been captivated at how a handful of pages bound together and printed with plain black text could explode with vibrant colors, sounds and emotions. The written words, when combined with the power of our human imagination could open minds to adventures and new worlds that we may never have the opportunity to experience on our own. The reader would scrutinize each passage, ultimately interpreting the meaning of the words and coming to a conclusion about the story's protagonist. Would he or she earn the favor of his or her audience?

For a moment, I wondered how my story would play out across these pages. Would the reader scream out at the pages in frustration over the decisions I've made or shed tears in disappointment? Would they agree with my choice of Edward over Jacob? Even though my friends and family cried out against it? Would they cheer for our reconciliation? Would they root for any repair to my strained relationship with my roommate?

Then it hit me. Someone else's opinions really didn't matter. The sequence of events would be determined by my actions. I was captain of this ship, and as such was the only one who could steer it in the direction I wanted it to go. No one else. Just me.

My first official act as captain of said ship was to try to get rid of the awkwardness in the room. I couldn't live like this. Whether or not we could ever return to the close friendship we shared before was unknown, but I was ready to make the first attempt.

My restless fingers zeroed in on tiny pieces of lint on my comforter, letting each one drop from my hands to the floor below as I steeled myself to speak. The words spilled from my mouth, but sounded more like a jumbled mess than a coherent string of words.

"So…um…yeah…" She stopped riffling through the papers on her desk and slowly turned to look at me. Undeterred by her attention on me, I pushed myself to go on. "I uh…got your messages."

She seemed to be analyzing the situation and I could see the conflict clearly on her face. When she finally spoke it was in a quiet reserved voice. "I meant what I said."

"What? That you don't want to have to live with Lauren?" It was an attempt to lighten the mood between us, but the words left my mouth with a sarcastic snap before I thought about how she would react. Maybe it was too soon to be joking about the situation and I had more than likely just made things worse. My fidgeting grew to epic proportions as I waited anxiously for her response.

Her lips parted briefly, as if she was taken aback by my flippant effort, but no sound followed. The break in conversation felt as if it spanned a lifetime and I was fairly certain I had been holding my breath during it, she finally broke the silence. "That really would be hell on earth, wouldn't it?"

Her flat tone didn't reveal whether or not she was joking. After several unsuccessful moments of trying to get her to look at me directly in hopes to find any sort of clue as to her mood, I noticed that she seemed to be struggling to keep a straight face. A sudden rush of sound erupted from Mandy and the only description I could manage was a strange combination of giggling and snorting. Her enthusiastic outburst was undeniably contagious. Finding a reprieve from the ever increasing tension in my body was liberating, even if it was only temporary. We both allowed ourselves to enjoy the short respite before Mandy's face fell serious once more.

"Look, I don't know what else to say. What I am sure of is that you are…were…one of my best friends. After everything that has happened…are we okay?"

We still had a ways to go in fixing what had been broken in our relationship. I wasn't going to promise her that all was forgiven and forgotten. Because I couldn't do that, not right now. But I knew that we both still wanted that weakened bonds to be repaired and keeping that in mind I gave her the best answer I could with a hopeful smile.

"We're a work in progress."

Darkness had infiltrated the room hours ago. Sleep had come to Mandy with ease, evidenced by her consistent exhalations. For me however, sleep was proving to be elusive. My head rested on the pillow and the covers were tucked all around me as I stared straight up at the ceiling, my eyes refusing to close as if propped open by some invisible force.

It had taken months for me to adjust to Edward's absence from my bedroom in Forks after he had made the choice that would haunt both of us for so long. My nights had been filled with heart wrenching apparitions and imaginings that would result in Charlie attempting to console me in the beginning. After numerous months had passed, the images my subconscious had been torturing me with had faded away and left frequent bouts of insomnia in their wake.

I shifted onto my side, my head flopping on the pillow in frustration. I had slept the past several nights without any restlessness and it had been wonderful. The only difference was the person who had been at the heart of the recent drama—Edward.

Had he gone home?

Or was he outside waiting and watching over me?

His kisses had left my mind so scrambled that I hadn't thought to ask him anything about where he was going to be. My stomach began to ache when I thought of the possibility of him being so close and at the same time being so far from me.

The draw to him was undeniable. It always had been, but somehow it felt as if the intensity had magnified significantly. Being apart from him was disturbing on many different levels as if we were connected by an invisible thread, stitching us together. The idea of severing this strand was appalling to even consider. He was a part of me. It wasn't that I lacked the self-confidence to be alone or wasn't emotionally strong enough on my own. I didn't need him because of some self-perceived deficiency of mine. I didn't need him to define who I was. Our strength came from each other.

K, so let me know what your thoughts are. I know authors always say that it helps keep them's true. It really does. :)

As I said earlier, next chapter will have us hearing from Edward once again since it's been a while. Already have a good start on it. Thank you once again for taking time from your busy lives to read my rambling words.