"~ Hate leaves ugly scars, love leaves beautiful ones. ~"
Mignon McLaughlin


Ragweeds.
Chapter Eight : Small Words, Giant Declarations.
Energy changes between Bella and Edward as Edward is the first to recognize that big changes are taking place, and neither has control over them.

Special Shout-Out's:
-- To my faithful readers/reviewers/twilighters/facebookers/lexiconers....
thank you so fucking much. You keep me standing. You know the many reasons why.
-- To my beta Caryn (Jazz Girl)... thank you for keeping me together. Thank you for many other unmentionables. You know why too.
Disclaimer: I own nothing that is Twilight or Stephenie Meyer related. (But I busted my ass to write this story. Do not take what is not yours.)


" Is this the end of the moment, or just a beautiful unfolding,
of a love that will never be, or maybe... be?
Everything that I never thought could happen, or ever come to pass,
and I wonder if maybe, maybe I could be all you ever dreamed?
Cause you are:
Beautiful inside, so lovely and I can't see why I'd do anything without you, you are...
And when I'm not with you, I know that it's true:
That I'd rather be anywhere but here without you."

~ Safetysuit, "Anywhere But Here"


Chapter Eight : Small Words, Giant Declarations

BellaPOV

"Hey, pretty girl."

I smiled down at his glowing face and watched, completely stunned, as hot air from my lungs floated into the midnight on a faint silver cloud. I had exhaled. At last, I could breathe, because he was here, and he was taking me with him, away from this desolate blackness that threatened to cave in around me. My angel. My savior. My only friend. All at once, I wasn't the broken girl in the corner of the library at The Volturi Center, praying that Sheena and her friends would finally leave me alone. I wasn't the scared girl who shivered in her bed, having nightmares of her dead mother and screaming into the night about all the things I could have done better. I wasn't the pitiful girl waiting by the phone for a call from Tom or my friends back home that never came. I was just Bella again. And I could breathe.

"What took you so long?" I asked quietly with a broad smile. His hands extended and met my hips and he slowly pulled me down from the windowsill, careful not to bump my head on the glass.

"I'm sorry," he muttered, tossing what I recognized to be a new jacket around my shoulders. "We had car trouble."

"We?"

"Come on," he whispered, quietly closing the window behind me. "You'll see."

Hand in hand, we ran across the damp yard to the dark pavement. A car waited for us around the corner. I halted when I saw a girl sitting in the open driver's side door and two boys leaning against the rusting car, smoking cigarettes and looking bored. The girl was beautiful, like someone I used to watch on the Miss Teen pageants. Edward squeezed my hand reassuringly, bringing me back. "Bella, this is Jacob, Jasper, and Naomi. This is Naomi's car. She helped us sneak out after ours broke down twenty minutes into the trip."

"You left your car?" I asked incredulously.

He grinned and gave a shrug. A tall, skinny blonde boy with twisty curls clarified. "It was a piece of shit anyway. We'll be getting a new one soon." He extended his hand. "Pleasure to meet you. I'm Jasper." I gave a shy smile, too mesmerized by his hair and thick southern accent.

The shorter boy next to him with bulging biceps and spiky black hair shook my hand next. "What's up Bella? I'm Jake." Again, all I could do was smile. Finally, the girl, who looked like the beautiful next door neighbor everyone fell in love with in the movies, bounced out of the driver's seat and pulled me into a quick hug.

"Oh, it's so nice to finally meet you!" she laughed, rubbing my back before she released me. "I've heard so much about you. Edward's gone on, non-stop. Bella this. Bella that. Bella, Bella, Bella. You'd be surprised how much he can ta-"

"Oh, okay," Edward cut her off with a dismissive glance. He smiled at me and gave a nervous chuckle. "We don't need to... get into that... now." Curious, I gave a nod, but wondered what she was going to say. I reserved my curiosity for later. "Come on," he whispered with a wink. "After you." I climbed into the back of the car after Jasper, while Jake sat in the passenger seat beside Naomi. I couldn't help but size her up as she turned the ignition and put the car in drive. I didn't tell her, but I knew -- what I felt to be too much -- about her from Edward's letters. I realized it wasn't fair to feel so jealous. But deep down, I couldn't help it. Edward was my friend.

The ride back was spent half in silence and half immersed in loud rock music, with Jasper and Jacob trying to scream the lyrics over Naomi's jokes and laughter. Edward and I kept quiet and pressed tight against each other in the tiny backseat of the old Audi. Feeling his soothing breath on my face, I realized how badly I needed to crash, and I grew increasingly frustrated because of my drooping eyelids. I didn't have time to sleep. I didn't want to waste a moment.

