Chapter 15: Breakeven

I absolutely adore kapers_in_pink and owe her the biggest thank you for doing such a kick ass job beta-ing, and putting up with my whining, and... well, just being freaking awesome. Any mistakes found in this chapter are completely on me b/c I went in and added & changed shit after kapers added her fabulous touch (le gasp!).

Anyway, I'll shut up. Love you all. Enjoy :)



Baby when it's love, if it's not rough it isn't fun.

Poker Face – Lady Gaga

x.x.x

Bella.

I woke with a smile on my face.

It was quiet. It was peaceful. The only sound around me was the faint chirping of the birds welcoming the day from the large spruce trees outside the bay window of the bedroom and the soft, even breaths of the man next to me. Warm, golden sunlight filtered through the glowing beige curtains, casting spotty shadows on the duvet as the light stretched through the trees. A sliver of bright light slipped between the gap where the two long pieces of fabric met, casting a streak of gold across the sleeping man at my side. I didn't know what time it was, or how long I'd been sleeping, but for the first time in a long time I felt truly rested. It definitely had something to do with the body tangled in the sheets on the bed next to me.

My smile grew as I slid closer to him, my chest pressed against the bare skin of his back, and I focused on his calm, deep breathing. I cherished this moment; the serenity, the peace. Because today would be that day we all came clean. Today was the day for truth.

My fingertips danced rhythmically up and down the skin on his side. I trailed down a long, thin trail of raised flesh, a few shades darker than the tan skin of the rest of his torso. It was a scar; running from the bottom of his ribs to just under his arm and it was about the length of my hand. I propped myself up on my elbow and studied the wound as I lightly traced the line – my first thoughts were not focused on how this happened to him, but rather how had I had not noticed it. It was in a fairly inconspicuous area, easily covered by his arm, but still… he'd been without a shirt the entire day before, and I hadn't noticed. Unless, of course, he hadn't intended I see it.

And then I began to wonder what happened. It seemed too long, too misshapen to be a surgical incision. An accident, maybe? I knew a fair bit when it came to cuts and scars, and by the looks of things, this one had hurt. A lot.

"Car accident." My hand froze and I started in surprise when Edward's soft voice broke through the silence. Car accident? But I was distracted as I shifted under the covers, his thick, gravelly morning voice doing strange things to my lady-parts.

I cleared my throat, trying to focus. "Um. Oh," I replied meekly, my voice full of unasked questions. My first reaction was to ask – are you okay? But he was here, lying here next to me, in once piece. Of course he was okay. Though the scar running down his side suggested he hadn't always been.

"So, what…" I began, but my voice trailed off as he rolled over.

He draped his arm around me, a lazy smile on his lips. Incidentally, the scar on his side was now pressed into the soft sheets of the bed, so I took this to mean the discussion was closed – for now.

"Morning," he said, his fingers reaching up and tucking a lock of hair behind my ear. I shifted again at the roughness of his voice. "How long have you been awake?"

"Not long," I told him.

He hummed, placing a gentle kiss on my forehead. "How'd you sleep?"

"Like a baby." I smiled, and then added, "A very satisfied baby."

Edward chuckled, propping himself up on his elbow. "That's disturbing."

I laughed, running a finger down his bare skin, from his shoulder to his elbow. "How was your sleep?"

"Amazing. I haven't had a sleep that good in a very long time." Once again, I sensed there was more to his words than he was letting on. He ducked his head and kissed my bare shoulder. "What time is it?"

"Uh…" I lifted my head, glancing at the alarm clock positioned on the nightstand over his right shoulder. "Ten o'clock." I collapsed back on the pillow.

"Ten? Really? I'm surprised Alice hasn't come barging in here yet."

"Yeah. Um… how are we going to explain that one?"

Edward shrugged, his eyes downcast as he ran his finger down my arm, still placing light kisses along my collarbone. "I'll talk to her," he murmured.

I shivered and raised an eyebrow, forcing myself to concentrate. "Just like that?" From the deal he'd been making of it before, something about his nonchalance just seemed off. "That's a little anti-climatic, don't you think? Isn't she supposed to hate me?"

"Naw, there will be drama. But she won't hate you if she knows I'm happy," he said simply, tilting his chin up and lifting one corner of his mouth as he watched me with a knowing glint in his gaze.

I rolled my eyes, knowing where he was going with this. "Edward, you know Jasper's not going to be so easy to convince."

I saw the frustration flash in his eyes before he quickly masked it. "Well, it's none of his business. He should be happy that you're happy. We're all making sacrifices for this."

"Oh, and what sacrifice are you making?"

"Letting him date my cousin."

"How noble of you."

