Hi! *hides face*

I know it's been awhile, as usual. I'm not going to go into a great big spill about why, but just know my husband deployed to Afghanistan 2 weeks ago, and I've been dealing with that. I'm not giving up on this story. I love this story! And I love all of you for all of your alerting and pimping and reviewing and for the fact that you're still reading.

If you're not already a member over at A Different Forest, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?? I have my own little cabin over there, and you can also find a little companion piece to Loneliness Be Over! So come on over and start a campfire! www (dot) adifferentforest (dot) com


"You're alive. Do Something" -Barbara Hall

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"Hey Jake… how are you?"

"Bells?" I could hear him fumbling around through the earpiece, probably trying to get his bearings in the dark. "Are you okay? It's late, what's wrong?"

I had spent most of the night crying, refusing Charlie's invite to go out for dinner and forcing him to eat cold pizza. It was now two in the morning, and my fingers had dialed Jacob's number before I even realized what I was doing.

All I could do was sigh into the phone, a fresh round of tears springing to my eyes. I quickly brushed them away and took another deep breath in an attempt to calm my nerves. Jacob picked up on my emotional state and sounded more alert when he spoke again.

"Bella, I'm so glad you called. I have tried so many times to call you and apologize for the other day, but I can never finish dialing your number. I was way out of line. I'm so sorry."

"Jake…"

My old friend sounded so relieved, so calm, and I let that influence wash over me. I could feel his warm arms around me, his embrace a comfort I had known forever. He had been there for every major event in my life, every injury, every happy moment, and every sad.

"Jake, I missed you. Let's never fight again, okay? I need you."

It was his turn to sigh. "Bells, you know we will fight again. It's something we're good at. But I promise I will never be as harsh as I was the other day. Will you forgive me?"

"Of course, I forgive you. How could I not? I've been waiting for you to call me…"

"I didn't think you would want to talk to me, to be honest. And you have every right to be angry. But that's not why you're crying, is it?"

"Oh, Jake. The up's and down's of this whole thing are killing me. I can't deal. I'm falling apart. So much is happening, and I feel so… alone."

He paused, and I could just picture the expression he must have been wearing at that moment. After losing my mom, I went through a period of sadness that I wasn't sure would ever go away. But since then, everyone had witnessed the way I would numb myself to prevent as much emotional pain as possible, except when with those boys.

And the only thing that had gotten to me since losing my mom was leaving them behind.

Jacob listened to me patiently, as I poured out every emotion flooding my mind and plaguing my heart recently. Some of it was nothing new to him: the parts about my mother and why it was unfair that I never got to have those essential mother-daughter moments with her, the fact that I felt guilty for having fun in this new home, and the way I missed him more than anything in the world.

He asked about the carnival and I told him about Alice's visit that day, and how I had nearly guilted myself into not going. And he did everything he could to comfort me from his place over the phone, miles away, where I wished I could be with all of my heart.

"Bella, you have got to let this go. You have to… live. No matter what. Your mom wouldn't want you to stop living. Embry wouldn't either. None of us do. Promise me you'll go Friday night and you'll have fun. I'm worried sick about you…"

"Okay, Jacob. Okay… I'll go. Of course I'll go." I sniffled one last time and swiped at my wet eyes. I moved through the window to my spot on the roof and lit a cigarette.

"And promise me you'll stop smoking, Bella. It's so bad for you."

The tightness within my chest began to loosen, and for the first time in hours, I felt as if I could breathe again. Jacob and I had once again resolved our issues, and everything on that front was back to normal, even down to his chiding me about smoking.

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Edward's text messages became more frequent in the day before the carnival. I had been insistent on the outing not being a "date," but I still found myself smiling at his words. And at the idea that maybe it kind of was.

"Me and you, Swan. Tomorrow night. 5pm. Get ready to burn that carnival up." –Edward

"Lol, and what's that supposed to mean, Cullen?" –Bella

"Nothing. Just hope you'll let me show you a good time." –Edward

A good time? My fingers hovered over the keypad of my phone, my mind accelerating and my heart pumping furiously in my chest, as I hesitated.