"It's okay," Edward whispered, tapping my leg with his warm right hand. "I'll wake you when we get there."

"I don't need to sleep," I argued, doing my best to not yawn in front of him.

"Don't lie to me," he retorted.

With a frown, I stared at his hand, so, so warm and resting on my leg. I felt the shiver of blood inside my body from the connection. I prayed he wouldn't move it. Before I knew it, my head was on his shoulder, and I had drifted away to a better place, one where time didn't exist and Edward wasn't going anywhere.

~*~

When I woke up, I wasn't in the backseat of Naomi's car. I was in a bed, a gigantic bed, with soft white sheets that smelled of hibiscus and fabric softener. I was in a strange bed, not in a car, not at The Volt, and Edward didn't wake me up like he said he would. When I stared up at the vaulted log ceiling and reality finally set in, I gasped and sat up. I hadn't slept in weeks and I thought about how much it always felt like the sky was the ground the ground was the sky. Somehow, it didn't feel like that now. My heart sped erratically as I blinked around the dim room, and it didn't slow until my eyes found a silhouetted figure sitting on the edge of the bed.

Trembling, I slid back until my shoulders hit the headboard. With the combination of lack of sleep, harassment at The Volturi Center, and bad hallucinations of my mother, sometimes I lost track of where my mind was. "E-Edward," I hissed, trying to calm my breathing. "Is that you?" It took a second for my eyes to adjust. When they did, and the room lightened a little, they fixed on the shape of Edward holding something in his hand. Something that was mine that he shouldn't see. I frowned and looked down to the sheets. "You didn't wake me," I said carefully.

"Why didn't you tell me about this, Bella?" Edward's voice was hoarse and dry.

I stole a glance at the clock. I'd been asleep for hours. I'd lost time with him and was pissed at myself because of it. "I... um... didn't want to bother you. You seemed so relaxed here. It's not important," I shrugged.

Edward scoffed, turning to wave the piece of paper at me. "Why would you think this wasn't important?"

"Why does it matter?" I asked. "You're not there anymore. You shouldn't be concerned with what's going on with me."

"You're my friend, Bella," Edward argued. "This is important. If these girls are harassing you this horribly, drawing pictures of you hanging from the fucking ceiling with wrists dripping, shoving shit like this in your backpack for you to find later when you're alone and vulnerable? Then, yes, I'd say this is important."

I reached out and yanked the paper from his hands. "It's nothing."

Edward shot off the bed, growling, and began to pace around the room. "God, why do you do this? Why do you say that?! This isn't nothing! You can't fucking shrug shit like this off, Bella!"

"Yo, Edward," Jasper's voice sounded before the door opened softly. He stumbled in, drunk, as a female voice snickered in the background. "Hey buddy, I realize your girlfriend is here and you're both excited and dealing with... drama. But you've gotta keep your voice down, because if I can hear you while I'm... noisily occupied... then Billy can hear you from across the house. Capiche?"

Edward nodded bitterly toward the ground. Jasper closed the door without another word. Edward's emerald eyes met mine again, but I looked away. I felt ashamed. I didn't want to upset him. The air between us grew thicker.

Calmly, he walked around the side of the bed and sat close to where I was. "I'm sorry, Bella," he exhaled. "I just... I feel protective of you, somehow." He frowned and fiddled with the watch around his wrist. Another new part of him. "Does that make sense?" he whispered to me. "That I feel that way toward you?"

Swallowing thickly, I nodded and forced myself to finally look at him. "Yeah," I answered gingerly. "It does."

"Really?"

"Mmhmm," I said. "When, uh, you... first told me about Naomi, in your letters, I... pretty much wanted to strangle her."

Edward laughed softly. "Why? She's not like those girls. She's nice."

"Exactly," I answered, too quickly. "She is nice. And she's sickly sweet. She's young, and exotic, and available, and she's here, around you, being your friend, someone who's there for you, who you can talk to on a daily basis and laugh at each other's jokes, and be around when you need a shoulder, and... I'm not."

"I'm not interested in Naomi, Bella."

"But she's interested in you, Edward."

Edward frowned and looked down at his hands. He couldn't deny that fact, and I'd be upset with him if he tried to. I didn't blame Naomi for liking Edward. I blamed myself for not wanting her to, for not wanting him to be happy if she were the one making him that way.