Edward blew out a breath, and I felt bad for starting our morning– our first morning – off like this. "Come on, Bella. You're twenty-two years old – Jasper doesn't get to call all the shots for you anymore. And Alice… well, it's not going to be easy for her, either. She's seen the dark places I've been… she saw me at my worst..." His eyes clouded over, and he quickly shook himself, meeting my gaze. "But it's not your fault." He sounded like he was trying to convince himself more than anything.

I shook my head slowly. He ran his fingers through my hair, then cupped my cheek in his hand. "I'm going to do everything within my power to make this work, Bella," he said, his voice sincere. "And I… I want to know that you will, too."

I sighed in defeat. "I will, Edward. But… he'll want to knock you out."

Edward chuckled softly. "Let him try."

"No, seriously," I said, unable to help the smile on my face. "Those were his conditions – you touch me or you hurt me, he gets to knock you out and we leave."

A mischievous smirk curled on Edward's lips. "Bella, I won't hurt you. I can promise you that. However, that first condition?" he cocked an eyebrow, his lips brushing mine. "That I can never agree to." He let out a playful growl as he rolled me over so I was on top of him, and I giggled as he began kissing my neck. I hoped Jasper was lenient about his first condition, because I really, really liked it when Edward was touching me.

x.x.x

"Jake, stop fucking laughing," I growled. I aimed my fork across the island at Jake as he buried his head in his arms, his body shaking with silent laughter. The fork was poised like a dart between my fingertips and I cocked it back, ready to let it fly at a moments notice.

"Sorry," he choked out, though he didn't sound sorry at all.

My gaze darted to Edward, who stood at the stove, facing us as he flipped pancakes on a frying pan. He had his eyes narrowed at Jake but the half-smile on his lips made it appear that he looked like he couldn't decide if he was annoyed or amused.

I was annoyed. Thoroughly annoyed. Jake had been sitting in the kitchen when Edward and I had snuck hand-in-hand into the cabin to make breakfast and face the drama the day held for us. He'd taken one look at the two of us, burst out laughing, and now refused to shut his fucking gob. I was getting dangerously close to stabbing him with my fork if he didn't shut it soon.

"Jake, man, Bella's gonna take your eye if you don't shut the fuck up."

Jake shoved a mouthful of cereal into his mouth to stifle his laughter, a line of milk dribbling down his chin. He shook his head, his eyes trained on the bowl before him. I could tell he didn't trust himself to speak. That was best.

I felt Edward's hand cover my own and he wordlessly pulled the fork from my fingertips and set it gently on the counter next to my plate. He smirked at me and I grumbled in defeat as I rolled my eyes. Okay, maybe it wasn't all that brilliant of an idea for me to be armed while that irritated, but I probably would have missed Jake anyway. Probably. But now we'd never know...

"What's his deal?" I asked.

Edward cocked his head to the side as he rubbed his jaw with the back of his fingers and shrugged absently. He was staring at Jake with the strangest expression. I looked down self-consciously at the daisy-dukes and tugged on the hem of the white tank top I was donning. I was beginning to feel like I was missing out on something – I mean, I had made sure all evidence of last nights escapades were washed off me in the quick shower I'd taken this morning, so I didn't understand what Jake's problem was. Unless the mere thought of Edward and I together brought him to hysterics… that, or he'd smoked some crazy shit this morning and was having some fucked-up trip.

"Jake, have you been talking to Rose lately?" Edward asked thoughtfully.

I furrowed my brow, not understanding what the hell Rose had to do with any of this. I watched Jake curiously as he nodded, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. His shoulders began to shake as he broke out into another fit of laughter.

Edward rolled his eyes and faced me, flipping a pancake off the griddle and onto a plate. He slid it across the island as I waited impatiently for an explanation.

"He knows," Edward said simply as he passed me the syrup.

I narrowed my eyes as I doused the fresh pancake with syrup. "Knows what?"

Edward shook his head, looking slightly confused himself. "Rose figured it out, somehow. A while ago." He waved around the spatula as if it would conjure up a decent explanation for me. "You know, about us."

Ahhhh… My eyes widened. "Wait a second – Rose knows? Why didn't you tell me?"

"It's not a big deal, Bella."

"Yeah, but… you're always keeping shit from me, Cullen." I bunched up the paper napkin sitting next to my plate and tossed it at him. It hit him square in the chest and fell to the counter, and he just kind of blinked back at me in shock. My annoyance at Edward only made Jake laugh harder, and he finally got up from his seat, taking his cereal bowl with him out onto the patio. I heard him let out one loud guffaw before he closed the sliding glass door behind him.

"Bella." Edward let out an exasperated sigh, dropping the napkin into the garbage under this sink. He ran his hand through his hair, and I could tell I'd hit the nail right on the head. I didn't understand his need to keep these little bits of information to himself. I stabbed my fork into the pancake as I shook my head. Jasper's over-protectiveness was overwhelming as it is – I didn't think I could handle two crazy men in my life. I was sick and tired of being treated like a child.

