Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns the characters. I'm borrowing them.
This was written for the Write What You Know contest. Thanks for all who voted!
Thanks to my girls; Angie, Meg, Tiffany and Amanda. I love you girls and thank you for pre-reading and all that for me! You know how much I adore all of you.
Hope you all enjoy this!
"I can't believe you!" she screeched as she stalked down the path towards the administrative building, her bag hitting against her thigh as she went.
"It's not like you were arguing!" he yelled back, stalking after her as he fumbled with the heavy bags hanging from his shoulders.
"Did you see that skyline, Edward? It was gorgeous and it was your job to keep track of our time! If I fail this, I will castrate you!"
She rounded the back of the building, bypassing the foul smelling ashtray sitting just outside the door before she yanked it open and stomped into the bright, open room. It was tinged with the smell of chemicals wafting from the darkroom just behind the curtain. The six long tables running along one side of the room were completely cleared off and the three sinks were empty.
Of course they were. Everyone else had been here when they were supposed to be. They hadn't followed their foolish best friends out into the middle of nowhere on a stupid fucking whim like she had.
"You won't fail anything, Bella. For the love of Christ, calm down!" he demanded as he followed in behind her, carefully setting their camera bags down and sighing in relief.
"I can't fail this! If I fail this, I am screwed and there is no way that I'll be able to keep my head above water," she snarled, digging the three rolls of film out of her shoulder bag.
He rolled his eyes and dug around in his camera bag for the rolls of film that he needed to develop, grumbling that his best friend was out of her damn mind and way too stressed out for her own good. The girl was going to develop an ulcer before she hit twenty-one if she didn't knock it off and learn to relax a little. So they were a little late… what did it matter? They were here now and both of them would work as hard as they needed to in order to get their prints fixed before they closed the building for the night.
They were in their second semester at Hallmark Institute of Photography and a good amount of their classmates were as stressed out as Bella was. It was nearing the deadline for their second semester portfolios to be handed in and she hadn't developed her film yet. The administrators had warned them during their very first week of school that it was something close to boot camp for photographers and they hadn't been kidding. Everything was accelerated and everyone was struggling; some more than others.
Bella was one of the others. Edward was not. She envied him for the fact that he could just immediately understand what their instructors were talking about while she stared down at the notes she furiously scribbled throughout the whole lecture and still couldn't make sense of anything. She thought that she had a good hold on everything from the extra-curricular courses she took in high school, but this was entirely new to her. Nothing made sense and she felt like she was drowning.
Edward, on the other hand, was flying through everything. Nothing was gibberish to him and he'd been one of the prized students since day one. His photos were always displayed proudly on the LCD screen in the lobby for when new students for the next year visited and everyone would always comment on them. Bella had had one picture on there and it was the one she hated the most; it was plain and boring and for some stupid reason, her teachers seemed to think that it was good enough.
She'd wanted to pull her hair out. When she tried and put an enormous amount of blood, sweat and tears – literally – into an assignment, they always told her that it wasn't good enough. The minute she stopped trying so hard, that was the one they adored the most.
The two of them had been thrust into the same group upon the beginning of the second semester and had managed to become friends when Edward had somehow managed to forget his light meter. Bella had one and he'd clung to her in more ways than one. They hadn't been apart since that assignment; Bella had failed, Edward had passed and they'd become fast friends.
Everyone else in their group was convinced that they were more than friends. They had spent all their free time together and even spent the night at each other's apartments when needed so naturally, they had to be sleeping together. God knows a man and a woman just couldn't be friends.
Even though Bella had been wishing for more since day one, Edward never seemed to see her that way. She'd tried asking him once and when he'd merely given her that pathetic head tilt and the I-only-really-like-you-as-a-friend hug at the end of the night, she'd quickly swallowed her pride and hid her feelings into the deepest corner of her heart that she could find. She'd rather have him around as a friend than not have him around at all. She'd come to depend on him and even though he pissed her off on occasion, she wouldn't ever want to give him up. Even when she had to listen to him talk about his new love interest – Tanya – all the damn time.
Edward watched as she grabbed three silver canisters and their black tops from the back of the room, stomping into the closet and slamming the door behind her. He sighed and ran his free hand through his hair, shaking his head as he walked to the back of the room and did the same.
He hated when she got pissed at him. It didn't happen often and when it did, he'd always been able to charm his way out of it or say he was sorry enough that she'd eventually just forget about it and forgive him. Even when he'd forgotten her at school once – he'd driven them both there after lunch at her place and at the end of the day, hadn't hesitated when Tanya asked him to go on a short expedition with her for a photo opportunity. He'd remembered only too late and prayed that Bella didn't hate him. Tanya dropped him off back at his Jeep when she was finished snapping pictures and he'd rushed off to Bella's apartment, bursting in the door to find her sitting at the make shift kitchen table in front of the borrowed laptop, her eyes narrowed and her lips pursed. She'd said that it was fine, that she'd gotten a ride from one of their other classmates and after about half an hour, they were back to goofing off and watching movies the way they always did.
Of course, he'd never fucked with her schoolwork before and it was obviously going to take a hell of a lot more to get her to forgive him this time.
By the time he'd finished rolling the film onto the wire film holder and walked out of the closet, she was already standing at the sink with two canisters in her hands and a third sitting on the end of the table nearest to her. She wasn't looking at him and the only noise was the sound of the film holder scraping against the side of the can as she slowly tipped it from side to side. He bit back another sigh and made his way over to her, filling both of his cans with the developer and then adding water when they were full.
"I'm supposed to be going out to dinner with Tanya tonight," he started quietly as he looked up at the clock on the wall and started to tip the cans from side to side.
"I'm sure you'll have a great time," she snapped, looking down at her hand.
"Did you want to come?"
She looked up at him, her lips pursed and her eyes narrowed at him. He wanted to crawl underneath the sinks and cower. Christ, he hated it when she was pissed at him.
"I have work to do. Plus, your girlfriend hates me."
"She's not my girlfriend."
"Well you sure spend a lot of time fucking her and hanging out for her to be someone you're not dating."
"That's what college is all about, Bella. That's what you're supposed to do."
She blinked once at him and shook her head, running her tongue along her teeth as she looked back down at her hand.
"Well then I guess I'm just a loser," she finally said, squaring her shoulders and standing up a little straighter.
She'd never been the type to just fuck someone for the hell of it. While she hated it, she always believed in the fairy tales; believed that she had a prince charming out there waiting for her just around the corner and he'd sweep her off her feet as soon as his eyes landed on her. She knew it would never happen but it was a fantasy that she could lose herself in when it hurt too much to hear the truth.
"You're not a loser."
She rolled her eyes.
"I don't hang out with losers."
"Then I guess we should stop hanging out."
"Oh, come on!" he exclaimed, kicking the pipes underneath the sink in lieu of slamming his fists on the side like he really wanted to. "I'm sorry that I didn't stare at my watch like a hawk, Bella, but I thought that you'd enjoy hanging out with me for a while!"
"Always such a privilege when you grace me with your presence, isn't it? I should feel lucky that you would take time out of your busy schedule with Tanya to hang out with me, right? Is that it?"
"You're not even making any damn sense, Bella!"
"Do you even realize that this is the only time we've hung out together without her around? Or even hung out in general because you've been too busy with her? Do you even realize that?"
He stared at her, his mouth opening and closing as he tried to find words to come back at her with, blinking when he realized that she was right.
"I didn't think so." She shook her head and rolled her eyes, looking away from him and moving to the sink behind her. "Glad to know I'm an important part of your life."
He stared at the back of her head, still slowly tilting the cans from side to side as he tried to think of something to say to her. He never even gave it much thought; he figured that she'd understood. He never thought that she'd hold it against him or even think about it as much as she obviously had.
