The timing on tonight's chapter is a little more, well, timely, right? No? Shit, I guess you're right. One of my New Year's resolutions was to actually post at least once a month. We shall see. Actually, I think that's the only resolution I made. Or remember.

Anyway, in case you've forgotten what happened in the last few chapters, there were some authorities asking about the nasty little black eye Bella received in the mosh pit. It seems some of these folks (okay, a lot of them) were suspicious that perhaps Edward was actually behind the injury. When Bella questions Edward about this, he finally opens up and spills about his past and, Bella being her typical "talk first, think later" self totally offends him.

As usual, 15 Step is intended for adult audiences only and I do not actually own any of the characters in this story. Yet, anyway.

Anything in italics is a song lyric and the title of each chapter is the title of a song. A list will be provided at the end.

Thanks for reading!



"What do you think about this one?" Alice shoved a bright purple top under my nose. It was fitted through the bust but flowed outward, gauzy and loose.

"This baby doll cut would be so cute on you!" Alice gushed, pressing it to my chest. I stared at it in disgust.

"No," I replied forcefully. Alice rolled her eyes but put the top back on the rack, her fingers skimming over multiple hangers, eyes analyzing every shirt on the rack with a great intensity that I couldn't even begin to understand. Nor did I want to.

"Oh!" she exclaimed as she extricated another shirt from the rack. It was black with small red buttons down the front, and looked impossibly tight.

"No." I crossed my arms over my chest and ignored the pleading in her dark eyes.

"Bella, come on." Impatience laced her tone. "There has to be something in this store you like."

"No." I pulled my cell phone out of my bag and checked the time. "Jesus, Alice, we've been here for two hours!"

"And we're not leaving until you pick out at least one outfit that doesn't involve jeans and a band t-shirt," she responded, glaring at my outfit like it personally offended her, which it probably did.

I resisted the urge to strangle her and sighed. It was two months after Edward had confessed his past to me and I was trying to make an effort to become a little more involved in his life, which was why I was standing in a clothing store being strong armed by Alice into buying an outfit she deemed suitable for public viewing. I knew his friends were important to him so when Alice asked me if I wanted to go to Port Angeles for a shopping trip, I agreed, albeit reluctantly.

Now I was wondering if I had made a mistake.

"I like jeans and t-shirts," I explained to Alice, keeping my voice neutral. "Why do I need something else?"

"What if you and Edward go out to a fancy dinner? Or a dance? Or maybe you just want to dress like a girl for once." She arched an eyebrow, inviting challenge.

"Where the fuck are we going to go out to a fancy dinner?" I responded loudly, exasperated. An elderly woman glanced over at us disapprovingly and I gave her the finger. "And I sure as shit don't dance and I don't care about ruffles and crap like that."

"Bella –"

I cut her off before she could even start, throwing my hands up as if they could deflect whatever rant Alice was about to begin. I had learned quickly that what Alice wanted, Alice got. "Fine, fine. I'll go look around."

Alice smirked. "Thank you."

Finally, I settled on a simple black dress that fell to the top of my knees and had three quarter sleeves. Three small black buttons trailed down the front and the skirt flared out slightly. Alice clucked her tongue in disapproval and tried to get me to buy a pair of kitten heels, only giving up when I threatened to stab her with a stiletto. I paid for my purchase and we hurried out of the store.

"That was fun!" Alice chirped when we got into her car and headed back to Forks. "I mean, you managed to pick out the most boring item in the store but it is a dress, so there's that. We'll find you a good style eventually."

"I have style," I retorted. "It's just not one you approve of." I ran a hand through my hair and slumped back into the passenger seat.

"Yeah, yeah," she grumbled back. "If you say so."

We pulled up to a red light and Alice snatched her phone from the console and began texting furiously. "Hey, you want to meet up with Jasper and Emmett and Rose now? Doctor and Mrs. Cullen are out of town this weekend so we'll have the whole house to ourselves. It's party time!"