"I'm not fighting with you over this," Edward said quietly as he leaned across the island.

"I'm not fighting," I grumbled.

"I didn't think it was a big deal," he said earnestly, his apologetic eyes meeting mine. God I hated when he looked at me like that – the man could talk his way out being held hostage with that look.

"I'm sorry. I said that I'd tell you everything when we get back to Forks, and I promise I will." He leaned forward, his eyes so intense I had to fight the urge to look away. "I want to do this the right way, Bella."

Finally, I sighed and I nodded, feeling foolish for being such a freak show. "Okay. I'm sorry." I had no reason to believe he would back out on his promise – but I was impatient and curious and sick of everyone tiptoeing around the truth. I just wanted to get all this shit out of the way – Alice, Jasper, Edward's story – and just be with him. I was beginning to feel like there was so much shit between us right now I could hardly even see him. I wanted to climb over that mountain of crap and drag him back to the guesthouse so we could exist in the bubble we'd somehow managed to create last night.

Maybe it really had all been a dream.

A moment later, loud, heavy footsteps announced Emmett's presence, and I glanced up to see him thumping downstairs. He was whistling Folsom Prison Blues and heaving down two large brown boxes overflowing with decorations. I choked on my laughter as I cut another piece of my pancake and popped it in my mouth – Edward had warned me Alice would be in full decorating mode, and apparently she had already gotten to Emmett this morning.

When he spotted Edward and I, he paused, a wide grin stretching across his face. "Hey, fuckers. So you break the news to Alice yet?"

I threw down my fork. "What the hell?"

"You know, I never pegged Rose as such a fucking gossip," Edward muttered, turning off the stove and sliding onto the bar stool next to me with a plate of pancakes.

"Oh, it wasn't Rose," Emmett said as he set the boxes down on the island and leaned nonchalantly against the counter. "It was Jake."

"Fucking Jake." Edward and I growled at the same time.

"It's an interesting turn of events." Emmett's gaze was serious, though he had a grin on his face. "So, Cullen, you're the one who broke her heart, huh?"

Edward sighed. "Yep."

"And I take it you drew that pretty bird picture too, huh?"

Edward nodded slowly as he shoved his breakfast in his mouth.

Emmett opened his mouth, looking as if he had a lot to say, then sighed and quietly said, "Just don't hurt her again."

"I won't," Edward said, his eyes on me.

I swallowed and looked down. "Emmett-"

"I saw the look in your eye when you talked about him, Bella. Now, I like you Cullen, but-"

"Emmett," I said a little more firmly. "Seriously. We have enough people threatening us as it is. Just please, don't."

"All right, all right." Emmett held up his hands. "Well, Alice will be down here right away. And judging by the way Jake was talking… well, you should probably get to her before he fucking blabs."

"Yeah," Edward nodded, and I looked over to see he was swallowing the last bite of his pancakes. I raised my eyebrows, impressed by his ability to hoover down his breakfast. Somebody was in a hurry.

Edward set down his fork and got to his feet. "I'm actually gonna go find her. Better get this over with."

"You don't want me to come?" I offered. I felt like it was something I should do, but deep down prayed that he would refuse.

"No, it's all right. You can help Emmett or something if you want, I won't be long. I have to run to the store later and pick up some smokes and shit. You wanna come?"

I nodded. "Yeah. My pack, uh, got a little crushed last night."

Emmett let out a loud snort of laughter as Edward leaned in to kiss me. He shot Emmett a look of annoyance before his lips met mine.

"Good luck," I said meekly.

Edward's smile grew, his confidence unwavering. "It's going to be fine, Bella."

I nodded. God, I hoped so.

x.x.x

Edward.

I took the stairs two at a time. From somewhere behind me I heard Bella yell Emmett's name, followed by some thumping around downstairs. I laughed to myself as I rounded the corner and found myself in the hallway that led to Alice's room.

"Emmett! Those are my pancakes!" I heard her cry, and then there was more shuffling around and laughter from downstairs. The smile on my face only grew.

I was making the right decision. I knew I was making the right decision and hell, it felt fucking good. Whatever Alice's reaction happened to be, I'd deal with it.

"Alice," I sang as I paused outside her door, rapping my knuckles lightly on the doorframe. "You in there?"

"I'm just in the office, Edward," she called from further down the hallway.

"'Kay." I slipped into my bedroom first to grab her birthday present from my bag. Yeah, I was going to butter her up with a present before I broke the news to her. Sue me.