"Hmm. I trust that we'll have fun. We usually do." –Bella

"Glad you think so. I've really enjoyed spending time with you…"-Edward

My stomach did a sickening flip-flop in my belly, and I thought for a split second that I would either vomit from anxiety or squeal in delight at his admission. I took a few moments to compose myself and smiled before typing my response.

"I've had fun, Edward. I'll see you tomorrow at 5. Should I ride to your house with Jasper?" –Bella

"No ma'am. I'm picking you up at your house. Peace out, pretty girl." –Edward

I definitely had no response to that so I quietly clicked my phone closed and ran my hands through my hair. Pretty girl. I figured Alice would go home gushing about the work she did on my hair and face, but would Edward think I looked any different? Would he notice the changes?

Charlie commented on my semi-new look at dinner. Because of my rudeness the previous night, I had made one of his favorite meals: steak, mashed potatoes, and salad.

"I like your hair, Bells," he mumbled around a piece of food. "It looks much better that way."

I chuckled at him and munched on a crisp piece of lettuce. My fingers felt weak gripping my fork, as if I hadn't eaten in days. Really, it had only been one day.

"Thanks, Dad. Alice, um… Alice came over last night and helped me fix it." I reached up and touched a dangling strand of my chocolate locks, huffing in indifference. "It's not as… scruffy anymore."

Charlie smiled with his eyes, a reassuring expression that spoke to my heart, the always-present father. He might not always know what to say, but he was still there, still trying to be the best dad he could. I so often spent time thinking about how losing my mom continued to affect me, but what about him? At the end of the day, it was my dad who had to keep putting on a brave face, who had to keep pushing forward. I had neglected his emotions for too long.

After we had cleared the kitchen, I hugged my father. Clung to him like I did when I was a little girl, like I should have all these years since my mom had passed away. We needed each other, and he deserved to know that despite my shitty attitude, he was doing a great job.

"I love you, Dad."

He mumbled a few gruff words and quickly kissed the top of my head. As I headed for the stairs and was just about to shout my goodnight, Charlie called, "So, I assume that Cullen boy is going to take you to the kick-off carnival…"

As much as I wanted to roll my eyes, a smile pricked at my lips too. I turned back to Charlie with a hand on my hip.

"Yeah… he is. That okay?"

He threw his hands up and smiled. "Goodnight, Bells."

It took me several hours to get to sleep that night, between trading texts with Quil and sneaking onto the roof several times for cigarettes. I went back down to the kitchen for water at some point, finding my father passed out in his recliner as the televisions bright light illuminated the living area. I was able to wake him, which made him mad until he realized he was not in his bed.

The next day passed the same way. Slow. I was fidgety. I couldn't find anything to occupy my time. I unpacked some more of my things. Smoked. Cleaned the bathroom. Walked to the store for a snack and just generally something to do. Smoked. Wrote in the journal Embry had given me. Emailed Angela. Took two shots of Charlie's cheap bourbon he rarely drank.

And then it was three o'clock. Close enough to five for me. I busied myself with showering and washing my hair, then trying to get it to look just as Alice had fixed it a couple of days before. I couldn't get the curls to fall just right, and became frustrated enough to take another shot of bourbon in the kitchen. Finally, my hair looked somewhat decent, so I moved on to my face, which came a little easier since I knew it would just be best to keep things simple.

Jasper knocked on the door at twenty minutes to five, and I bounded down the stairs to let him in.

"Drink?" he asked, holding up a familiar silver flask. I smirked at him, and poured us more shots, not wanting to waste his reserve for the evening.

"You know, Bella? You clean up real nice. I'm impressed."

"Well, thank you. It's all because your girlfriend has magic hands… and no, you don't need to add to that comment." We laughed, and I could feel the warmth of those several shots pumping through me. I told Jasper to make himself at home while I ran upstairs for shoes and Alice's cardigan. I checked my face in the mirror one last time, grabbed my phone and the small purse with my necessary items, and let the door click shut behind me.