I had forgotten that Edward mentioned his folks would be away and I smiled slightly. I didn't want to hang out with Jasper and Emmett, though. I wanted to hang out with Edward. Preferably alone and in his room.

Though I would never admit it to anyone, I simply couldn't wrap my head around the fact that Edward was a package deal. If I wanted to be with him, I had to accept the four other people he was closest with. It was hard sometimes, spending so much time with people who never quite treated me like I fit in; Alice was the only exception. Emmett didn't seem to care either way, Jasper barely acknowledged my existence, and Rosalie tolerated me with barely concealed disgust. No matter how many times Edward tried to assure me I wasn't, I knew I was still an outsider, the interloper. Hang on to the good days/ I can lean on my friends/ They help me going through hard times/ But I'm feeding the enemy/ I'm in league with the foe...

"Yeah, sure, that's cool." I absently looked out the window, startled to see two icy blue eyes staring right back at me from the car next to us. Squinting, I leaned forward until my nose was touching the glass, and it took a moment to recognize the man grinning at me. James.

He made a motion for me to roll down my window and I shook my head.

"Do it," he mouthed to me, stabbing his finger in my direction, his expression stormy. I glared at him and shook my head again.

"Hey, do you know that guy?" Alice asked, suddenly realizing that my attention was focused on someone other than her.

"He's nobody," I replied. "Don't worry about it."

Alice leaned toward me to get a better look and I tried to push her head away so she couldn't see James but it was useless. "He's kind of cute."

"He's also kind of psychotic," I said under my breath. The light turned green and I turned to look at Alice. "Put the pedal to the metal, peanut."

Alice grinned and the Porsche shot forward. We drove for about ten minutes, Alice chattering animatedly about some movie she and Jasper watched earlier in the week, when she turned off the road and pulled into a gas station.

"I just want to grab a water or something," she explained. "My throat is kind of dry."

"Maybe if you didn't talk so much your throat wouldn't bother you," I offered.

Alice pouted, hurt. "Nice, Bella."

"I was teasing you!" I backpedaled hastily, awkwardly patting her arm. "You know, a joke. Sarcasm."

"Oh." She looked thoughtful. "I can never really tell if you're joking or just being mean."

I sighed, feeling like an asshole, and unbuckled my seatbelt. "Sorry, Alice. You're not the only one." Woke up this morning and it seemed to me/ that every night turns out to be/ A little more like Bukowski/ And yeah, I know he's a pretty good read/ But God who'd wanna be?/ God who'd wanna be such an asshole?

The problem was, I wasn't really sorry, not exactly. Alice did talk too much and it was somewhat annoying. I mulled this over as I trailed her into the little mart that was connected to the gas station and began browsing the narrow aisles.

I never had close friends when I was growing up and I wasn't sure how to handle them now. I wasn't completely isolated—there were girls and guys that I was acquaintances with and we occasionally got together and did things but it wasn't often my phone rang. Now I was surrounded by a bunch of teenagers who essentially grew up together. I didn't get their inside jokes and they didn't get my sarcasm. There was just something that didn't mesh and I was sure that if I had never started dating Edward, the rest of them wouldn't have given me a second glance.

They were still Edward's friends, not mine. I knew Edward hoped I would blend in seamlessly with his crowd but it wasn't possible. There were times when I wanted to point out to him that it was highly likely they would all go their separate ways once they graduated high school, that it wasn't smart to put so much energy into people who were planning on leaving to go to away to college.

I didn't say anything though. I was afraid he would realize he was included in that group too. It also made me a hypocrite; each time I swore I was going to pull back, reserve my emotions and energy, I found myself seeking Edward even more, needing and wanting him with an urgency that frightened me. I think I need to breathe to let the door be open/ But the only one who is choking me is myself/ Why can't I see that you are the sun, the rain, the fuel I need inside/ why can't I see? I'll try...

I sighed and forced myself to push those thoughts out of my head. In the corner of the mini-mart there was a suspiciously old-looking Slurpee machine and I headed straight for it, envisioning sweet cherry-flavored goodness and freezy headaches. I was so enthralled that I didn't see James until he had my wrist in an iron grip.