I glanced at my untouched bed as I strode back out into the hallway, grinning at the memories from the night before dancing around in my head. I wanted to skip this part of the day – the setting up and getting ready and finally coming clean – and fast forward to tonight. I couldn't wait to be out on that dance floor with Bella in my arms. It would be like the prom we never really got to share – only better. Alice hired out bartenders for the night, and a guy who'd graduated from Forks High a year behind Alice and Rose was DJ-ing. Tyler-something; he was a pretty decent dude and had managed to break free of Forks after graduation, shipping off to Vancouver where he DJ'd in small bars and made a decent living of it from the sound of things. He always made the trip down south of the border for Alice's birthday – it was one of the only opportunities he got to catch up with his old high school buddies.

I rounded the corner and found Alice was sitting behind Carlisle's large L-shaped desk in his corner office. The room was brightened by natural light filtering through the floor-to-ceiling windows that stretched across two of the walls, offering a breathtaking view of the lake and surrounding forest. Alice's nose was buried in paperwork, and when I walked in she glanced up and grinned as she pushed her glasses up on her face.

"Don't tell me you're working today, Al," I said, plopping down on one of the brown leather chairs opposite the light oak desk. I tossed her present on top of the paperwork and her grin widened.

"I wanted to get this done before you head back to Seattle," she shrugged.

Seattle. Fuck. I'd tried not to think about the fact that I had to head back to the city for a few days next week to get caught up on some work I'd been neglecting. The trips back and forth between Forks and Seattle had never bothered me before – but I already found myself wondering if I would be able to weasel my way out of it. I was going to miss the hell out of Bella, even if it was for just a few shorts days. I let out a long sigh, wishing this weekend would last forever.

"What's this?" Alice asked coyly, reaching out and giving the wrapped box a light shake.

I rolled my eyes, grinning. "Open it."

Her fingers made quick work of yellow and white wrapping paper, and she lifted the top of the box, revealing the vintage, harlequin glass necklace and earring set I'd stumbled across at an antique shop on my last visit to Seattle. Her face lit up as she pulled it from the box.

"Edward, I love it."

"Uh-huh."

"It's perfect!"

"I know."

She laughed and tossed the top of the box at me. "Don't even try and tell me you picked this out yourself."

I chuckled, my fingers absently rubbing the scruff on my jaw. "I may have had a little help."

"Tanya?" she guessed.

I nodded in confirmation, my insides churning. Christ, had it only been a few short weeks ago that I'd been strolling down the Seattle streets with Tanya at my side? It felt like it had been an entirely different lifetime.

"Well, the bitch has good taste," Alice giggled and I rolled my eyes. Her thumb rubbed delicately over the smooth glass jewel that adorned the center of the necklace. Then she cleared her throat softly, "So… speaking of your love life…" Alice's gaze darted up and met mine, her eyes devious behind her thick white-rimmed glasses. "How do you feel about Bella?"

I settled back in my chair, crossing my arms over my chest. This was it. Time to practice honesty, for once. "I… I feel like I've known Bella a very long time," I said carefully. "But, Alice, that's actually what -"

"You guys have this weird chemistry, huh?" Alice interrupted. She removed her glasses and set them aside, leaning forward and gazing at me intently. "I mean, it's like, you're always having these silent conversations nobody around understands. And it's like you hate her from some reason… even though you don't even know her… but the look in your eyes when you see her. It's… soft. Different. I've never seen you look at another girl that way before."

"Alice -"

"Edward," she leaned forward in her seat, gazing at me intensely. "Bella's a great girl. A really, really great girl -"

The implications of her words hit me and instantly I narrowed my eyes. "And what? You think I'm going to fuck her up? Ruin her life? Maybe she's not just another girl to me, Alice."

Alice sighed. "That's not what I'm saying. It's just… I like her, Edward. And I love Jasper and I want them to stay. And if she gets hurt… I don't… I just don't think they will."

I laughed bitterly, because it was all just too fucking ironic. "Alice, please. I'm not going to be the one to drive them away. Bella means a lot to me, more than you know. It's the most I've felt for anybody in a long, long time. I'm not going to lose her again."

"Again?" Alice's eyebrows shot up.

"Yes. Again." Then I sat back, lifting one leg up so my ankle rested on the opposite knee. I folded my arms over my chest and remained silent, waiting for her to put the pieces together.

She didn't move. She just stared at me, her face expressionless. Minutes ticked by, and she still sat frozen. And then I began to panic. Because Alice… well, Alice never just sat there. But I waited. I waited for her to punch me, tell me how much of an idiot I was. To shake me, scream at me, ask me if I was crazy for getting back with the only girl I'd cried real tears over. I waited for her to throw Carlisle's glass paperweight across the table for falling for the girl who I'd cursed the existence of time and time again. I waited her to react… to do something. Anything.

Then, finally, she moved. She let out a soft breath and began tapping her bottom lip as she met my eyes. She opened her mouth, and then clamped it shut again.