With a defeated shrug, I sighed and covered his wrist with my hand. "It's okay," I mumbled, giving an awful forced smile. "I know we're trying to be friends and that we only met because we were both in a shitty situation. Any other circumstance beside that and we probably wouldn't have ever spoken. If my mom were alive and if your mom hadn't..." I paused that part. "If I had met you back before things went wrong, I doubt I would have spoken to you. It's hard for me to say that. But back then, I was naive and I didn't fully understand anything about the darkness that could exist in this wo-"

Edward cut me off with a wave of his free hand and a light scoff. "I understand," he said softly. He wouldn't look at me and it hurt to lose that connection. Even though we were touching, it wasn't enough. I couldn't take the pain from him. The pain of the truth.

"You do?" I asked with a defiant frown.

"Yeah. You had everything then, and you lost it all. But before that, you would've had no need to speak to someone like me. Someone who wore the same clothes, who smelled, who had bruises and looked homeless, scrounging for food in school trash cans-"

I shook my head quickly, wishing he would have missed my point, "Like I said, I was naive and stupid."

"No," he argued. "You were protected. Your mother did a good job raising you, Bella. She kept you safe."

"My mother gave up!" I snapped, pulling my gloved hand away from his skin. I didn't know where the anger came from, but it came in a tidal wave, engulfing me. "She gave up on me! She bailed out!"

"And my father beat the hell out of my mother and I for years, and because of that, she murdered him," he argued without missing a beat. "That doesn't change the fact that we were both fucked over, Bella, and we didn't deserve any of-"

"But we have to deal with it!"

He snatched the paper back from my hands, unfolded it, and tossed it, open, on my lap. "Like you're dealing with that?"

Shivering, I stared into his dark eyes, and shook my head. My stomach churned. I didn't like confrontation. I was so scared I was going to lose him, my only friend, or another part of myself. I barely had anything left. "I'm dealing the best way I can," I said hoarsely. "What did you expect me to do? Threaten them? Fight back? Throw a punch?"

"I would have," he sneered at me. "It's better than taking it and taking it and taking it until you're nothing but trampled mud on the soles of their shoes."

"Yeah, well I'm not you."

Edward nodded and took a deep breath. "I know," he said after a few deafening moments of silence. "That's why you need me."

I steadied myself, trying hard to catch my breath. His words stunned me.

I couldn't argue with that anymore than he could argue about Naomi.

So I shrugged and just listened to the silence.


EdwardPOV

Fall came and went in the blink of the eye and, before we knew it, winter hit like a lightening bolt. The end of November was filled with early mornings decorated in frosted windshields and sparkling white fields of ice across the pavement. Night became bitter, the air frozen and hard to breathe. You couldn't stand outside for long without feeling dizzy. Billy and I grew much closer than I figured we would be and, by my fourth week at his house, I was laughing on a regular basis. The emotions were foreign and sometimes I'd recognize how rare it was, laughing. But I did my best to shrug it off. I told myself that I deserved to be happy, deserved to be given a chance to turn things around.

Jasper, Jake, and I grew extremely close. We bonded on the unoriginal things most guys do -- sports, school, girls. But there was also a separate individual connection with each of them. I went to Jasper if I was struggling with life problems, especially my mother's court trial. He seemed to be able to relate to anything I was going through, having a dark past of his own. He'd console without bringing me down. He'd cheer me up when I needed it. I went to Jacob if I was dealing with separation anxiety with Bella. He may have been a lot younger than Jasper and I, but he knew more about girls than anyone I knew. He knew the right things for me to tell Bella in my letters, things to reassure her that I was thinking about her and wanting the best for her. I didn't want Bella to go a day without receiving a letter from me and I made it a point to send one every morning by seven am. Billy never asked me about my letters, given or received, from my mother or Bella, and I respected for him for that. He knew what his role was in my life. He was there to provide shelter, advice, and support. He wasn't there to be a spy, and my personal life was none of his business.

When Bella came over, we didn't refer to her as "Bella" around Billy, because I was certain that he'd recognize the name from the letters and catch on to what was going on. So, during the one time Jasper introduced her to him, he called her 'B', which Billy mistook as "Vee" because Jasper had gum in his mouth at the time. We let it go. Bella didn't mind.

A few days after Bella's first visit, Billy introduced me to his grand piano. The only time I'd seen a musical instrument was on television. I'd never felt mesmerized by an inanimate object before, as possessions were something I never had the liberty of keeping. But for the first time in my life, I fell in love. I didn't know how to play the thing and for days I wouldn't touch it because I didn't want to damage it. It took a few days of talking me down and calming me before Billy introduced me to the keys. And I felt my life slowly change for the better. I found another piece of me in the music.