"Where's your boy toy?" he asked, pulling me behind a shelf. He was in his typical attire-unassuming jeans and a t-shirt-and the muscles in his arm bulged as I balked, pulling against his grip.

"Let me go," I snarled back, trying to yank my arm away from him. He squeezed tighter.

"So, who's the rich bitch you're hanging out with?" James abandoned his first question for another one - he spoke casually, as if we were chatting about the weather and he was not holding my wrist in a death grip that was rapidly becoming painful.

"Look, what is your problem?" He squeezed harder and tears of pain came to my eyes. I swallowed a gasp and glanced around, looking for Alice, but I didn't see her. The cashier was snapping gum in her mouth and staring at her phone.

"Ah, ah," James said in a sing song voice. "We're going to chat. Don't you even think about yelling for help."

"I wasn't going to," I answered, my voice gravelly as my anger began to grow. "I'll fucking talk to you if stop trying to break my fucking wrist, you psychotic fucking asshole."

"Oooh, there she is!" James released me and I rubbed my arm, glaring balefully at him. "There's my tough old Bella."

His eyes flashed cold and he gave me a sinister smile.

"What do you want?" I crossed my arms over my chest and cautiously took one step back, leaning into my back leg, knowing that the stance would give me enough momentum to cause pain in case I would have to punch him.

"I thought that was obvious," James snorted. "You."

I laughed blackly. "I'm really nothing special, I hate to tell you."

"Oh, but you are, Bella." James moved toward me quickly and my back bumped against the wall. I was cornered; a lick of panic raced through me. "You intrigue me. What's a pretty little girl like you doing at hardcore shows, dancing with all the big boys? You, with your tough walk and talk—I knew you had a good story and I wanted to know what it was. I could tell there was something about you that I would like. That you and me, we had some shit in common, you know? You see, I thought you were something special." He suddenly scowled, dark and hateful.

"But then you dicked me over for some pretty little rich boy," he growled, his face so close to mine I could feel his hot breath against my cheek. Every fiber in my being screamed to kick him in his crotch but I couldn't. I just glowered at him, tense and coiled, waiting for the innate instinct of fight or flight to kick in. It was only a matter of time.

"When I saw you at that show," he continued, "I knew I had to have you. I knew you would be so much fun to play with. I could tell you would try anything, do anything, and I like the adventurous type. But then that dickhead ruined it all. And you lied to me, Bella." The words rang with an icy admonishment, a warning.

"What?" I croaked, confused.

"You told me he wasn't your boyfriend, Bella. Remember?" His hand snaked to my face, his fingertips stroking my cheek.

The moment his hand made connection with my flesh, I was brought back to my senses. I shot my arms out and pushed James away from me. He was so surprised he actually stumbled. Just as he was about to lunge for me, Alice popped up out of nowhere.

The exchange couldn't have taken more than a minute or two but both James and I were panting and glaring at each other like we had just gone twelve rounds in a boxing ring.

"What's going on?" Alice demanded, her normally cheerful tone taking on a dangerous undercurrent. In spite of her tiny stature, she skewered James with an intimidating glare.

"Nothing," I muttered, grabbing her by the arm. "Let's go. Now."

"I have to pay," she started to protest but the look on my face silenced her. She glanced back at James, who was still standing there, staring daggers at us


"Fuck it." Alice dumped the bottle of water and candy she was carrying on the nearest shelf and looked up at me, her expression more curious than afraid.

We hurried out the front door but before she made it all the way outside, Alice stopped and yelled at the cashier, "hey, I think there is some asshole trying to steal shit from the back of the store!"

"Alice!" I hissed as I propelled her toward her car. "Don't antagonize the crazy people!"

Neither of us spoke until we were back on the highway, speeding toward Forks. Alice's hands tightened and rubbed at the steering wheel and I knew she wanted to ask me a hundred questions but she was a quick learner and knew that I wouldn't talk until I was ready.

It took ten minutes for me to finally choke out three simple words. "Don't tell Edward," I said. There was no sense in hoping she would just agree without asking any questions.