I waited.

Just when I thought her silence was going to drive me insane, she cleared her throat and spoke. "So it's her," she breathed.

I nodded slowly.

"After everything you've been through, Edward?"

I continued nodding.

She stared at me a bit longer, sighed, then shrugged. "Okay."

"…Okay?"

"Yeah."

"What's 'okay', exactly?" I asked, because Alice didn't just drop shit like that. She was the kind of girl who kicked and screamed and drug out things like these until everybody's voice was hoarse from screaming. Everybody thought Rose was the one you didn't want to mess with. Unfortunately, I knew better. And right now, I felt like I was falling into some kind of Alice-trap.

Her eyes narrowed. "You lied to me."

"Alice -"

"Bella lied to me," she continued on as if I hadn't spoken.

I sighed and clamped my mouth shut.

"And Jasper lied to me."

"Alice we didn't lie. Just… didn't tell the whole truth."

Her forehead creased, her lips turned into a betrayed frown. "Okay."

"Stop saying that."

"Fine." Her lips were set in a straight line, and her eyes were missing their usual sparkle.

"If you had known from the very beginning, it would have changed everything, and you know it. You never would have worked with her, or become friends with her, or fallen for Jasper. I'm sorry for keeping it from you but you have to believe that all I ever wanted was for you to have a chance to experience what I knew was possible." I leaned forward in the chair, my elbows resting on my knees. I ducked my head, trying to gather my thoughts, then looked back up and met her eyes.

"Al, I've put you through hell. I wanted a chance to redeem myself – prove that I could make sacrifices for you just like what you've been doing for me that past three years. You're so good, and it made me feel better about myself knowing that I could be selfless; that I could be good too." I stared ahead not really seeing anything, so I was surprised when Alice knelt down in front of me and stuck her face in front of my line of vision. Her finger jabbed into my chest.

"Edward, you lied to me. Don't feed me your bullshit about how not telling the truth isn't technically lying, because that's shit and you know it. That's all you fucking do! You think you can keep this shit to yourself and you're not hurting anybody by doing it? You hurt me! And I don't give two fucking shits why, the point is, you lied after you promised me over and over that you wouldn't." Her hands shook as they gripped my legs. "I can't believe you." Her fist pounded down on my knee and I let her. "You lied." She shoved my shoulder. "And you promised." She shoved me again. "If you want to play this way, fine. Next time… next time you need someone to call, someone to talk to, to hold you and hold your hand and tell you the storm will fucking pass, don't come looking for me. All I ever asked from you was the truth, Edward. And you lied."

I'd be kidding myself if I said her words didn't hurt me. Alice knew me better than anyone, and she was completely right. About… everything. But I deep down was relieved that she was taking this out on me, and not Bella. I deserved this. I knew that now.

"You're not ready for this, Edward," she spat. Her head was bowed, her voice cracking. "You're not ready yet."

I narrowed my eyes. Who was she to tell me if I was or wasn't ready? I'd been waiting for this moment for five fucking years. "Alice she's here, now. It's what I want and I'm not missing our chance."

Alice's arms were shaking, but she took a deep breath. "So she's the one." It wasn't a question, yet still I felt the need to answer.

"Yes."

"Edward, after everything you've been through… you're sure about this?"

"She's it for me, Alice. I don't think you understand-"

"No, Edward. I do understand, and that's what scares me. I saw how fucking broken you were every time you talked about her or thought about her. I saw the pain you were in and it killed me to see you like that. I was strong for you Edward because I had to be, but you took me to those dark places with you and I feel like I've experienced everything that you have. But I know the past few years have been about more than just her. Losing Elizabeth -"

"Alice," I exhaled through my teeth.

"I'm just saying that I don't think either of you can afford to lose this time. Because Edward… the damage…"

"It's happening, Alice. Whether you like it or not. It's too late."

"I know," she growled. "And I'd smack you again if I thought it'd do any good."

I laughed softly. "Go ahead. I kind of deserve it."

She made a fist and shook it at me, but I was relieved to see the hint of a smile curling on her lips.

"I can't believe you lied to me, Edward."

"I'm really so sorry, Alice. I never meant to hurt you."

"You did, though." She shook her head sadly. "I guess… I probably should have seen it. I'm usually not this unperceptive."

"You're in love," I murmured softly. "It fucks with your vision."

She sighed in frustration, but she wasn't angry anymore. I knew the worst had passed.

"So, this is for real, then? You guys really going to try and get back together?"

I felt a smile curl on my lips, a lightness in my chest swelling. It felt good to have this secret out, to finally have someone to talk to it about. I was probably ridiculous and selfish for keeping it all in, but somehow I knew it was better Alice didn't know. With her and her meddling ways, we'd never be where we're at now.