Bella and I developed a well crafted plan to sneak her out three nights a week and bring her home with me. We made sure to rotate the days, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday on one week and then Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday the next, back and forth so no one caught on. She couldn't sleep at The Volturi Center. It bothered me when she was harassed and I couldn't do anything about it. She knew what time to meet me, where to stand at, what to bring. She knew what to say if someone caught her outside, and she knew how long to give me before she went back in and called it a failed night (which only happened once, when the car wouldn't start). Every night I saw her, I noticed her smile grow a little wider. She appeared rested. Some days, she even looked…at peace. Those were two core necessities I had to make sure she had. I did everything in my power to give them to her.

Jasper and Jacob did their best to help me out. When they rode with me, they didn't complain about the gas money we spent. Their teasing about me being pussy-whipped fell off drastically. No one ever made fun of her, even jokingly, because they knew better. Every drive to get her, I was in a great mood. Every drive to take her back, I was silent. They'd become aware of both states of mind and let me be me, regardless. I grew to love them as my brothers, and Billy as my mentor. Even Laurent, Billy's caretaker, noticed a change in me, in my behavior. He'd greet me with an encouraging smile, asking me how I'd been. I never had anyone care about me, ask questions about me before that.. For the first time in the longest time, I felt a sense of belonging.

But new chances came with new experiences, and not all of them were great ones. In the four weeks I'd been at Billy's, I changed in other ways, too. I went a little wild. I started back to school and to say that it was different would mean an improvement, and that wasn't necessarily the case. Sure, I had new clothes and two boys I could count on to be there for me if things got rough. But the thing was, things didn't really get rough, and that made me more uncomfortable. Not having everyone ignore me. Not being used to questions about my life, questions I didn't want to answer truthfully and answers I had to make up so I could continue to fit in. I wasn't used to girls looking at me without being disgusted. And I most certainly, certainly, wasn't used to the peer pressure that came along with the package.

The first time I drank was the night of the bonfire, at my "introductory party". And, after I realized how easy it could be to forget things while intoxicated, the more I made it a minimal habit. I didn't go crazy or anything when I drank, but it was easier to smile and relax my muscles when I had a couple of beers in my stomach. Jasper was the first to introduce me to marijuana a week and a half later, something I never thought I'd try. I'd have lost the swim team if I'd gotten caught. To my surprise, I ended up enjoying the numbing feeling, the way everything got a little brighter, a little funnier, or a little better. Over the weeks, Jacob introduced me to countless girls. It seemed the boy had an endless supply. I never took part in the activities going on in their rooms, never brought any girls back to my room besides Bella and Naomi. Naomi would listen to old records with me and we'd laugh about things Jasper or Jacob or I had done that day. We'd talk about her father. When Bella came, it was different. More balanced, but thickened. Every cell in my body felt alive whenever she'd touch me, even if it was the simplest hug hello or goodbye.

But then, the hormones inside my sixteen year old body settled in strong. The moment I realized things could get tricky, I did a few extra chores around the house and earned enough money from Billy to buy a black leather couch to put in my room. Before, Bella would sleep in my bed and I would sleep on the floor. But after a few weeks of that, when I lay there, unable to sleep, and thought about the color of her skin or how her long hair splayed across my pillow, I realized I wanted to be in the bed with her. And that wasn't an idea either of us should be toying with, especially at our age, with the endless complications in our lives. I knew I had to think responsibly while I could, when I was outside of that room. "Why do you need a couch?" Billy asked with a sly grin. "You have a perfectly new king-size bed in there."

"Uh... for gaming," I answered with a shrug. "Jasper moved the PS3 into my room and... I like to sit up when I play, instead of laying flat on my back. It's... sort of uncomfortable." I never imagined he'd buy it so quickly, but he did. That was the thing I liked most about Billy. He recognized that we weren't children, and let us have our space, as long as we did what we were told around the house and stayed out of trouble. The chores were no problem, of course. I was used to them. But the staying out of trouble part? If he only knew the half of it...

One day, when the crisp air gave way and the snow dissolved, Jasper and I bundled up and met some of his friends at a local skate park. Neither of us took up the sport, but it was fun to sit under one of the half-pipes, smoke a few joints, eat spicy Cheetos, and talk about random things. "Ever done hard drugs?" he asked, taking a sip of his Cherry Coke.

"You know I haven't," I answered after taking a long hit. "And I have no desire to either."

"None at all?"

"Not right now."

"Well that's a not a definite 'no', and I can work with that." Jasper chuckled. With a deep sigh, he removed his beanie and scratched the top of his head. "Dude," he said calmly, "we've got to break some of these virgin habits you're stuck in. You need to live a little."

"Maybe I'm fine being a virgin," I argued.

Jasper's laughter caught the attention of a few of his friends. He stole the joint back. "No sixteen year old boy is really fine with being a virgin anything. Especially when all of his friends aren't. That's just the shit you say to make it look like you're not a reject for not getting any or doing anything."