Edward was sitting on the couch with Jasper when I made it downstairs, and when he turned his eyes in my direction, I wanted to retreat. I felt scrutinized, even though the look on his face clearly said he liked what he saw. Lips turned up in a soft smile, green eyes gentle, there was a look of excitement on his face. Jasper nudged him with his elbow, trying to be discreet, and I shook my head at them. Edward stood and came toward my spot at the foot of the stairs, unable to move my feet to meet him, looking anywhere but into his eyes.

"Hi," he murmured. I let my eyes dance to his briefly, wanting to see his expression, and taking in the way he was observing my face.

"Hi," I breathed back.

"You, um, you look…"

He smiled, and I gave him a tentative smile back, as the silence hung between us like a live wire. I tugged on my hair, disrupting its near perfect state, and laughed nervously.

"Alright kids," Jasper said. "Time for the pre-carnival ritual. Might help loosen y'all up anyway." He clapped Edward on the shoulder as Edward flipped him the bird. Jasper pulled a joint from his pocket, and I chuckled at the idea.

It would definitely loosen me up.

"You game?" he asked us. Edward and I both shrugged, but I knew it would probably help calm my nerves.

I checked the clock on the microwave. "Charlie might be home soon. Your place?"

"My parents are gone, man. We can head over that way," Jasper offered.

I scribbled a note for Charlie, even though he already knew I'd be gone, and the three of us headed across the mostly empty street.

Edward pulled his flask from his back pocket, and dangled it near my face. "Brought our favorite," he teased, reminding me again of the first day I met him.

"Way ahead of you, Cullen. I'm on my fourth shot now." I smiled at him easily when he clutched at his chest and gave me a scandalized expression.

"Guess I had better catch up then." As he moved the flask to his lips, I gripped the lean muscle of his forearm in warning.

"Not if you're driving me, you don't."

He smirked. "Touché. Don't want to be too hasty."

"Yes!" Jasper chimed in. "The night is still young."

We sat on Jasper's back porch, under the guise of his huge privacy fence, and let the marijuana filter through our lungs, into our blood, its heady scent somewhat masked by the saltwater rolling nearby. Edward and I engaged in a game of slaps that had me giggling riotously, even as he stared into my eyes with fake seriousness. His hands were warm as they ghosted around my own, and I couldn't tell if it was his touch or the weed making my entire body fill with warmth.

We blared our music too loudly on the drive to the carnival, the warm air whipping through the Range Rover, as we goofily sang off key to some silly pop song on the radio. Jasper used his most girly voice, causing Edward and I to cry through our laughter. Edward's blazed eyes would fall on mine every once in awhile, and we'd share a secret smile through the haze of our buzz.

Emmett, Rosalie, and Alice were waiting for us in the parking lot. Rosalie and Alice squealed over my outfit, causing my face to go hot. Emmett swooped me up into his large arms, and I hugged him back but wanted to go hide in the Range Rover.

"Let's do this!" Rose said. Edward and I each took shots from his flask before he stuffed it back into his pocket along with his keys. He walked close to me as we approached the carnival, music and lights on the horizon, and the ocean just beyond. Sometimes, his hand would brush mine, and I could feel my fingers wanting to curl around his. It felt as if they were stretching toward him, reaching for him, wanting to grasp at him.

We all ate ridiculous carnival food: Jasper had a cheeseburger and two hot dogs, much to Alice's dismay. Edward and I shared the biggest funnel cake I had ever seen, and I snickered like a silly girl when he used his fingertip to plant a big, confectioner sugar dot on the tip of my nose. Rosalie continuously smacked at Emmett's big hand as he tried to snatch at handfuls of her cotton candy.

Edward and I dumped copious amounts of his whiskey into our cups of soda, and then sipped rapidly through the straws as he drug me toward the Ferris wheel.