They worked in silence for the remainder of the time it took them to develop their film. She was finished with her two rolls first, peeling them out of the wire holder and placing them in the drier before she grabbed the last canister and poured the chemicals into the top. He finished with his a few minutes later, placing them in the drier with hers and then cleaning out the canister before placing it back where they were stacked.
"I have to go," he said quietly, shoving his hands in his pockets.
"Have a nice dinner," she replied, her voice detached.
"Will you grab my film before you leave?"
She nodded once and he did the same, awkwardly turning on his heel and grabbing his camera and shoulder bags before walking towards the door.
"How will you get home?"
"I'll call Alice," she mumbled through her teeth, referring to her roommate. "She said she'd pick me up if you ever forgot me again."
All right, so he clearly hadn't been forgiven for it.
"I'm not forgetting you…"
"No, you're just leaving." She finally looked at him and his heart fell as he took in the completely blank look on her face. "I'll see you in class tomorrow."
"Goodbye Edward. Have a nice night."
He swallowed thickly and walked out the door, his footsteps slow and sluggish as he walked back towards his blue Jeep.
Bella shook her head, placing her tongue against her cheek as she felt her eyes water when the door slammed shut behind him. She continued to tip the canister from side to side as she stepped back and rested her forehead on the edge of the sink.
He was supposed to be her prince charming and instead, he was Tanya's. She'd never stood a chance and she was stupid to think that she ever would've.
"Edward? Hello? Are you here?"
He jumped, dropping his fork onto his plate when he focused on Tanya waving her hand in front of his face.
He'd been thinking about Bella ever since he walked out of the film studio that night, repeatedly running his hands through his hair and worrying over everything that she'd barely said to him while they were there. He'd noticed that she'd seemed stressed and tensed when they were together before and had figured that it was because of school and their assignment. He never would've imagined that it had to do with him.
Maybe she was just getting her period. She was always so damn emotional – more so than any female he'd ever really known – when she was starting. It couldn't have been just because of him alone. It wasn't possible; she'd never gotten that mad at him over something that was easily fixed before.
"Yeah," he forced a smile at her and nodded, picking up his fork again. "Sorry. Spaced out."
"What are you thinking about?" she asked innocently as she popped another french fry in her mouth.
"Just, uhm…" He shook his head and laughed a little, shrugging his shoulders. "Bella and I had a bit of an argument today."
"Oh? About what?"
"She's just stressed out about this portfolio. You know…"
He trailed off, shrugging one shoulder as he played with the little amount of mashed potatoes on his plate.
"She needs to get out more," Tanya declared, sitting up straight. "She's always cooped up in her apartment. I see Alice tons more than I see her."
"She's quiet, shy. She's not a big fan of a lot of people." He tilted his head as he looked back up at her, smiling crookedly at her. "She wouldn't enjoy one of your parties."
She lived in an old house that had been transformed into three different apartments and they were always holding these huge parties and fundraisers. All of the Blue House parties were legendary because everyone from the entire school was always there, making it huge and successful.
Well, everyone except for Bella. The only reason he'd started going to them was because his roommate, Emmett, had roped him into it one weekend when Bella had gone home and he'd been bored and slightly lost without her. That was where he'd met Tanya; right after he'd gotten drunk beyond belief and had ridden a Power Wheels Jeep down the stairs, peeling back the nail on his big toe. Tanya had taken care of him before Alice had found him and dragged him back to the apartment where he'd promptly crashed on Bella's queen-sized air mattress for the night. He'd woken up with a throbbing head and toe, waiting for Bella to get home to laugh at him and tell him that she wanted to see the pictures that were surely taken.
He'd been talking to Tanya ever since and it just naturally progressed into sleeping with her and hanging out with her. He'd never given a second thought to doing any of it because normally, it wouldn't have mattered to anyone.
"You should bring her by one time. You know, just so that she could see what it was like. I'm sure she'd have fun."
He stared at her for a few moments, licking his lips before dropping his fork and crossing his arms on the table in front of him.
"You like her, don't you?"
Tanya shrugged, popping another fry into her mouth.
"I'd like her a lot better if she wasn't always trying to get into your pants."
His mouth dropped open.
"You can't tell me that you don't notice!" she laughed, shaking her head. "Edward, it's obvious that she wants you!"
"No, it's not. She doesn't."
Since the night she'd told him that she had a crush on him and he'd shot her down – he didn't feel anything like that for her and he didn't want to ruin their friendship by telling her that he'd want to give it a try. She hadn't said anything about it and she hadn't acted any differently around him since then so what in the hell was Tanya talking about?
"Oh, Edward, you're blind when it comes to her, aren't you?" She sighed and leaned forward. "It's so easy to see that she feels something more for you than friendship. She adores the ground you walk on."
"We're just really good friends, Tanya. She knows that."
"Are you sure about that? The way she looks at you sometimes has everyone believing something else."
He shook his head quickly, closing his eyes and shaking his head as he leaned back in the booth seat.
"No. Bella doesn't… it's not like that with us."
"Well, I know that. Since you spend most nights with me." She grinned and brushed hair over her shoulder, wiggling a little in her seat as she pushed her plate away from her. "I think maybe you need to tell her that you're not interested, though, or it's only going to get worse."
"You're mistaken," he said quietly, shaking his head again. "I'd know if she felt that way."
"Yes," he hissed, opening his eyes to look at her. "I spend a lot of time with her and I'd…"
"You don't spend that much time with her anymore, Edward."
He swallowed hard and ran a hand through his hair.
She saw it. Bella saw it. Everyone but Edward saw that he wasn't spending as much time with Bella and maybe everyone also saw that Bella wasn't very happy about it.
Why hadn't he seen, noticed or cared before Bella had pointed it out earlier in the night? Why hadn't he cared before now? Before he saw how much it bothered her? Was he really that much of an asshole that he couldn't see when his best friend was missing him or hurting because of him?
"Are you staying tonight?" she purred, reaching over with one hand to drag it up and down the back of his hand.
"I actually… uhm, I have some work that I need to get done tonight," he said quickly, shaking his head once. "I've still got to mat some prints and I want to get that done before everything starts piling up, you know?"
"Yeah," she sighed, slumping down in her seat. "Okay. Well, there's always tomorrow night, right?"
"Yeah, sure, of course."
He shot her a tight smile before waving the waitress over to them and pulling out his wallet from his back pocket.
He had a very important conversation to have with his best friend and he needed to have it as soon as possible.
Bella stared down at the developing print in the tray as she rocked it back and forth, Edward's serious face staring back at her and only making her stomach hurt.
She had to be with him when they were given this assignment, didn't she? She couldn't have been in class with Alice's group, could she? No, she had to be with him and now all she wanted to do was throw the entire roll of film into the trash and eat the failing grade she'd surely get.
She stared down, still rocking the tray back and forth as his features finally developed. Her breath caught in her throat and she swallowed hard, clenching her jaw tightly as the background started to develop. Even in black and white, he was gorgeous and perfect and everything that she'd never have for her own.
She blew out a shuddering breath and swallowed hard again, shaking her head and straightening her back.
It didn't matter. He had never looked at her that way and really, what was another rejection from someone she really thought she could have something with? This was nothing new; she'd dealt with it all through high school, why wouldn't she deal with it in college, too?
She was supposed to be changing while she was at college. She was supposed to go back home at the end of the ten month program and she was supposed to be this independent college graduate that no one ever thought that she'd ever be. She wasn't supposed to go back home worse than when she'd left. And that was exactly the path she was still walking down.
She grabbed the edge of the print and slid it into the stop bath tray next to her, slowly starting to rock that one back and forth as well.
He found her that way, standing over the sink basin with a forlorn look on her face. The red light washed over her, giving her a warm glow even as the tension radiated from her. She was wearing a sweatshirt that had seen better days and a pair of worn out jeans that really belonged in the garbage more than they did on her body. Her hair was pulled into a low ponytail at the base of her neck and he'd never seen her look so vulnerable before. He'd seen her in that outfit at least sixty different times since they started hanging out, but he'd never noticed how small she looked underneath the baggy material. He wanted to gather her in his arms and protect her from all the things that had pissed her off tonight, all the things that were upsetting her and hurting her. He wanted to take them all away from her because she didn't deserve any of it.