"I don't know, to be honest. I think… I'd like to. Bella and I, we're complicated. We always have been. All I know is that she's got to be here for a reason, right? Up until yesterday, I never would have dreamed we might have a second shot at this. I've been so terrible to her… I mean, you know how fucked up I was over her."

Alice's face clouded over. As if she needed a reminder. "Yeah…"

"But it's different now, somehow. I feel like if I don't give this a shot, I'm going to regret it for the rest of my life. Yesterday we both just kind of realized that it's stupid of us to pass this chance up; the only chance we may ever have to both be happy again. And I don't care what anybody thinks. Not even Jasper. And I'm going to warn you, Al, he's not going to be happy about this."

"You don't think he'll be happy that Bella's happy?"

I laughed bitterly. "I keep hoping that's the case… But you have no idea how much the guy despises me."

"He doesn't despise you. I think you're underestimating him, Edward. Everything that happened… that was a long time ago. You've all changed, gotten a little perspective. I'm sure he'll understand."

I sighed. "I hope you're right, Al."

She wrapped her arms around my shoulders and I pulled her onto my lap. "Well. This was certainly an interesting birthday present."

"I know," I chuckled. "I didn't plan it this way… it was just time. I hated lying to you."

"Good."

"So you're not going to hate Bella?"

Alice laughed softly. "Maybe if she was a hate-able person. But obviously she's not. Just… um… you know I invited Tanya, right?"

I sighed, raking a hand through my hair. "Yeah, I know. She's been… very persistent the past few days. I haven't talked to her – I mean, the last time I was in Seattle, I made it pretty clear to her -"

"Edward."

I looked up, shaking myself from my thoughts. "What?"

"You're going to have to make it very clear to her. Tanya doesn't exactly do subtle."

I let out a long, frustrated breath. "I know. She's not coming tonight, though. She's got plans… or she's working or some shit… I don't know. She left me a message yesterday."

"You know Tanya will come around eventually, though. And you need to tell her before that happens."

I sighed. "I know. I will." Unfortunately, I knew that was going to be a lot harder than it sounded. Tanya was a tricky bitch, and unlike Bella, she was willing to play very, very dirty.

x.x.x

Bella.

I picked up a yellow balloon from the colorful pile that was dancing slowly around my feet and chucked it in Emmett's direction. Clyde barked from beside me, sitting back on his haunches with his tail wagging while he eagerly awaited the balloon's lazy descent.

I put my hands on my hips. "Emmett, you did not bring a suit with you."

"Yeah, I did!" Emmett laughed, watching as the balloon floated slowly towards him. He made a fist and punched it and it went spinning through the air in the other direction. Clyde barked again and went chasing after it.

I just raised my eyebrows and stared at Emmett in disbelief.

"Don't look at me like that! I didn't know what the fuck I was going to have to do for money, so I threw one in my bag when I peaced the fuck out. Christ woman, I swear I did! It's what I wrapped my Xbox up in."

I just shook my head slowly, my jaw slack. "Sometimes I don't believe you're for real."

Emmett shrugged. "Sometimes I'm not. I mean, Alice had to get it all cleaned up for me, but it's here. And I look fucking sexy in a suit, Bella, believe me."

"Okay."

"I'm serious!"

"I'm agreeing with you!"

"No, you're humoring me. That's completely different."

I rolled my eyes. "Whatever. Just… help me move this couch. Where did you say Alice wanted it again?"

Emmett shrugged as he looked around the room that was now littered with colorful balloons. It kind of looked like Bozo The Clown had thrown up in here. Yeah, maybe Emmett and I had gone a little overboard, but you can't buy a bag of 500 party balloons and not expect someone to turn it into a contest. "Uhhh…. Let's just put it in the bedroom I'm crashing in for now. It's just down the hall. That way, if I can't convince Rose to stay in my bed tonight, maybe she'll at least sleep on the couch in there." Emmett winked, his grin widening.

"You've sure got big plans for you two, huh?"

"Hey, whatever happens, happens. She's the fucking complete opposite of any chick I've ever dated, so I don't know for sure what's gonna come of it. But I'm totes convinced she's going to fall in love with me."

I raised my eyebrows, kicking balloons out of my way as I stepped towards the couch. "Totes?"

"Totally," Emmett explained, grunting as he lifted one end of the couch. I made a similar noise as I picked up the other end and began shuffling backwards. "I mean, how could she not?" He winked again and I laughed, nearly dropping the heavy piece of furniture and squishing poor Clyde in the process.

"Fuck," I cursed. "Where the hell is Jake? Isn't this a big strong man's job?"

"Oh, quit your PMS-ing, Swan. We're almost there."