"I haven't been on one of these in years…" I could remember the last time clearly in my mind, even though it had been a long time. Charlie had taken us to the carnival several weeks after my thirteenth birthday party, because I had had such a miserable time. I had been afraid of heights then.

"Well." Edward's lips were close to my ear, his hand resting lightly on my hip, causing a commotion inside me. "Shall we, then?"

My feet dangled from the little metal cart, and I peeked over the edge at the ground below. We laughed as Alice and Jasper tossed pieces of popcorn at us from above, laughed until our sides hurt. I could feel the warmth of Edward's body close to mine, and I wanted nothing more than to crawl inside that feeling and let it wrap around me.

We climbed higher and higher, leaving the world farther and farther below us as we swayed in the breeze. I leaned back and closed my eyes, feeling uneasy at looking down. Edward teased me, causing our seat to rock more than necessary. I griped the lap bar until my knuckles went white and my breath started coming in little gasps.

"Bella, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you upset. Calm down." Concern filled his voice, and I felt him move even closer to me. He reached over and tucked a strand of hair behind my ear, his fingers grazing the skin of my neck just enough to make me shudder. I turned my head just enough to meet his eyes and let out a breathy laugh.

"Sorry. Heights. Forgot I don't like them much." I began to relax again just as Edward reached over and laced our fingers together. His hand was warm on mine, and I suddenly felt tiny up next to him. And my heart fluttered at the sensation. My chest felt warm, and the flame spread to my cheeks. I was afraid to look at him then, afraid he would see my furious blush for him.

"Is this… okay?" he whispered.

It took me a moment to nod my head silently. Because it did feel okay. It felt natural. And I wanted it. I squeezed his fingers and could feel his hand tighten around mine just as I opened my eyes.

We were at the very top of the Ferris wheel.

"Don't look down, Bella." His breath brushed across my cheek, his hand came up to cup my face. I couldn't move. I couldn't think. I was completely frozen until he turned my face toward his. His lush green eyes were clear and unwavering in their strength. He smiled at me, that crooked smile that made my heart do funny things. And before I could snap out of it, he had brushed his lips gently against mine. Once, twice, three times. His lips made mine pliable, and I let them fall open just so, giving him the permission I wasn't sure I was ready to give. I could taste him then, all whisky and mint, and… sweet. His mouth was soft, cool, and when I started thinking I wanted it all over my body, I had to pull away.

It had only been a few seconds, but it felt like hours.

"What… what are you doing?" I asked softly, raking a hand through my hair in a fit of nerves. I felt as if I couldn't look at him, as if I didn't want to. The guilt swelled heavy in my heart, but I wanted to smile at the same time.

"I thought that was obvious," he replied, a softness lighting his face. He gripped my hand again, and a chill shook me at his touch.

"Edward, I don't. I can't." Sigh. "I don't feel available yet. I mean I'm not ready." And it was true. Up until that exact moment in time, Embry was the only guy I had ever kissed, ever touched, ever loved. And I knew I wasn't with him. Not now, maybe not ever again. I was here, with Edward. But my heart still hurt, still ached fierce and tight in my chest. It was a feeling that left me out of sorts and plagued my mind with confusion. I wanted to kiss Edward. I knew I did. But maybe not just yet…

Edward didn't even falter. In fact, he squeezed my hand again, and brought his hand to my face.

"Bella," he sighed. "I like you. A lot. And I think you might like me too?" I had to nod. It was involuntary. I didn't want to lie to him. And his verdant eyes drew my gaze and I could not look away.

"Okay. So. I'll wait. Until you're ready, can we be friends? I like hanging out with you, spending time with you. I don't mind giving you time to figure things out."

I felt relieved, but I also felt frustrated. I would need that time, to feel more separated from Embry, to feel more open to the idea of Edward and I having something. I didn't want to betray either of them, even though at the moment, it felt like the most beautiful betrayal ever.

"Thank you. Friends would be good." He smiled at me then, as if there had been no exchange between us. He didn't let go of my hand, and I leaned over to settle my head against his shoulder while the Ferris wheel made its final rotation.