"The only friends I give a shit about around here are you and Jake. I don't care what people in school think."

"Well, then that's two friends who know what it's like to be surrounded by the glory of pussy and ecstasy, my man."

I pondered for a moment, watching Jacob approach a group of guys, now that his tutoring session was over. "Jake is what? Bareley fifteen? I mean, doesn't he think that's a little young to be-"

"Dude, were you jerking it at fifteen?"

I looked over at him and rolled my eyes.

"Exactly," he grinned mischievously. "I'm sure our little boy Jacob over there figured out that it was better and much easier to let someone do the work for you."

"I've got enough going on in my life without getting involved in any of that right now." I said dismally. "My mother's court date is coming up, her lawyers are constantly hounding me, I'm dealing with social workers and therapists and adjustments and Bella's living sit-"

"Exactly! Which is why you seriously need to take a load off. Too much stress and shit will make your brain implode."

I gave a long sigh and watched as his friend Johnny did a kick-flip off of a short rail, landing it perfectly.

"Ask you a question?" he said after a few moments.

"Sure."

Jasper passed the joint back to me. "What's the deal with you and Bella?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well... I'm sure she's stressed out too... and vulnerable... and ripening," he laughed, using his hands to trace a curvy form in front of him. I shot him a warning look. He dropped his hands, "I don't mean no disrespect. I know you care about her and want to help her out of the jam she's in. And I'm sure that, you know, she considers you this like, Adonis or some shit, being there for her all the time and writing romantic poetry or whatever the fuck you do in those letters you send, being over here every other night and climbing into your warm bed-"

"It's not like that with her. You don't know what you're talking about," I sneered at him.

"Oh I don't?"

"No."

"Then tell me, dear Edward, why is it that you purchased a couch? Why not sleep in the bed with her, keep her warm and make her feel safe? Wasn't that what you were telling me you did with her a while back on the beach?" Hesitantly, I tried to think of a good answer, but wasn't quick enough. Jasper saw right through me. "Exactly," he chuckled. "And that's the thing about male hormones, man. Once they show up and that realization settles in... the, 'hey, she's pretty fucking hot, and I can't believe I'm thinking about her naked right now but I am and it's awesome', it doesn't ever go away. It's better to fuck than be fucked. Trust me. I know."

I could tell him that Bella didn't need me to complicate her life. That I had nothing to offer her. That I didn't see her that way. But I decided against it. "Jazz, it's no wonder you don't have a girlfriend."

"I did once," he shrugged. "And it was great, and I thought I really cared about her. But then she was forced to move away when her father caught me in her pretty pink bedroom with my hand up her shirt. We lost contact."

"Never tried to look for her again?"

Jasper said, "If it's meant to be, it'll happen."

~*~

I didn't tell Jasper, but his comments really bothered me. Confused me. Woke me up a little. If it's meant to be, it'll happen. Did that mean I had no control over the choice? Did I truthfully want control?

The last thing I needed was to think about Bella, my only real friend, in that sort of way. That's why I was taking precautions. I wasn't naive enough to think that feelings may never deepen between us. We'd been around each other, we knew each other's fears, we shared our secrets. Walls crumble between us that were built to keep everyone else out, and to think that we wouldn't become vulnerable around each other was simply ridiculous. But the more it crossed my mind, the more I agonized over it.

When Bella came that following Saturday, I made sure to keep distance between us. I could tell that it was bothering her, that I was giving her the wrong impression. "You're not saying much," Bella mumbled as she handed me the next plate to rinse. I'd told her earlier that she didn't have to help me with my chores, but she argued that Billy had gone to bed early and she didn't want to be in my room without me while I cleaned, so I didn't fight about it. I shrugged and turned on the water.

"I have things on my mind," I said softly, hoping she'd let it go. Of course, that'd be too easy.

"Like what?" she pushed on, pausing before she handed me the next dish. My opened palmed lingered as I met her eyes. She seemed desperate for this information. She had no idea what she was asking for.

I quickly looked away. "Uhhh, just... things with my mom's trial, really."

Bella exhaled. "Edward, why do you lie to me?"

"What makes you think I'm lying, Bella?"

"Because, when you lie, you say 'really'. Like, 'I'm fine, really', or something. I see you. I've come to know you..." Her strong voice swiftly went soft again. Too soft. She was upset. "Why don't you just tell me what's bothering you?"

"I think I'll let it resolve itself, " I said dismally. "There's no need to discuss every little thing that bothers me whenever it bothers me, or I'd never shut up."

Bella's brows furrowed as she finally handed me the next plate and sighed. "Maybe that's your problem," she retorted.

"What's my problem?"