He cleared his throat and took another step in, watching as her hand faltered on the tray. She didn't move but he could clearly see the way she stiffened.
"You're here kind of late, aren't you?" he asked.
"I bribed Heidi into letting me stay for as long as I needed to. She showed me how to lock up."
"Why don't you go home?"
"For what?" she grumbled, grabbing the print and placing it into the fixer in the next tray. "I have a lot of work to do."
"You need to sleep eventually, don't you?"
"What do you want, Edward?"
He sucked in a deep breath and hooked his thumbs into his jean pockets, rocking back on his heels once before puffing out his cheeks.
"Do you have still have feelings for me? Non-platonic feelings, I mean?" he blurted out, wincing slightly.
She was quiet, only moving as she rocked the tray back and forth, keeping her eyes glued to his from the print staring up at her.
She was already losing him in all the ways she'd been scared of before and she didn't want to lie to him anymore. She was so tired of pretending that watching him with Tanya didn't tear her heart out of her chest and she was so tired of working so hard to make it seem like nothing had changed. He already had one foot out the door of their so-called relationship; this would only push him the rest of the way out.
"Yes," she whispered, clenching her jaw tightly as she felt her eyes water again.
He closed his eyes and huffed out a deep breath, reaching up to tangle his hands in his hair and keep them pressed against the top of his head as he stared at her.
"Why…? Why haven't you…?"
"What good would it do me, Edward?" she asked softly, afraid that if she spoke any louder, her voice would give away the tears. "You told me before that you weren't interested and that was okay. I didn't want to lose you as a friend so I buried it and everything was fine."
"Everything is obviously not fine because apparently, everyone else sees it! I didn't… Christ, Bella," he huffed, running his hands down his face. "You didn't do a very good job at hiding anything."
She had to take a deep breath and purse her lips, forcing herself not to wipe away the tears that traveled down her cheeks.
"Sorry," she finally managed, swallowing hard and picking out the picture from the fixer, dropping it into the bucket of water at the end.
"I don't… Bella, I don't understand."
"What's there not to understand?"
She turned from the sink and walked back to the enlarger that she was using, grabbing the film from the middle and adjusting it to the next frame. She concentrated very hard on placing it back into the machine before flicking it on and adjusting the size and focus of it.
"You haven't said anything more to me…"
"What am I supposed to say?" she asked quietly, flicking the enlarger light off and grabbing a piece of scratch photo paper from the drawer underneath the machine. "You aren't interested that way and I'm not going to try to get you to be." She snatched the cardboard and placed it over more than half of the photo paper before setting the timer and f-stop and pushing the little red button. "I'm sorry if I've caused problems for you."
He stared at her, his mouth gaping open as she continued calmly making a test strip for the next photo she was working on.
"What are…? Fuck, Bella!"
"What, Edward?" she exploded, rounding on him and throwing her hands to the side. "What do you expect me to do? You don't see me that way and I'm not the kind of girl that's gonna try to change your mind! If you felt that way for me, you would've realized it before and you would've done something when I told you how I felt! But you didn't and you don't and you aren't ever going to and that's something that I will learn to live with. I'm sorry if people have noticed and I'm sorry if it's caused problems between you and Tanya." Her voice broke and she bunched her hands into fists. "It won't anymore. I promise."
"What do you mean by that?"
"I mean I'm done." Her bottom lip trembled and she turned back to the enlarger, moving the cardboard down a few more inches and hitting the timer again. "I'm done with being your friend because it obviously isn't working out for you. I don't want to cause problems for you so… I'm done."
"Are you serious?" he deadpanned.
"That's awfully fucking selfish of you."
She felt like she was falling apart. Like her legs had been kicked out from beneath her and her entire world was shifting on its axis. She was trying so hard to make everything easier for him and he was making it impossible. She already felt like a piece of trash when she was next to him and he wasn't making it any better.
Not that he was supposed to anymore. They were done and he wasn't obligated to do anything for her anymore.
"You're making decisions for me," he seethed, taking a step towards her and poking his own chest. "You're assuming that I don't want you in my life. You're assuming that I'm smart when it comes to shit like this. You think that I'm in your head, Bella? You think that I just know what you're feeling?"
"Like it matters!" she wailed, pushing on his chest when he was close enough to her. "You're off with Tanya and you're forgetting that I exist and leaving me in the parking lot without any way to get home! You're out at parties, you're out enjoying yourself and that's what you're supposed to do in college, right? We don't work anymore, Edward, and maybe we never did! Maybe we just thought we did because for a while, we were all the other had! Now you have Tanya and her friends and you sure as hell don't need me around getting in the way! I'm doing you a favor so just go!"
She pushed on his chest again, sniffling and wiping her eyes on her arm when he stumbled back a few steps.
"You really want me to go?"
She looked up at him through blurry eyes and crappy lighting and crossed her arms over her chest, wanting nothing more than to be alone with the newest piece of her heart that she'd be missing thanks to him. She never should've come to this school in the first place; she wasn't doing anything right. She was screwing up ninety-nine percent of her assignments, she was obviously screwing up Edward's life and she just couldn't handle anything that was being thrown at her anymore.
"Answer me, Bella. If you really want me to go, then I'm gone. And I'm not coming back so make a decision. Make a choice," he fumed, pointing in the direction of the exit.
"What choice do I have?" she asked pathetically, covering her face with her hands and falling to the floor.
"You have a choice, Bella. Make it. Right fucking now."
"I don't know!" she screamed, dropping her hands from her face and looking up at him again. "You make it, Edward! You choose because I can't anymore!"
"Why not?" he yelled, towering over her. "What's changed, huh? I'm still the same person; you're still the same person! What's different?"
"Nothing, and that's the problem! We're both still the same people and you don't feel that way about me! I'm fine with that, I get it! I don't understand why the hell it matters to you now!"
"Because it explains so much! It explains why you act the way you do sometimes! It explains everything that I've ever questioned about you!"
She stared up at him, tears trailing down her cheeks, her heart broken and every inch of her more exhausted than she'd ever been before. She hadn't come here for this; she hadn't come here to break apart. She came here to get an education and learn all the skills she'd need for when she went home and opened her own portrait studio; she didn't come here to deal with shit like this.
"Well now you know," she whispered, clenching her jaw again. "I'm in love with you, Edward Cullen, and it's not my decision to make concerning whether you go or stay because I'm already gone. You make the effort from now on if you want me in your life."
"I want you in my life, Bella," he said, his voice low and his chest heaving. "That was never the problem."
"But there is a problem, isn't there?"
"I don't feel…"
"I never asked you to."
He opened his mouth and then snapped it shut, vigorously rubbing his hands over his face. She stood up, wiping her cheeks on her sleeves and stepping back from him. She crossed her arms over her chest and looked over at the enlarger with the test strip sitting on the base, her lips trembling as she thought about the picture she'd been getting ready to develop.
"Your film is out on the table," she said quietly, sucking in a deep breath when her voice shook. "I cut it and put it in the protector for you."
"Thank you," he managed, his voice barely above a whisper. "Are you staying for a while longer?"
"I'll just get this print done and then I'll call Alice."
"I'll give you a ride. If you want me to."
"You don't have to."
She nodded her thanks and walked back to the enlarger, snatching the test strip off the base and walking over to the chemicals again.
"I'll go wait out there," he mumbled, turning on his heel and quickly walking out of the darkroom before she could say anything.
Something was broken – possibly beyond repair – between them and he didn't have any idea how to fix it. He'd always been good at figuring out problems and fixing them when it came to the people he cared about, but for this, he was at a complete loss. He didn't know what to do and he hated that it had happened between him and Bella.