"I think we need refills," Rosalie said, as Emmett hoisted her onto his back. We all regrouped at the back of the line, and started to make our way toward the concession stands when a shrill voice shouted Edward's name.

"Oh, damn," Jasper moaned, and it dawned on all of us that Tanya was in our midst. She sashayed in our direction, a scowl marring her features, and Edward gripped my hand tightly.

"What the hell is this? You with her now or something?" She tilted her head in my direction. Edward opened his mouth to speak, but she cut him off. "She your new charity case?"

Part of me felt smug. I mean, even though I had broken away quickly, Edward had just been kissing me. But at the same time, it was clear that Tanya had status among our peers. As she stood near us, flanked by several more beautiful blondes, I didn't feel intimidated. Just threatened.

Anger rose inside of me, inside of us all, but it was Alice who beat us to it.

"Excuse me! You don't own my brother, Tanya. He broke up with you; he is free to spend his time with whomever he chooses. And yes, he is here with Bella." She sneered her final words before flashing me a brilliant smile. "You know, you're lucky your coloring has always looked good with green."

Emmett coughed back a laugh behind his fist, and Rosalie had buried her face in his shoulder. Jasper draped his arm around Alice's tiny waist, a pleased expression on his face. Edward never took his hand from mine.

And as we walked away from Tanya, Alice looked as if she had just defeated the Wicked Witch of the West.

"That felt good," she sighed.

I linked my arm with hers and smiled, a silent thank you for her words of defense on my behalf.

Drinks refilled and drama behind us, we moved on to a dunking booth, where Edward was able to demonstrate his ability to throw a baseball at a small circle, sending the man on the seat plummeting into a tank of cold water.

He won me a giant giraffe.

Emmett and Rosalie ended up leaving shortly after, their groping displays becoming a little too public. Jasper and Alice continued to ride rides and play games, but the lights and the noise of the carnival were wearing on me.

"Let me take you on a walk." Edward said, his voice warm and eyes sparkling with the sheen of alcohol.

Stumbling through the sand, I laughed with Edward as he reached for my hand again, his fingers warm and his skin smooth. He pulled me toward another lifeguard tower, and we lowered ourselves to the steps, the wind tangling my hair and creeping through my sweater.

"I had a really good time tonight, Bella. I hope I didn't ruin anything earlier." Edward's voice was low, soothing, and I found myself closing my eyes as I drank in the sound of it.

"Edward, if you had ruined anything, I would've asked you to take me home. I had a good time tonight, too."

He smiled then, a happy, satisfied smile, and we sat in silence. There was nothing awkward about it. And when one of us did speak, we kept it light.

"What's your favorite color?" he asked quietly.

"Blue. What about you?"

"The same. Favorite Saturday morning cartoon?"

"Ninja Turtles," I giggled.

Finally, Jasper and Alice came to retrieve us, and we realized the carnival was closing down and that it was nearly one in the morning.

Jasper drove, having had the least to drink as it turned out. He still wore a goofy smile as he glanced at me over his shoulder while we all trudged through the sand.

I yawned lazily, and rested my cheek against the cool glass of the backseat window, as Edward pulled my feet into his lap with a grin.

"Bella, we're home." Alice gently shook my shoulders as the interior light beamed down into my face.

"Oh, I didn't mean to fall asleep…" Pulling myself upright, I climbed out and waved goodnight to my friends, the sleepy smile still in place.

"Pst! Bella!"

Edward was jogging gracefully across the street, his navy blue button up open to reveal the white shirt underneath. The moonlight made his skin like porcelain, and played its tricks off the different shades in his disheveled hair. The planes of his chest were taught beneath the fabric of his clothing, and I felt myself becoming nervous as he drew closer.

If he knew I was staring, he said nothing to embarrass me. Merely grabbed my hand with a smile and brought it to his lips.

Do not let your knees buckle, Bella.

I was certain he could see the crimson flaming my cheeks, but he simply laughed to himself and then kissed each of my cheeks.

"Goodnight," he said.