"Who was that guy?" Alice shot back, flicking her gaze over to me. "He was pissed."

"He's nobody. Listen, promise me you won't tell Edward. Or anyone for that matter." I twisted in my seat so I could face Alice, who was chewing absently on her lip, looking thoughtful. I didn't like when Alice was thoughtful; she was too perceptive for her own good sometimes.

"That one day, a few months ago when Edward got all mad because you were going to a show by yourself," she began slowly, realization dawning. "It was because of that guy, wasn't it?"

"Something like that," I muttered as I narrowed my eyes at Alice, my voice harsh. "Alice, promise me you won't tell Edward," I repeated.

Alice waved a dismissive hand. "Fine, I won't tell Edward. He worries about too much shit, anyway. I mean, the guy didn't touch you or anything, did he? Did he threaten you?"

"No," I lied, turning to look out the window. "He didn't touch me and he didn't threaten me. He's just wanted to talk, that's all."

Alice didn't look convinced but before she could open her mouth I tried to change the subject.

"Did you call Jasper and let him know we're on our way?" I asked innocently. At the sound of his name, Alice's face lit up and she began her incessant chatter, the words tumbling over each other in their haste to leave her mouth. I nodded and made noises when appropriate but otherwise tuned her out, my gaze falling to my wrist, which was beginning to show faint signs of bruising. I hoped I would not be seeing James any time soon.

A few hours later I found myself lounging in the overstuffed chair in Edward's room, flipping through a music magazine. Laughter from downstairs floated occasionally up to us and Edward sat at his desk, filling out a college application - New York University. I tried not to think closely about it. A rare, bright sun beamed through the window, which had been flung open to allow a light breeze to come through. Summer was just around the corner. School would be out soon and next year we would graduate.

"Don't you have any applications you need to fill out?" he asked.

I shrugged. "Not really. I was thinking about going down to the Thriftway to see if they have any positions available." I wrinkled my nose in distaste. "Not that I really want to be a cashier or anything. Maybe I could go to Newton's Sporting—"

"I meant for college," Edward interrupted me dryly. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath before I answered him.

"I'm pretty sure Renee didn't start a college fund for me and my grades are shit. Maybe I'll do community college or something. I need to start saving for an apartment."

"Colleges have dorms, you know."

"And colleges cost a shitload of money." I tossed the magazine aside and twisted, tucking my legs under me so I could look at Edward. "College isn't a big deal. A job is."

Edward rolled his eyes. "I hate to break this to you, but most jobs require a college degree. So, yes, college is a big deal."

I glared at Edward. "I don't want to talk about this anymore," I told him stubbornly as I leaned over and retrieved my abandoned magazine. "Drop it."

"Maybe your father could help." He said it so softly I almost didn't hear it.

"Charlie?" I responded dubiously. "Charlie doesn't have any money laying around for me. I'm lucky he even took me in to begin with." I already owed Charlie more than I ever could repay and there was no way I was going to increase that debt by asking for money for college.

"I meant your birth father."

Edward's words hovered warily in the air and he looked apprehensive. He'd been pushing me about information regarding my birth father lately. I had none to give.

"The only thing that man gave me was some of his DNA, and even then he didn't want to. It was an accident," I snapped. "I highly doubt he's going to come out of nowhere and offer me money for college. And I wouldn't take it, anyway. He can go suck a dick."

Edward sighed and stood. He crossed over to me and knelt down in front of me, cupping my face in his hands as he tried to kiss away my frown. The topic of college was a constant one these days and I hated it. I wished I never had to discuss it because I knew, no matter what anyone else said, I would not be going. Edward would go to some fancy, expensive college and become a doctor or a lawyer while I would spend the rest of my life at a series of dead-end jobs, living paycheck to paycheck. It was a reality that none of my peers seemed to have considered. They chattered on about becoming executives and CEOs; not one of them realized that most people were the drones and pawns—not the kings and queens—of the corporation. I saw the way adults trudged off to their jobs every morning and had no illusions about adulthood, which was why I couldn't really think about it without a large degree of apprehension. So don't leave me behind/ For I'm lost among my kind/ And now you are broken/ I am less...