"You, being so uptight about things. Maybe if you spoke about them, you could loosen up."

"Bella," I smiled to keep my anger in check and shook my head before placing the plate into the dish drainer. "No offense here, but you're really not one to be lecturing me over talking about things."

"I'm just trying to find out what's wrong with you, Edward. That's what friends do."

"And friends also know when to mind their own business and... Let. Things. Go." I held her gaze intently on the last three words, hoping she'd get the message.

Immediately the dish she was washing dropped into the sink. Bella pushed down the nozzle and hastily tossed the washcloth in the water,splattering me with suds and scalding hot water. Wiping her soaked hands on her jeans, she stormed away from the kitchen without so much as a glance over her shoulder. "Where are you going?" I called after her. She responded by telling me to go to hell. Then and there, I realized how much I hated myself for realizing what hormones could do to you and I hated Jasper for putting ideas into my head because of it. Why did things have to constantly change? Why couldn't the earth stand still?

With a defeated sigh, I finished the dishes as quickly as I could and went to go find her. Maybe I would try to apologize, though I wasn't certain I should be apologizing. I still needed to make it right. When I entered my room, now cold and charged with the static frustration between us, I found that she was hastily shoving the few things she'd brought into her backpack. My heart jolted in my chest. What was she doing? "What are you doing?" I asked, closing the door behind me. I tried to keep myself in check, tried not to panic.

"I'm not going to stay here if I feel like I'm not welcome. You're being a jerk. Maybe coming here all the time is a bad idea."

I sighed heavily. "Bella," I whispered, concentrating to keep my voice low. Billy was in his room. "We're not going to get along every damn day. Things like this are going to happen, but you were invading my priva-"

"I was not!" she cut me off, stomping around the room to look for her shoes. She slid her feet into them without putting on socks or untying the laces. "I was trying to get you to talk to me! You've been quiet all damn night!" Her voice was already at a normal volume and I was worried it would keep going up. " You've been distant, and cold, and short-tempered, and that's not you, and this is the first night that you've made me uncomfortable around you, and I hate feeling like that, so I'm going to take myself out of the equation."

"I think you're being ridiculous," I scoffed.

"How am I being ridiculous?!" she retorted, not missing a beat.

"Shhhh, please keep your voice down. You know what could happen…"

Her look clearly told me she didn't give a rat's ass if Billy found her or not. Plus, she was frustrated because she couldn't figure out how she was holding her jacket, so she fumbled with it and then slammed it down on top of her bag when it wouldn't cooperate with her. "Hmm? Tell me, Edward, how am I being ridiculous? Because I don't want to fight with you? Because you're being an asshole? Because I'm uncomfor-"

"Why can't you just let it go?" I hissed.

"Because I have enough things I've let go of in my life! But you, y-you were supposed to be different, okay?" she said, hastily pacing the room in front of me. "You were supposed to be my solid ground, and I am supposed to be yours." Her voice went quiet again, but I hated it because it was a defeated quiet. "I want to be yours. But suddenly, out of no where, you're shutting me out. Like everyone else. In your last letter, it was, 'Oh I can't wait to see you, I have so much to show you, I miss having you around'. And then I get here and suddenly you've turned into a goddamned mute!"

Like that, the fire was back again. "I may be young and I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but I know when someone is avoiding me and being crass, and you, Edward, are being really fucking crass." She paused to glare at me. Lingered there. Now I was the uncomfortable one. "You know," she concluded, "if I wanted someone to be cold and distant to me, I would've just stayed where I was and not risked getting caught and traveling two hours in crowded car just to be with you."

As she stared, I focused on two things she'd said, over and over again, making things more complicated: I want to be yours and just to be with you.

I shook my head, trying to clear those thoughts. This could get out of hand. I fought the urge to scream. "Bella," I whispered, partly because of Billy and partly because I was fighting for control, "please don't push this," I begged, taking a small step closer. "Just... let it go."

"I told you," she hissed at me. "I've let go and lost enough. If you're feeling different about me, if you're feeling like I'm pressuring you to be my friend, or that you don't want to be my friend, or that you're only being my friend because you feel obligated-"

"God," I growled angrily, before I resumed my pacing. "Why do you always do that Bella?! Why do you always think that, if I'm being quiet, that I've changed my mind about being your friend?! Why do you always bring up that I probably feel like I am obligated? I've never given you that impression Bella! I've never said you were a fucking task, something I had to do in order to check it off of my list and move on-"

"But you're acting like it now!"

"I don't mean to!" The words came out as a breath of air because I'd whispered the scream.

"Then stop!" she screamed back.

We both froze, knowing we were busted. Surely we'd woken him.