*Three Weeks Later*
"I can't believe you're dragging me here," Bella grumbled as she let Alice drag her out of her black Ford Focus. "You know…"
"I know that you've been fucking miserable and unbearable," Alice stated, rolling her eyes as she pulled her up to the front porch of the Blue House. "And you need a damn party to get hammered and have meaningless sex with some random guy."
"You know that Edward will—"
"Yes, I know and I know that's the reason you've been such a pain in my ass for the past three weeks." She stopped just before they reached the front door and Alice placed both of her hands on Bella's shoulders. "I am truly sorry about what happened and I know that you're still hurting, but you need to move on. It didn't work out."
Bella bit down on her teeth and nodded, forcing herself to keep her eyes locked with Alice's.
"If you really don't want to be here after an hour and a half, then find me and we can go. No questions asked and I won't try to make you stay."
Alice squeezed her shoulders once more before she turned and pushed through the door. They were greeted with a solid wall of people and blaring music that had been strangely muffled from the outside. Beer bottles and red cups were already strewn all around the house and Alice quickly led Bella into the kitchen.
Her breath caught in her throat and her heart slammed heavily against her ribs as she saw Tanya sitting in Edward's lap at the kitchen table. His arms were around her waist and hers were tightly around his neck, their lips attached.
"Fuck," she heard Alice breathe beside her.
Her eyes already blurred, she quickly grabbed a beer bottle from one of the many coolers scattered around the table and walked out of the kitchen. Every inch of the house was filled with people and loud music and all she wanted was quiet. She'd promised Alice an hour and a half, but she'd never said anything about having to enjoy herself or mingle with anyone while she was there.
She made her way back to the front door, yanking it open and standing on the front porch. She twisted off the cap and threw it over the railing and into the grass before slowly making her way to the stairs and sitting down. She slumped against the side of the house, wrapping her free arm around her waist as she lifted the beer bottle to her lips.
"What are you doing out here, pretty girl?"
She looked up when she saw Mike Newton climbing up the stairs, plopping down beside her and flinging an arm around her shoulders. She sighed heavily and leaned against him, not caring that he had the ability to piss her off in point three seconds, flat.
"This isn't really my thing. Alice dragged me."
She rolled her eyes and swallowed hard, tipping the beer bottle up to her lips again as she nodded.
It hadn't taken long for the news to get out around school. Everyone noticed that there was more space in between the two of them and hadn't wasted any time in speculating about it. Edward must have set them straight, of course, because the truth had been out almost as soon as the rumors started. All of the women that had felt something for Edward as well pitied Bella and she disgusted most of the men. She was the pitiful, pathetic girl that clung to the one guy who showed her any attention and she hated it. She spent most of her time alone, choosing to spend it at home if she didn't have to be at the school for anything and preferred it that way. She couldn't get hurt again if she wasn't around for people to try.
"I'm sorry about all of that, you know. I didn't think he'd be like that with you."
She rolled her eyes again and merely sipped off the beer again.
"Must be something about me," she attempted to laugh. "I bring out the worst in all the good people. You might want to leave, Mike, before I do something to piss you off, too."
"Oh, come on, now," he laughed, squeezing her shoulders. "I don't think that anything like that could ever happen!"
"You never know."
"Why don't you come in and hang out with me? We'll dance, have a good time; hang out, you know?"
She sat up straight and looked over at him, shrugging and forcing a smile on her lips. At least she wouldn't be spending the night alone and Mike was a nice enough guy. At least he was talking to her instead of avoiding her like the plague.
He stood up and pulled her with him, dragging her back into the house and immediately into the kitchen. She gripped his hand and the beer bottle tightly as she saw Edward and Tanya still in the kitchen, in the same position except that now they weren't attempting to eat each other's faces off. Their eyes met and Bella huffed out a deep breath, nodding at him before yanking Mike out of the kitchen and into the living room.
"Dance with me," she pleaded, swallowing hard before pressing herself against him and moving her hips to the beat she barely heard.
He happily obliged, twisting off the top of his own beer and throwing it over his shoulder as he moved with her.
"Bella's here?" Edward screeched, trying to push Tanya off his lap.
She held tightly onto his neck, forcing him back into the seat and grabbing his face to make him look at her.
"You haven't talked to her in three weeks."
"But she never comes to these things! Why is she…? She can't be…" He swallowed hard and grabbed her wrists, pushing her hands from his face. "I want to go talk to her."
"She seemed pretty cozy with Newton. Maybe they're dating."
His heart thumped painfully in his chest and he grabbed her hips, shoving her off his lap and standing up.
"She would've told me that."
"Again, Edward, you haven't talked to her in three weeks. Why would she tell you?" Tanya sighed, shaking her head and plopping back into the chair.
"She's still my friend."
"Of course she is, Tanya. We had a bit of a falling out; it doesn't mean I don't still want to talk to her."
"You're just gonna get her going again…"
"I'll deal with it," he grumbled, swerving around the bodies lingering near the coolers and the alcohol.
He was standing just outside the living room entrance, his eyes immediately landing on Bella as she grinded against Mike Newton. One hand was clutching onto a beer bottle and the other was wrapped tightly around his neck. His hands were on her ass and the stupid smile on his face only made Edward want to punch him.
"You lost that right."
He looked down and saw Alice standing in front of him, a red cup of whatever she'd chosen to drink in her hand as she pointed at him with the other.
"She is still my—"
"That may work for you and it may work for Tanya, but you haven't been living with her for the past three weeks, Edward. You two aren't friends anymore and she's got a broken heart because of you."
"I can't help…"
He saw red when Mike leaned in and planted his lips on Bella's. And then his heart sunk to his feet when she didn't push him away from her like he thought she would've. It was as if time had stopped and everything but Bella and Mike stopped moving. The music disappeared and all he could hear was his heartbeat in his ears getting louder the longer Bella kept him close to her. He had to lean against the wall when he saw Bella pull him even closer, actually hitching one of her legs around his hips. He kept watching as he pulled away from her, watched as she threw her head back and laughed before her leg fell from his hips and she grabbed his free hand in hers. He continued to watch as he led her out of the living room and up the stairs towards the bedrooms. Neither one of them looked at him; it was like he was just invisible.
He slowly turned and looked back down at Alice, not realizing that he'd started rubbing a hand over his suspiciously aching heart.
"You brought it on yourself," she stated, still pointing at him. "It's your own damn fault that hurts right now."
"Does she feel like this?"
"All the fucking time, Edward." She slapped her hand against the one he held to his chest, digging her nails into his fingers. "You were too late and it's no one's fault but your own."
She walked away and he stumbled back to the kitchen, finding that Tanya was still sitting in the same chair, happily talking to one of her roommates, Kate. They both looked up when he dragged his feet to them, staring absently at the cluttered refrigerator door.
"Edward?" Tanya asked, popping up out of the chair and immediately walking over to him. "Are you all right? Did she hurt you?"
"Yes," he whispered, nodding and swallowing hard.
"Where is she? I'll—"
"Leave her alone," he said fiercely, his eyes snapping into focus as he looked at her. "You will not do anything to her."
"Leave her. Alone." He pushed away from her, turning his back on her and waving over his shoulder. "I have to go."
He walked to the back of the administrative building, one hand in his hair and the other still covering his heart even as his shoulder bag hit against his hips while he walked. He'd walked around the entire tiny town of Turners Falls, Massachusetts, bypassing Bella's dark apartment house at least fifty times in an attempt to wait for her to get home. She didn't live very far from the Blue House and it had been easy to walk from there, but after an hour of sitting alone on her porch, he'd figured that she was content right where she was.
He didn't understand why he was reacting this way to seeing her with someone else. That was what he wanted; he wanted to see her with someone else so that she could get over him. He wanted her to be happy with someone else and if Mike Newton ended up being that person, then what did it matter? Why was he feeling like his heart had just been torn out of his chest and danced on with a pair of extremely spiky stiletto heels?