"Don't be upset," he sighed, his lips ghosting across my cheek.

"I'm not." I tried not to pout and failed. Unfurling my legs, I straddled Edward's body and wrapped my arms around him as he leaned his head against my shoulder. We sat in silence and I breathed in Edward's woodsy scent, nuzzling my chin against his disheveled bronzed locks. Slowly, he pulled back and gathered my hands in his.

"Hey, do you want –" he stopped abruptly. "What the hell happened to your wrist?"

I was staring at the back of his head and couldn't see his expression but, judging by the cold tinge in his voice, he wasn't very happy.

"Huh," I murmured as I tried to untangle my fingers from him. Edward's grip only tightened. "I must have banged it on something."

"On what?" he challenged, lifting his head, his eyes piercing mine, expression hard.

"Who the hell knows, Edward," I replied, exasperated. "You know what a fucking klutz I am."

His expression softened and he lightly kissed the bruise James had made.

"Do you want to go to Port Angeles tomorrow and see a movie?" he asked, bruises and college talks apparently forgotten. "I think Face Punch is still playing and I figured you'd like that." He smirked. "Since you're all about punching people in the face."

"Hardy har," I groused, pushing him away jokingly. "I'd love to but Charlie has been pestering me to go to La Push with him. I figure I should play nice for once and do what he asks."

Edward chuckled. "You? Playing nice? Forks is making you soft, Bella," he teased. "Just don't fall in the ocean."

"I'll stay far away," I promised, smiling lightly. "Listen, I better head out. You have college applications to fill out and I have homework I should make a pathetic attempt at completing." I could feel the anxiety creeping into my voice and I needed to leave before Edward realized that I was upset and hiding something from him.

"Oh." He couldn't keep the disappointment out of his voice and I felt a twinge of remorse. Without thinking, I grabbed him forcefully, our lips meeting almost violently before I released him.

"I promise I will see you on Sunday," I told him as I pushed to my feet and grabbed my backpack from where it had been lying haphazardly on the floor.

"Sure," he responded with a sigh. "Call me later?"

"Of course." I blew him a kiss. "Later."

I hurried to my truck and climbed in, slamming the door with more force than was necessary and gripped the steering wheel tightly. I felt bad about lying to Edward about the bruise on my wrist and about going to La Push. Charlie had asked me if I wanted to accompany him but I turned him down, as I always did. I just didn't want to go to Port Angeles and risk running into James with Edward at my side.

It wasn't that I thought Edward couldn't take care of himself; I knew he was more than capable. After my conversation with James in the convenience store, I realized that he was solely my problem and I couldn't let Edward be involved any more than he already was. It would be unfair to allow the bullshit in my life to affect him. I would handle it on my own because I would never be able to forgive myself if something happened to Edward.

Guiding my truck with hand, I wrestled my iPod out of my backpack and plugged the earbuds into my ears, hoping the music would distract me.

people say you're strange but I don't buy a word of it

people say stay away from her cause she's a sinking ship

They said I'm wrong - that my brain operates like a burning bridge

I say feed the flames and watch them run away...

It didn't work. Another thought was slowly worming it's way from the dark recesses of my brain. It was a thought that I tried so hard to keep away from the forefront of my mind, because I didn't want to think about it. I didn't want to analyze it, mull it over or act on it. But the talk of colleges, bruises and absentee parents- not to mention a crazy man who was obsessed with me for no apparent reason- were pushing that thought, that niggling little notion, to the spotlight in my brain and I wouldn't be able to ignore it much longer.

I was no good for Edward Cullen.


10 lb. Moustache - Man Man

Lyrics (in order)

Phoenix - If Ever I Feel Better

Modest Mouse - Bukowski

Refused - Sunflower Princess

A.A. Bondy -World Without End

Man Man - 10 lb. Moustache

Thanks for reading and please don't hate me for this chapter. kthxbye.

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