I rolled my eyes, continuing backward to the spare room. We squeezed the couch through the door and Emmett slid over the dresser so we could set it against the wall adjacent the bed. The room was huge, so it really wasn't too much trouble, though I wasn't convinced that Alice's mom would exactly appreciate our redecorating.

We moved the rest of the furniture around in the living room and I checked the clock constantly. It had been over an hour since Edward had gone upstairs to track down Alice. I hadn't heard any screaming yet, but he was taking an awfully long time.

"Help me untangle these lights, biotch," Emmett demanded as he plopped down on the floor and began pulling strings of lights out of one of the boxes. I laughed at Clyde, who was still in heaven chasing around all the slow-moving balloons as I took a seat beside Emmett.

"Aren't the Cullen's like fuckrich or something?" he muttered. "You think Alice could have hired someone to do this shit."

"Ah, but why would I do that when I have you, Emmett?" I turned to see Alice making her way downstairs, laughing at the two of us on the floor.

Emmett and I both watched her uneasily. But laughter was good. Laughter meant she didn't hate me. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw Edward was right behind her, and he was watching me with sparkle in his eye. He glanced quickly at Alice and nodded slightly, and I relaxed, if only slightly, knowing that everything had been smoothed over on their end.

"Bella Swan," Alice said as she approached, her hand held out. "So you're my cousin's infamous ex-girlfriend, huh? It's nice to meet you."

I took her hand, eyeing her skeptically. "Uh… yeah. Hey, Al, sorry about-"

Alice held up her hands to stop me and folded herself up onto the floor next to Emmett and I. "Please. It's not you I was pissed at." She turned her head and narrowed her eyes playfully at Edward, who shoved his hands into his pockets and shrugged. I grinned at him, trying to ignore that crazy thumping in my chest. One down, one to go…

"What are you doing?" Edward asked, his head cocked to the side.

"Oh, you know," I waved my hand around in the air. "Slaving away. Alice, we kind of hid the furniture, so good luck finding it all again."

Before Alice had a chance to reply, Edward swept me off the ground and tossed me over his shoulder. I let out an embarrassing shriek in surprise. "What the hell are you doing?"

"We're running to the store. Now come on, m'lady, your chariot awaits."

"Classy, Edward. That is only the most overused line in the history of the world," I said, playfully slapping his ass as he began heading towards the front door.

Edward chuckled and tightened his grip around my legs.

"I don't hate you, Bella!" Alice called from the living room as Edward and I rounded the corner. "But I won't forgive you if you don't buy me something for my birthday!"

I laughed. Hell, if one little threat was all I was getting from the whole debacle, I'd gladly take it. "You got it, Al."

x.x.x

About fifteen minutes later, Edward and I were strolling the aisles of a little community general store, which was very inspiringly named General Store. Edward had informed me the store, which looked like it had randomly been plopped down on a flat piece of land, was open only in the summer and catered to the campers, hikers and other seasonal tourists that were attracted to the area this time of year. It carried everything from groceries and saddles to fishing gear and firearms.

Edward was carrying me around piggyback, a plastic basket swinging from his arm and his flip-flops smacking loudly against the worn-out tile as we weaved through the aisles of the cramped store. I felt like I was fifteen again, the way we were giggling as he strolled up and down the aisles. Periodically I'd reach out and grab a random item off the shelf and toss it in the basket, contributing to the "birthday present" I was putting together for Alice.

"You know, it wouldn't be a terrible idea to put a little bit of thought into this, Bella."

"I am!" I objected, but was laughing too hard for him to take me seriously.

He held up my latest find. "Denture solution?"

"Ummm…" I giggled, burying my head in his shoulder.

"She's turning twenty-four, not ninety-four."

"Well, she'll appreciate it one day."

Edward groaned as he tossed it back in the basket and hiked me up farther on his back. I tried to hide my moan in response to the friction he created, but I had a feeling he heard it when he tensed and then blew out a soft breath.

"You better have a real present for her hidden up your nonexistent sleeve," he said, his voice more gravelly than before.

"Hey, come on. She's forcing me into a dress tonight, the least I can do is make her sweat a little. But yes, I do have a real present for her. It's back at the cabin."

Edward chuckled. "You're so weird." He picked up a tube of cherry-flavored kids toothpaste and dropped it in the basket. "To go with the denture solution," he explained.

I added a pair of neon orange shoelaces; the elastic spiral kind that you didn't have to tie. I was just amazed that they were still in production. That, or they'd been in this store since I was four-years-old.

When Edward and I finally had all of our loot picked out, I slipped off his back, picked us both out an ice cream sandwich and found a single, golden string of Mardi Gras beads to add to Alice's present. I nudged Edward as I sidled up next to him in line.

He looked down at me, a mischievous smirk on his lips, "Ice cream? You trying to tell me something, Swan?"