Heidi had given him a key to the film lab in the back of the building when she realized that he spent most of the free time Tanya allowed him there. He'd taken up developing every single roll of film he'd ever collected throughout his life and printing them, realizing that the ones he adored the most were the ones that were connected to Bella.
Whether she was in the picture or if she'd just been there when he took it, his mind had been filled with her since that night three weeks ago. He'd missed her and he'd tried calling her at least a hundred times, but every time, he'd get distracted. Either Tanya would come in or he'd just chicken out and not be able to do it because he wouldn't know what to say to her that would make everything better.
He hated it.
He shook the keys from his key ring and stuck it in the lock as he reached the door, tilting his head when the door easily swung open before he could turn the key. He raised an eyebrow and stepped in, pocketing his keys and walking into the brightly lit room. He slowly let his bag fall down his arm as his eyes landed on a binder full of film negative sleeves, the picture of the chandelier from one of their projects screaming up at him.
How was she here? Unless she scaled the side of the house, he didn't see how it was possible that she'd left Tanya's apartment and then made it here. Plus, she would've had to go back to her apartment to get her things and he'd been waiting right in the front. There was no way…
…Unless she used the back stairs and he'd been so busy staring down at his feet that he wouldn't have noticed someone walking around to the back of the house unless they made a sound. Which she clearly hadn't.
He wiped his suddenly sweaty palms on his thighs, looking over at the curtain that closed off the darkroom and taking a deep breath.
She was in there. His best friend – he still considered her his best friend even if they hadn't talked in three weeks and it had been sheer hell for him – was just beyond that curtain and he was terrified. What if she hated him? What if he'd hurt her too damn much and she really had given up on them? She had every right to, but just the thought of never having her there, never being able to call her ever again was heartbreaking.
He slowly covered the ground in between him and the darkroom, flinging back the curtain and stepping into darkness. His eyes adjusted quickly and he found her standing at the developer tray, her breath shuddering out of her mouth and her sniffles echoing loudly against the empty walls around them.
"Did he hurt you?" he asked immediately, a mix of fear and anger crawling up his spine.
She screamed and dropped the tray she'd been rocking, turning to face him. She stared at him and his heart fell even further into his stomach. Even in the dark light, he could see the tears on her cheeks and the overwhelming urge to go to her nearly had him on his knees.
"What are you doing here?" she breathed, shaking her head at him.
"Answer me, Bella. Did Mike hurt you?"
"No, he didn't hurt me." She rolled her eyes and waved him off, wiping her cheeks before turning back to the print in the tray. "I had things to do."
"So, what? You sleep with him and then run here?"
"I didn't sleep with him," she spat over her shoulder, avoiding his gaze. "I could never do something like that."
"I saw you…"
"What the hell does it matter to you now? It's my life and you haven't wanted to be a part of it for three weeks now. Leave me alone, Edward."
"It's not that I didn't want to be… You didn't call me, either!"
"I told you that it was your job to make the effort if you wanted me in your life and you didn't. I got the message loud and clear and I've left you alone since then. I've given everyone what they wanted so leave me alone."
"It's not what I wanted, Bella! I didn't want any of this to happen with us!"
"You sure as hell didn't do a lot to change it, though, did you?" she asked softly, grabbing the edge of the print and turning it face down as she placed it into the stop bath.
"I didn't know what to say to you! What am I supposed to do when I don't know what to say?"
"I don't know, Edward," she said softly, shaking her head and sniffling. "But it doesn't matter now, does it?"
"Yes, it does, Bella! It still matters! You still matter to me!"
She dropped her head and bit her bottom lip, her heart beating painfully against her chest and her legs feeling weak as she closed her eyes.
"Right," she whispered, nodding. "Edward, I don't wanna do this anymore. I don't wanna argue with you every time we're alone and I don't wanna hurt anymore because of you so please…" She looked over at him. "Please leave me alone."
"You think seeing you go upstairs with Mike Newton didn't hurt me? You think that it didn't kill me the way you just nodded at me when you saw me in the kitchen? Do you really think that you're the only one hurting in this?"
"Yes!" she exclaimed, throwing her hands in the air before snatching the print out of the chemicals and shoving it into the fixer. "You seem perfectly fucking fine whenever I see you attached to Tanya's side! Which you should be and if you're happy, then I'm happy for you, but damn it, Edward, don't tell me that you're hurting in any of this!"
"I haven't had my best friend around to talk to in three weeks; of course it hurts!"
"And I don't want to just be your best friend, Edward! I want more and I tried hiding it but it didn't work. So I gave you the choice and you didn't make any type of effort to hang out with me anymore after that. I get it, Edward, I got it loud and fucking clear! I've left you alone and you're the one fighting with me over something that we don't have."
"I'm sorry, Bella! I didn't know… I still don't know what to do!"
"Turn around and leave," she said evenly. "Go back to the party and enjoy yourself."
"Like that'll really happen."
She just shook her head, still rocking the tray back and forth as she stared down at the print of the two of them. Alice had taken it for one of their projects; romance was the theme and Edward was on his knees in front of her, a rose in his hand and a breathtaking smile on his face as he offered it to her. She was a masochist and wanted it for her own, even if it did nothing but make her ache. Alice had silently offered it up to her a few days ago with a disapproving look on her face before turning on her heel and walking away from her.
Bella hadn't had a chance to print it before now. She'd been throwing herself into the newest set of assignments so that she wouldn't have to think about it too much. But after the night she'd just had, she had figured that she'd just make it a little worse and finally develop it to get it out of the way.
"Bella, talk to me," he whispered, walking up beside her and placing his hands on her arms.
She tensed and tried shrugging him off, but he only held her tighter and pressed himself up against her back.
"This isn't making anything better, Edward. Let me go and leave me alone."
"Not until you talk to me."
"I don't have anything else to say to you."
"Because just saying your name hurts," she admitted, her breath sobbing out of her mouth. "Thinking your name hurts and seeing you kissing Tanya in the kitchen tonight threatened to kill me. I thought that not seeing you or talking to you would make everything easier, but it didn't. And if I fail this next portfolio, then I'm going home and I'm not coming back because I can't do this anymore. So please," she whispered, moving the print into the water, "leave me alone."
His heart broke for her and he turned her around, forcing her into his arms and holding her tightly as she stood stiff in his arms with tears traveling down her cheeks and her heart in her throat.
He buried his face in her hair, his eyes landing on the print floating in the water behind them. He froze, his arms tightening around her as he looked at it. It was them; and he was on his knees in front of her, giving her the fake rose Alice had told him to hold. He was supposed to be standing behind her with his arms around her shoulders and the rose held up in the foreground. Instead, he'd dropped to his knees and smiled crookedly at Bella as she laughed and reached out for it, her eyes alive, sparkling and happy.
The couple in the picture were in love. They were in love with one another and it had taken him this long to finally see it.
He loved the way Bella laughed. Or the way she peeled the cheese off of her pizza because she hated cheese but refused to order the pizza without it. Or how she'd try to cook for him even when they both knew that she couldn't cook more than scrambled eggs on a good day. He loved taking care of her. He loved helping her with assignments and he loved helping her clean the apartment after Alice had thrown a "small" get together the night before. He loved spending time with her and just being around her whether they were watching movies in her room or spending their nights at the school to get a project done at the last minute.
He was in love with her.
"Bella," he managed, his voice breaking.
"Please go," she whispered, her hands in between them and pressed against his chest, slowly pushing him back. "Edward, I can't do this. Please…"
He dropped his arms from around her only to grab the sides of her face in his hands and tilt her head up to his. He wiped the tears from her cheeks with his thumbs before leaning down and softly pressing his lips to hers.
"No," she whimpered against his mouth, shaking her head.
He couldn't do this to her. Why would he want to do something like this to her? Why would he kiss her when they both knew that he didn't feel anything like this for her? Why would he want to hurt her this much?