"Dude, Edward, the tv volume, fucker!" Jasper yelled from the other room, saving my ass.

"Sorry," I yelled back, covering.

My arms dangled by my sides. What was this girl doing to me? What was she really saying? I stared at her, wishing I could rewind the night and start over. I felt stranded and lost, in the middle of nowhere, with no help, no map, and no lifeboat.

"Forget it," Bella sneered as she grabbed her things. With two long steps, her right shoulder smacked into mine as she swung the bedroom door open and stepped into the hallway, "I'll find my own way back. I'll take a bus if I have to."

I felt myself rocking. The world was tipping on its axis again. Left, then right, and then left, too quickly. I stared up at my ceiling, trying to catch my breath. It never came. "Bella!" I hissed, before turning on my heel. I chased down the hall after her. I ignored Jasper growling for me to be quiet before I got our asses caught. I ignored the pain shooting up my right side when I ran into the banister rounding the corner. Bella moved full speed ahead, out the front door. She slammed it before I could reach it. Cursing under my breath and hoping Billy was sleeping hard, I pulled the door open and pulled it shut again behind me, as quickly and quietly as I could, breaking into a run halfway down the long driveway.

The slick, glittering ground was frozen with winter's declaration. Once we crossed a certain point in the drive, the lights overhead all but diminished. I could barely see her figure as she stormed on into the darkened night. I felt my fear in my throat. "Bella!" I shouted, hoping I was far enough from the house not to be heard, "please, just stop! You're being irrational! Come back inside. It's dark out, you could trip and get hurt-"

"I'll be fine," she said shortly.

"That's not the answer I want."

"Well we don't all get what we want, do we, Edward."

"Bella, please, stop," I picked up speed, nearly slipping on the asphalt. As soon as I reached her at the end of the narrowing drive, I grabbed her wrist and spun her around. Bella's hands met my chest and she pushed me back as hard as she could, nearly knocking me on my ass.

"Don't grab me like that!" she hissed, jerking her wrist from my grasp. I would have been less afraid if she'd screamed. "Just let me go, Edward. You told me to let it go, so you do the same."

Stunned, I continued to chase her. The air in my lungs burned cold. Every time I spoke, a cloud formed in front of my face, clouding my vision. I couldn't bear losing sight of her. "Bella, look, I'm sorry, I never meant to hurt you or make you feel uncomfortable. But I need you to just trust that I have some things to sort out and these things, I need to handle on my own, on my own time, with my own terms-"

"And you'll be able to do that now Edward, because I'm getting out of your hair."

"Stop twisting my words around. That's not what I meant!" I caught up to her again and this time, instead of grabbing her, I spun in front and cut her off, forcing her tiny body to slam into my chest. Regardless, she pushed me away from her again. Her eyes were dark. Her frame tight. "Bella please," I begged, trying to calm us both down. I made sure to wait before I spoke again. I still couldn't catch my breath. More panic set in. "I really... Um... Don't leave."

"You need time-"

"Bella, I don't want you to go," I argued.

"Maybe time is what we both need to figure things out. I'm probably going to be placed soon anyway. We can't keep the charade up for long, Edward. People are either going to find out or feelings are going to get torn apart. Either way-"

"We can work on that."

"What makes you think it'll work?"

"Because I need you too," I said swiftly. Then I exhaled, long and hard. Ahh, the feeling of breath again. I never really imagined a more euphoric moment.

Bella stared up at me, jaw locked in place, arms crossed over her chest. Snow began to fall around us. It sprinkled her chestnut hair and landed on her blue shirt. "What?" she blinked.

"Like I told you before," I swallowed heavily. "You need me Bella. Not just want to be around, not just want to be my friend. You need me. Like air, you need me, and... I need you, too."

"Why?" she asked numbly.

"Because," I looked around, hoping to find an answer in the darkened trees, in the pale night, somewhere, anywhere. When it didn't come, I said the first thing that came to my mind, "You're my lifeboat, okay?"

She blinked again.

I shrugged. "I know that probably makes no fucking sense to you at all, but you are. You keep me afloat when everything here tries to sink me. You keep me going. You give me a reason to wake up when all I want to do is roll over and die. I feel more at peace with you, sitting in complete darkness, or hell, even chasing you down the road, than I've felt in the last sixteen years of my life."

She cracked the smallest smile, but regained her frown swiftly. She was stubborn. I grew to love and hate that quickly.