I beamed up at him, happy that he remembered but unsure why I thought he wouldn't. "Get your mind out of the gutter. Ice cream can just be ice-cream, Cullen."

He leaned in closer and hummed in my ear. "Not with you, Bells." He pressed his lips to my cheek then wrapped his arm around my shoulders. He pulled me against him, and I couldn't wipe the smile off my face if I wanted to.

We waited behind a wide, short balding man who had a toothpick hanging from his lip and a fishing pole in his hand. I poked at Edward and he kept pinching my side and we just kept looking at each other and grinning like we didn't give a fuck who was watching.

We ate our ice cream on the hood of his car in the parking lot after we'd paid, then lit up a cigarette because apparently Edward didn't let anyone smoke in the Volvo. Whatever. I rolled onto my side and shielded my face from the sun as I watched him blow a smoke ring and lean back on his elbows. He grinned lazily over at me.

"What?" I asked.

He shrugged. "I'm just… happy."

"Me too."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah."

He leaned over and kissed the top of my head.

It was strange, but I felt almost as if I was giving him a glimpse into my life – or what my life had become over the past five years. Carefree, laughing, impulsive… At least, for a few short hours we had nowhere to be, no one to please. We could lie on the roof of a car and eat ice cream. We could run through a field in Colorado, racing wild mustangs and practically getting trampled in the process. We could throw ourselves off the car roof with a child's umbrella we'd found deserted in a parking lot, swearing on our lives that the umbrella really was helping to slow the descent. We could jump off a bridge and yell out obscenities as we plummeted toward the frigid waters below. And we could park next to a fast-flowing river and strip off our socks and race across the sharp rocks to see who could make it to the other side faster, and scrape our knees and come out looking like drown-rats and fall down laughing no matter who was victorious.

I looked over at Edward, a giggled catching in my throat as I looked into his face and froze. The smile slipped from my lips, the thoughts knocking the air from my lungs. Because it wasn't daydreams with Edward I was seeing… it was my memories with Jasper. I felt a pang in my chest that I imagined was something similar to homesickness, yet this was my home, out here, doing whatever I pleased. We hadn't stopped yet – not officially, at least. So why, not even an hour since Edward and I had taken the first step in declaring our relationship or whatever this was,why was I feeling this nostalgia? And then I began to panic. It had been twenty-four hours since our first kiss and we'd spent one night together and already we were standing on the edge of a cliff with our hands laced together, declaring it was the two of us against the world? We'd failed once already. We'd not only failed – we'd crashed and burned so hard not even the black box had survived. Who's to say it wouldn't happen again? I looked over at him, seeing confidence and yummy fuck-me-nonchalance and sunglasses and I-don't-give-a-fuck-hair, but under it all there was secrets and lies and scars and oh my God…

Was I doing this already? Was I losing my shit already?

There was a girl in me, somewhere, who had once had a home and a family and a boyfriend and I tried to dig her out, channel her. Having roots was not a bad thing; mine just so happened to be spread across this vast country. It wouldn't be so bad to let them grow deep in one place for a while, would it?

"Hey, sweetheart. You okay?"

I looked down so Edward didn't have to see the terror in my eyes. I tried to think of this morning and how right it had felt to wake up in his arms, or last night when all I'd needed was him and I would have given anything to have it. And I didn't know if I was hormonal or crazy or scared or what, but I slid off the car without looking at him. "I'm fine," I mumbled, staring at my shoes. "I just remembered I forgot I'm lactose-intolerant."

"You're what?"

"Lactose-intolerant. You know, you can't digest-"

"I know what it means, Bella. Since when? And how could you… how could you just forget that?"

Yeah, he wasn't fucking buying it. I kicked at the ground with the toe of my shoe. "I have a lot on my mind. Can you take me back to the cabin? I'm not feeling great."

When he didn't respond, I knew he still didn't believe me. But I heard the driver's door open, signaling that he'd take me back. I shuffled in the car, avoiding his gaze. And when he rolled down his window and lit a smoke, I just wanted to throw myself out of the vehicle.

One day was all it had taken for me to royally fuck up everything. And all along I thought it was Edward who was the monster.

But no – it was me. Bella Swan. Terrified runaway vagabond.

x.x.x.


So I admit - I failed epically at replying to reviews after last chapter. I've had a weird few weeks and school totally got the best of me. Still, I appreciate you guys so effing much, and I really hope it doesn't happen again.

I was asked last chapter if I play (I'm assuming guitar) and I do, but not well. My roommates are musicians and they put me to shame. I'm not all that musically inclined, but get a few Spiced and Coke's in me and I'm friggin' Stevie Nicks. I also can destroy on the drums when I play Rock Band.

What instrument(s) can you play?

Oh, and I'm gonna throw up the pic of Alice's present from Edward in my profile for whoever's interested.