"Edward, stop it, please, you can't do this to me." She pushed him away from her, keeping her eyes closed as she shook her head. "I can't deal with this, please…"
"It's you," he whispered, his arms still loosely hanging on to her face. "It's… it's you."
"Yes, it's me! And… God, Edward, you…" She ran her hands through her hair, pulling slightly. "You can never do that again, do you understand? You just can't."
He watched her sink to the floor, cradling her head in her hands as she breathed heavily and pulled at her hair. He sank down in front of her, his hands shaking as he placed them on top of hers in her hair.
"Stop it," she begged, sliding her hands out of her hair and wrapping her arms around her waist. "Stop it, please."
"Bella, please look at me," he whispered, rubbing his thumbs in circles over the top of her head. "Please, Bella, this is important."
"If you're going to tell me that you're leaving, then just go, Edward."
"No, that's not what I'm… please, look at me."
She slowly looked up at him and he framed her face with his hands again, swallowing hard at the tears still trailing down her cheeks before he wiped them away with his thumbs.
"I'm in love with you, Bella."
She stared at him, her breath picking up and heaving in her chest. He wasn't serious. She knew he wasn't serious. He couldn't be serious because three weeks ago, he didn't want anything to do with those words when it came to her.
Meaning that he was just fucking with her. He was just doing this for the hell of it and that hurt more than anything he'd done up until this point.
"Is Tanya not putting out tonight?"
"That's total bullshit and you know it!" She pushed him and stood up as he fell back on his ass, shaking her head and brushing dirt from her jeans. "I didn't think you could ever be this way! You're such… I can't believe you!"
"Bella, I'm telling you the truth!"
"Three weeks ago you couldn't even fathom being with me and now you're all of a sudden in love with me?" she screeched, snatching the picture from the water and stalking out of the darkroom.
He groaned and rubbed his hands over his face, shaking his head before he stood up and started to follow her out. She stormed back in, sans picture, and stalked over to the enlarger she was using.
"You… there's no depth to how far you'll go just to hurt me, is there?" she asked, her voice high in something that she was sure was close to hysteria. "What did I ever do to you to deserve this? I know I'm not perfect, but hell, I didn't think… why would you do this to me?"
"I'm being serious, Bella! I'm an idiot and it took me a while and I'm sorry, but I'm not lying about this! I would never lie about this; I would never lie to you in general!"
"Right," she snorted, yanking the negative out of the enlarger and with shaking hands, somehow managed to slide it back into the protective sleeve. "You'll have to find someone else to fuck if you're that hard up."
"What do I have to do? What do you want me to do?"
"I want you to stop lying to me! I am not… I'm not another one of your groupies that follows you around anymore."
"I'm not lying," he said through his teeth, glaring at the back of her head. "I'm sorry that I've hurt you so badly that you think I would be right now, but you have to understand that I would never lie about this."
"Why right now? Why not when I told you how I felt? Why did things change right now?"
"The picture," he said simply, throwing his hands in the air and rolling his eyes. "The picture of me and you; the one that Alice took."
"What about it?"
"I'm a blind idiot, Bella, and I'm sorry that I've hurt you so badly. I'm sorry that it's taken me this long but I saw it in that. I loved you then."
"No, you didn't," she said quietly, sadly shaking her head as she gathered her photo paper and snapped the lid on top of the box. "That was the day after you first slept with Tanya." She started to walk by him and he grabbed her arm, stopping her. "Let me go, Edward."
"Look at me, Bella."
She looked over at him, her eyes narrowed and her mouth open to scream at him before his lips were on hers again. He grabbed her other arm, quickly pulling her against him and wrapping his arms around her tightly.
She stood there, stiff and reluctant as his lips glided over hers and his tongue teased her bottom lip, seeking entrance, it seemed. His hands were splayed on her back, apparently trying to inch her as close as possible to him with every circle they made on her back.
"I love you, Bella," he whispered, his voice cracking. "I'll spend the rest of my life making it up to you if you'll just believe me."
"Why should I?" she whispered, opening her eyes to roam over his face.
He was frowning and the lines in his forehead gave away that he probably was really telling her the truth. In the dim red light of the darkroom, she could see that his eyes were wide and probably even very sincere and her heart wanted to believe him. But everything still hurt so much and she didn't want to just be another notch on his belt; she wanted more and she wouldn't be able to deal with it if he just… left.
"Because I mean it. I've never… I've never had that kind of reaction to watching one of my other girl friends kiss another guy. I've never felt like my heart was going to fall out of my chest and I'm sorry that I've hurt you. God, Bella, I'm so sorry," he whispered, closing his eyes and shaking his head. "And I guess if… if you really want me to leave you alone, I'll do it. I owe you that much."
"Yes," she whispered, nodding stiffly once. "You do."
He huffed out a short breath and nodded, stepping back from her and reaching up to run his hands through his hair again.
"You really don't believe me," he whispered, looking up at her and dropping his hands to his sides.
"I don't know what to believe anymore, Edward." Her breath hitched and she crossed her arms over her chest, hugging the box of photo paper to her chest and mindful of the sheet she still had in her hand. "I don't know what to do."
"What do you want me to do?" he begged. "I'll do whatever you want me to do, Bella. Say the words."
"Give me time," she whispered, sniffling. "I need time."
He nodded, licking his lips and running one hand through his hair again as he looked away from her.
"Okay." He kept nodding as he turned on his heel and started towards the curtain. "Okay."
He walked out of the darkroom, the bright lights from the main room burning his eyes as he walked over to his shoulder bag and picked it up. He saw the dry print sitting on top of her binder and without thinking he snatched it up, holding it against his chest as he walked out of the building and back towards his Jeep.
If he couldn't have the real thing, the picture would have to suffice.
Fuck, if she'd felt like this the whole time then he had a hell of a lot to make up for.
*One Month Later*
Bella dropped the print into the developer, rushing back to the enlarger to get set up for the next print. Their portfolios were due tomorrow the minute classes ended and she needed to get three more prints done before she could say that she was finished.
She hadn't given any thought to Edward since a week after their last altercation. Instead, she'd buried herself into the work that she needed to get done and had studiously ignored the way he'd taken to moping around the school. She hadn't seen him hanging around Tanya or her friends in quite a while and while she was dying to know why, she had more important things to deal with. Edward was no longer a huge concern to her, no matter how much her heart was telling her differently.
This portfolio was the last thing she had going for her. She hadn't been kidding when she'd told him that if she failed, she wasn't coming back to the school. She was struggling too much and if this one didn't get a passing grade, there was absolutely no reason for her to continue studying here. She would have wasted too much time at that point and she was tired of being useless. She could go back home and go to the community college; maybe she'd study graphic design.
Pressing the timer button in, she went back to the chemical trays and started tipping it back and forth, developing the print of her classmate the rest of the way. With that done and the timer flipping off, she quickly moved the print to the stop bath before grabbing the other one from the enlarger and dipping them into the developer.
She looked up when she heard footsteps behind her and saw Edward frozen in the doorway, his binder and the box of photo paper held tightly in his hands as he stared at her.
"Is it okay if I work in here with you?" he asked quietly, clearing his throat. "I won't bother you."
"It's fine," she said softly, nodding and turning back to the trays in front of her.
She watched as he walked over to the other side of the room and set his things down on the counter by the enlarger, shuffling things around before he pulled a sheet of film out of his binder and held it up to the dismal light above him. She shook her head, sucking in a deep breath and moving both prints to the next trays.
They worked in silence on other ends of the room before they both ended up meeting at the developer tray. He moved over to let her in, shoving his print to the top of the tray and she timidly set her print underneath it, nodding at him.
"No problem." He tipped the tray back and forth and she watched as Alice's somber face showed up on her print. "How…?" He cleared his throat and sucked in a deep breath. "How've you been?"
Shitty. Heartbroken. Missing you. On the edge of having an emotional breakdown. Stressed out beyond belief. I just want to go home.