"And," I said with a shrug, "and because I'm scared. I'm scared of so many things, things that I have no control over. And I know I can't do anything about it because it's coming whether I want to or not. But... with you... I mean, I feel like I have someone to go through those things with. Someone who gets me. Who knows some of my demons, and looks past them. You don't see the disgusting boy I was turned into all my life. You don't see me at seven years old, scrubbing floors with a dingy toothbrush while my father purposely spilled beer on the floor in front of me just to keep me busy all night. You don't see me at thirteen, in the middle of a shower I'd earned after chopping wood all day with a broken axe handle, and my father barging into the bathroom drunk. He ripped the shower curtain off of the bar and told me all the things wrong with my body, my life, my mother, and how I could never be his son. And you didn't see me last year, picking up my mother off the front porch after she lay in a puddle of her vomit, because my father kicked her in the face too many times, over a spilled fucking bottle of fingernail polish remover."

Bella winced and choked back tears, aching over my pain. I didn't want her to feel sorry for me. I wanted her to understand.

I took a step closer and tentatively lifted her chin with my finger. I did my best to ignore the tear streaming down her face, nearly freezing solid in the frigid air, so that I could get the rest of it out. "I want to be that guy in your drawings so bad, Bella. That's all I think about whenever I'm alone. Being the good guy, a good friend for you. Being worthy. But things are complicated and get more fucking complicated by the hour. I'm doing my best to deal with it so I don't add any pressure to you. You don't need that, and I don't want you to have it. I want you happy. I want you complete. I mean, if I had a choice, my goal would be to carry the entire weight of your world on my shoulders, so that you don't have to. And it's not because I feel obligated to do that, Bella. Because I don't feel obligated to be your friend. I feel privileged and undeserving, but thankful to have you regardless."

"And truthfully," I inhaled heavily, "it'll break my fucking heart if you leave tonight... or ever. I really, really... really, don't want you to leave, Bella. I can't take it." And then I was quiet, and so was she. I felt defeated with every silent minute that passed. I was utterly terrified she was going to bail for good. I couldn't blame her for it, but I couldn't let her go either. I didn't care if I looked vulnerable in front of her at that moment. She wasn't my father. She wouldn't break me down. I took another step toward her, longer this time. "I need you. Please say you won't leave..." I croaked. My mouth had gone dry, felt raw. "Tell me that you'll stay with me."

Trembling, Bella's tiny hand wrapped around my wrist, but she didn't pull my fingers from her chin. I didn't move. Sobbing, she stepped forward, pulling my arms around her shoulders, and then wrapping her arms around my body. "I won't leave you," she whispered, burying her face in my chest. Her tears soaked through my shirt, first warm, than sickly cold. "I promise."

I bent my shoulders, dropped my face into her hair, and brought her closer to me, as close as possible. I couldn't bear an inch of space between our bodies. I held on to her with every bit of strength in me. It scared me to let her go, now that I spilled my soul and opened my scars. I was afraid that the cruel world we lived in might open up and suck her down inside of it. I squeezed tighter, fighting back tears. They spilled anyway.

So quickly, this small girl was becoming everything. I couldn't recognize my life before her. If the world opened up and stole her from me, if she went, I had to go, too. "I'm scared things are changing between us," I confessed softly into her ear. Our bodies vibrated against each other in the arctic air. Neither of us wore jackets, but if I'd had mine, I would've frozen and given it to her anyway. I pulled my arms tighter around her, trying to giver her every bit of warmth I had. "I don't know how to deal with it."

"We won't let them change," she reassured me. "We don't have to."

"Some things we won't have control over, Bella," I warned.

"Then we'll fight, Edward. I'll fight for you, to stay with you. I don't want to lose you. I just... I-I thought that you woke up and realized that you didn't want me around anymore."

"I do want you, Bella, and I'll always want you around," I whispered softly. I squeezed her body reassuringly against mine. "You have no idea how badly I want you here. How I'm struggling with it. It drives me mad when you're away from me for long periods of time. I find myself counting seconds, looking for visions. It's hard and it's scary, because I don't know what's going on with you, or how they're treating you-"

"I'm a big girl, Edward. Please don't worry so much about me when I'm there. I can handle it."

"You shouldn't have to handle that type of treatment. I hate that they hurt you. It hurts me. I feel it, the blows, every time I see your scars. I feel it myself. I know that pain, Bella, I've lived with it all my life, and you're too fucking beautiful to be so bruised."

"I'll be fine," she stated carefully before looking up at me. The hot air from her breath soared into the arctic night. In the minimal light cast by the moon above and behind us from the street lamp, I noticed her nose was bright red from the cold. "We'll be fine," she continued thickly. "We have to stick together though, you can't shut me out. You can't leave me behind."

I shook my head quickly, pressing my forehead against hers. "Never again," I promised across her skin.

And I meant it.

Never again.


----AUTHOR'S NOTES----

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