"Okay, I guess. And you?"
"Same," he replied quietly, his shoulders hunching as he grabbed his print and set it in the stop bath.
If you can consider holing up in my apartment and letting Emmett make fun of me for being a lovesick and completely blind asshole for the past month being okay.
She took over rocking her own print, the air between them crackling and tense as they stood in silence.
"I've missed you," he breathed finally as he grabbed his print and slid it into the fixer. "I've missed you so much, Bella."
"How's Tanya?" she choked out.
"I don't know. We ended things a while ago."
"I'm in love with someone else," he whispered.
She closed her eyes tightly and slid her print into the stop bath, curling her bottom lip into her mouth and forcing herself to breathe evenly as she was forced to stand close to him again.
"I took that print," he started softly. "I'm sorry."
"I figured you had. I made another copy." She chanced a look over at him to see that he was staring down at his print, every inch of him radiating sadness. "Why'd you want it?"
"Because it was me and you before I broke things."
She bit her bottom lip and swallowed hard, pulling her print out and holding it up over the tray. He moved to the side and pushed his print to the top again, letting her set hers in the bottom. She stayed next to him as he rocked the tray back and forth, his eyes focused on the images they'd captured and his breathing shallow as her perfume managed to waft over the chemical smell.
She was just about to place her hand over his; swallow her pride because she was finally able to see that he'd meant it. He wasn't just saying it to get her into bed or anything else; he'd meant it and while he'd gone about it the wrong way, she had, too. But he moved away, hastily shoving his finished print into the water and walking back to his enlarger. She made some sort of noise in the back of her throat before she shook her head and started to rock her print back and forth.
Silence enveloped them again and she'd finished two prints before they met at the chemicals again. He was at the stop bath when she slipped her self-portrait into the developer, slowly rocking the tray back and forth as she stole glances at him from the corner of her eye.
"I've missed you too," she finally said quietly. "Alice doesn't talk to me much anymore. I depress her too much, she says. She spends most nights at Jasper's."
"Emmett won't do anything but torment me about how stupid I am." He breathed out a sarcastic laugh and she flinched a little. "He says that I should've just asked him and he would've been able to tell me a hell of a lot sooner than I could figure it out."
He moved his print from the stop bath and set it in the fixer, moving away from her. She swallowed hard and pressed her lips together, her eyes darting from her print to his hands. She sucked in a deep breath and took a step towards him, hesitantly reaching her hand out and trailing her fingertips down the back of his. He froze and she bit the side of her mouth, keeping her eyes on the way her fingers slid over his skin. She slid them over his knuckles and then forced her fingers in between his, her heart beating erratically in her ears as she squeezed his hand. She looked up at him and held his eyes, swallowing convulsively while he continued to stand still and stare at her. She clenched her jaw together and started to move her hand from his, shaking her head and ready to apologize before she felt his fingers squeezing hers.
"Give me something, Bella," he pleaded in a whisper. "This past month has been sheer hell and I… I need something from you. Please."
She abandoned the tray altogether, placing her other hand on his cheek and stepping up to him, gently placing her lips against his.
He leaned in to her, sucking her top lip into his mouth as the feeling he'd been missing without her around – the feeling of being completed – finally settled back into his chest. He'd known that Bella was important to him before and the three weeks that they hadn't spoken before were hard. A month with absolutely no contact other than watching her from afar while they were in the same school building was torture.
He'd alienated everyone else. Emmett only talked to him because they lived together and everyone else steered clear of him since he'd broken things off with Tanya. They'd never put a label on their relationship, but with the way she'd acted when he called it quits was almost worse than a break up. She'd thrown things, screeched at him, demanded that he get his head out of his ass and realize that Bella was just pulling him under. He'd walked out with a plastic shopping bag of his clothing and had never looked back.
And now he knew why.
"Say it," she whispered, stepping down and licking her lips. "I need to hear you say it and mean it."
He moved from the tray, his hand still tangled around hers as he leaned down and got nose-to-nose with her. He waited for her eyes to open before he placed his free hand on her cheek and rubbed his thumb over her lips.
"I'm in love with you," he whispered.
She kissed his thumb, standing up on her toes and kissing him again. He wrapped his arm around her waist, pulling her against him and breathing out a small laugh against her mouth. She squeezed his hand, wrapping her free arm around his neck and opening her mouth under his. He quickly did the same, touching the tip of his tongue to hers. She tangled her fingers in his hair, forcing his lips harder against hers and pressing her tongue against his.
"I want you," she breathed raggedly as she pulled away from him and began to kiss his throat.
"Here? Now? Bella…"
"I love you," she stated, pulling back and watching the grin light up his face, "and we've wasted enough time. I want you now."
"We could go back…"
She backed away from him, untangling their hands and crossing her arms over her chest. She grabbed the hem of her chemical-stained t-shirt and pulled it over her head, her breath heaving in her chest as she threw it off to the side.
He licked his lips, nodding fervently as he quickly discarded the black t-shirt he'd been wearing, chucking it over the sink and not giving a second thought when he heard a splash. She stepped back to him again, running her hands all over his chest and looking up into his eyes.
"You mean it," she whispered.
"More than anything," he whispered back, pushing hair over her shoulder and leaning down to plant his lips on her neck.
She sucked in a deep breath, wrapping her arms around his neck and standing up on her toes, her head falling back as he kissed to her throat. He wrapped his arms around her waist, his hands trailing up her spine to rest on the clasp of her bra.
"Off," she breathed, running her hands down his back and then up to his shoulders.
He quickly unclasped it and reached up to push it down her arms, helping her throw it off to the side before he pulled her flush against his chest. He groaned softly, moving from her throat and kissing her again. She trailed her hands down his chest again, stopping at the waist of his jeans and making quick work of the button and zipper.
"You're not in any hurry or anything, are you?" he laughed quietly.
"I've waited for you," she breathed, gently scraping her teeth along his bottom lip. "For so long, I've waited…"
His heart twitched in his chest and he captured her lips again, pulling open the button of her jeans and yanking them down her legs without worrying about the zipper. She stepped out of them and he grabbed her waist, gently pushing her back and letting his eyes roam all over her.
She swallowed hard, suddenly severely self-conscious and moved her arms from him, crossing them over her chest and looking nervously at his waist. She swallowed when she saw the tent that had formed in the open space of his zipper to his jeans.
Oh, hell, what was she doing?
She nearly jumped to the ceiling when he grabbed her arms, gently pulling them apart.
"Bella, it's me," he whispered, stepping up to her. "It's me."
"And you're gorgeous," she whispered back, swallowing hard again. "I'm…"
"Beautiful," he finished, running his hands down to her elbows and slowly prying them from her chest. "And magnificent. And everything I should've realized I wanted."
"Magnificent?" She raised an eyebrow at him and choked out a laugh. "Been reading the dictionary or something?"
"I've had a lot of spare time on my hands as of late." He grinned crookedly at her and shrugged. "I predict I won't anymore."
"No, you really won't."
He grabbed her around the waist again, pulling her against him and pushing her backwards. They hit the counter and he bent down, keeping his eyes on hers as he grabbed the back of her thighs and lifted her onto the empty space between two enlargers. Her hands immediately went to his hair and his lips were on hers, his hands running up and down her thighs.
"Someone could walk in here," he breathed, kissing down her throat and onto her chest.
"They'll get quite the show, won't they?"
He hummed against her skin before he made it to her breasts, pulling a nipple into his mouth and sliding his thumb underneath the elastic of her panties. She gasped and moaned, arching her chest and tightening her hands in his hair. She raised her legs, placing them on his hips and managing to push his jeans and boxers down at once with her feet. He grunted, curving his thumb inside of her and switching to her other breast, his free hand still rubbing up and down her thigh.
"More," she moaned, dragging her fingernails from his hair down his back, throwing her head against the cabinet behind her.
He moved his hand from her before sitting up, grabbing her around the waist and pulling her to the edge of the counter. Her legs immediately wrapped around his waist and he moaned loudly, shaking his head at her and closing his eyes briefly.
"Off," he breathed, hooking his fingers into the edge of her panties. "I need these off."
She moved her hands from him, placing them palm down on the base of both enlargers next to her and lifting her hips up for him.
"Holy fuck," he moaned, forced to step back and untangle her legs from his waist to pull them off. "Please tell me that you're on birth control or something."
"Yes, yes, I am. Shut up," she breathed, grabbing his shoulders and pulling him back to her.
He situated himself between her legs, looking up and keeping his eyes on hers as he slowly slid the tip of himself inside of her. She dug her nails into his shoulders, her head falling back against the cabinet as she moaned loudly. He slammed his palms on the cabinet above her head, forcing himself not to ram into her the way he really wanted to.
This was different; this meant more and he wasn't going to just use her to get off. He hadn't let himself wonder what it would feel like with her if it ever got to that point. He didn't want to feel the mind-numbing pain that would accompany those thoughts when he realized that it would never happen for them, so he'd forced himself not to wonder.
Even then, his imagination could never compare to the real thing. This was a thousand times better than anything he could've ever imagined.
She tightened her legs around his waist, pulling him in deeper and she breathed out a moan, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him closer to her. The only thing she could think of as he finally pushed himself all the way inside her was, "Nothing compares."
She'd only been with three other people before him and it was nothing like this. She hadn't been wishing that it would never end even though they'd just started, she hadn't been wishing for him to never leave her. She felt full and whole and complete and she could finally say with confidence that she was exactly where she was supposed to be.
He pulled out slightly and pushed in again, his hips meeting hers and he buried his face in her neck, placing open-mouthed kisses against her skin. She clawed at his back, her legs tightening around his waist with each slow thrust. He moved his arms from the cabinet, wrapping them around her waist and holding her close as he started moving faster.
"Yes," she breathed, one hand in his hair and pulling as the other continued to scratch at his back. "Oh, fuck, Edward."
"Again," he moaned, biting down on her shoulder.
His hips moved faster and she matched his pace, her hand tightening in his hair. She flattened her other hand out on his back, her head slamming against the cabinet again.
She felt her body tightening and her thighs started shaking as she pushed her hips up to meet his frantic pace. She listened to the enlarger at her side rattle as he slammed a hand down on the base, grunting into her skin.
"Scream for me, Bella," he demanded, his voice strained as he continued to nip and bite at the skin on her neck. "I want to hear you scream."
"Edward!" she screamed as her body convulsed underneath and around him, her legs hitching up higher on his waist and her hips meeting his erratically.
"Oh, yeah," he moaned loudly, pressing one hand to the small of her back as he continued to drive into her.
His fingers curled on the base of the enlarger, his chest heaving as he finally let go, his hips meeting hers as he emptied into her.
"Bella," he whimpered into her neck, sliding his hand up her back and pressing her chest closer to him. "Bella, Bella, Bella."
His hips stilled and he leaned against her heavily, relief coursing through him as she finally let up on her hold in his hair, smoothing both hands over his scalp and kissing the side of his face that she could reach.
"I love you," he whispered, pressing his lips against all the spots that he'd bitten. "Fuck, I love you."
"Love you too," she whispered back, her hands still smoothing over his hair.
They stayed that way until they had both caught their breath and regained something resembling strength. He pulled up his pants and boxers before helping her off the counter and hunting around the dark floor for her clothes.
"How do you feel about dinner?" he asked, shooting a look over at her as he rounded one side of the sinks.
His shoulders fell as he saw that his shirt had landed in a water tray that hadn't been cleaned out from earlier in the day. He picked it out and sighed, looking over at Bella as she giggled and grabbed her shirt from the floor. He looked to the side and raised an eyebrow as he found her bra floating in developer that had also not been cleaned.
"Dinner sounds good. I just have to finish a few more prints and then can we swing by my place real quick so that I can take a shower?"
"Yeah?" she asked, still looking around on the floor. "Have you seen my bra?"
"Were you fond of it?" he asked, grabbing the strap and pulling it out.
"It was a bra. I hated the damn – oh, damn it!" she hissed as she saw it.
She rushed over to him and pouted, taking it from him and shaking her head sadly at the dripping contraption that would be ruined when she washed it.
"Sorry?" he offered meekly.
She looked over at him and shrugged, a grin tugging at her lips.
"It was totally worth it."
She stepped up and touched her lips to his, stepping back down and feeling her heart flutter when she saw the grin on his face.
"Yeah," he mumbled, leaning down and gently nudging his nose against hers before kissing her again. "It totally was."
*Two Weeks Later*
Bella stood in the middle of the lobby in the main building, her arms crossed over her chest as she watched the LCD screen display all the new photos from their portfolio submissions the week before. Alice had pranced into the apartment one day after class declaring that one of her photos was up on the screen and every time she'd tried to see it, she'd always been dragged away. Either she had class or Edward was just too damn impatient to wait for her to watch through the whole thing like she wanted to.
He was absolutely insatiable but she was definitely not complaining. She'd never been happier than she was now.
She immediately leaned back against the familiar body she knew was there, the voice purring into her ear as his arms wrapped around her waist and she smiled contentedly, relaxing completely.
"How are they coming out?" she asked absently, her eyes still trained on the screen.
"I hate retouching. The skin tone never matches correctly."
"Use the healing brush," she said absently, resting her hands on his arms.
"Paul yells at me when I do."
She laughed and twisted her neck to look up at him. He grinned brightly at her and leaned down to gently press his lips to hers.
"Take a laptop out for the night," she suggested as he pulled away from her. "I'll show you how it's done."
"Mhmm," he hummed, leaning down and resting his chin against her shoulder. "Sure you will."
She absently slapped at his hand, her eyes back on the screen as they cycled through more pictures.
"Good fucking Lord, where are – oh my God! Edward!" she squealed, jumping up and down and pointing at the TV.
He grinned, squeezing her tightly and swaying from side to side as he saw the picture they'd chosen. It was the one she'd taken of the two of them the night they were first together in the darkroom. She'd gotten inspired, she said, and had dragged him back to her apartment. She told him to keep his shirt off and lay down on the bed as she set up the camera and the tripod next to her bed. He'd been more than willing to oblige, spread out on her bed and grinning manically at her. He was even more excited when she pulled off her shirt and pants, lying on the bed next to him and pulling him on top of her. He hadn't been so excited when the flash went off and she'd pushed him off of her, immediately running to the camera to set the timer for another one.
But now, seeing the grin that lit up her face as the photo lingered on the screen, he wasn't complaining. When it faded from the screen, she turned in his arms, still bouncing on the balls of her feet.
"Do you know what I named it?" she asked, her eyes bright.
He laughed and wrapped his arms around her shoulders, leaning down and kissing her again. He swayed them from side to side, not caring that all of their classmates were walking around them and possibly getting disgusted at their blatant PDA.
"That's what you are, you know," she whispered when he backed away from her.
"Think so, huh?"
She nodded, still grinning and clutching onto his waist.
"I never thought you existed."
He smoothed his hands down her hair, smiling softly at her. Then he grinned evilly, bending down and scooping her into his arms, laughing as she shrieked and wrapped her arms tightly around his neck.
"Supposed to sweep you off your feet, right?"
She grinned into his neck, keeping her eyes closed as he carried her towards the front doors and reveling in finally being in his arms. She'd found her prince charming and everything she never thought she needed wrapped in one person that meant the world to her. As much as she still struggled with her schoolwork, she had Edward by her side in more ways than one to help her through everything and that was more than she could've ever asked for to begin with.
This is the college I went to and unfortunately, none of the events ever actually happened to me. Not really, anyway. I did have feelings for the best friend that I met there at one point in time, but that was short-lived.
Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed! :)