A/N: A couple of you pointed out to me that last week was the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen having written Pride & Prejudice. I guess it was a good time for me to update!

Michelle Renker Rhodes is now doing her beta magic on this story!

Characters belong to S. Meyer. Major plotline belongs to J. Austen. I've just moved it to the 21st century.

Chapter song rec: We Belong Together by Mariah Carey (Just heard it on the radio the other day and made me think of this chapter.)

A&A Ch. 24 (P&P Chs. 37 to 42)


The weeks passed, and with the ever-increasing cool weather came the winter holiday season. Bella's school was decorated in wreaths and trees and menorahs; friends called out "Happy Holidays!" as they sat around studying or lunching together; Bella prepared for her winter exams - and all the while Edward's letter burned a hole in her backpack.

She knew it by heart now, could recite it word for word; if one of her exams had consisted of analyzing every sentence in the letter, Bella would've aced it with her eyes closed.

Yet every time she studied the letter, her feelings toward its writer varied greatly. At times, when she paid close attention to the arrogance still in full effect within the letter, she was filled with indignation. But when she recalled how prematurely and unfairly she'd condemned and insulted him, her anger turned inwards towards herself, and his mortification shamed her. She was grateful for what his feelings towards her had been; she respected him, but at the same time she knew there could never be a relationship between them. She didn't regret turning him down, and she hoped she'd never have to see him again because for months, her behavior towards him had been shameful, and remembering how her family had behaved around him embarrassed her even further.

And the truth was that they would never change. Her mother would forever be a lazy, money-hungry gossip, her cousins would probably always be a few miles beyond boy-crazy, and her father would most likely never put his foot down with any of them. Bella and Alice had often tried to instill some common sense and behavior into Jessica and Lauren, but with their mother constantly indulging them, there was little chance of improvement.

Worrying about Alice was another constant source of stress in Bella's life nowadays. After Edward's explanation of the events that had kept Jasper and Alice apart, Bella's good opinion of Jasper returned, but she still couldn't understand why he hadn't just communicated his concerns with Alice instead of taking Edward's opinion for fact.

But it was when she remembered everything associated with Mike that Bella's usually cheerful attitude took a nose dive. The only thing that offered her any kind of relief on this subject was the fact that Mike had been so involved with his new, rich girlfriend lately that he paid no more attention to the Swan girls.

Yes, it was the holiday season, a time of supposed joy and cheer, yet Bella had never been so depressed in her life.

School finally ended, and Bella spent a couple of long days at home with her family in Forks before flying down to New York.

Lauren and Jessica were as flighty as ever, but in another effort to try to calm them and make them more sensible, Bella took her younger cousins out to lunch on one of the days she was home. They went to a small yet nice restaurant in Port Angeles, and after flirting shamelessly with the waiter and disparaging him when he was away, Jessica turned to Bella with an excited gleam.

"Guess, what Bella? I've got the best news!"

"What is it?" Bella asked, though she was sure it was something about a boy because with Jessica, it was always about a boy. While she waited for Jessica's answer, Bella thought of how she could possibly communicate to both Jessica and Lauren that it was okay to speak of other things besides guys.

"I heard from Ben who heard from Tyler that Mike isn't dating that stuck up beeyotch from his school anymore! She actually transferred out to some school on the East Coast. Can you believe that? Mike is free!"

'More like that poor girl is free,' Bella thought to herself.

"Jess," Bella started carefully, "I know you think Mike is…nice," she forced out through gritted teeth, "but whether he has a girlfriend or not, he's still a bit too old for you to be crushing on."

Jessica giggled and gave Bella a look that clearly indicated that she did not agree.

Bella tried to think before speaking. She could never betray a hint of what Edward had told her, but at the same time she wanted to make Jess understand that hanging out with Mike was out of the question.

"Jess, I've heard some people say that Mike might not be as nice a guy as he pretends to be."

Jessica narrowed her eyes. "Who's said that?"

Bella shrugged. "I can't remember exactly."

Jessica snorted. "And I'm supposed to take the word of people you don't even remember?"

Bella bit her lip, trying to reign in her temper. "Jessica, he's too old for you anyway. Stay away from him, okay? There are plenty of guys your own age in your high school you can hang out with. As a matter of fact, now that Alice and I aren't around so much, you and Lauren shouldn't be coming out to Port Angeles by yourselves."

"Why?" Lauren whined. "I like Port Angeles!"

Jessica just raised an eyebrow towards Bella. "Who do you think you are, Bella? Aunt Renee doesn't even try to tell us what to do. What makes you think that you can?"

Again, Bella held in the words on the tip of her tongue. "Jessica, Lauren - I'm not trying to tell you what to do. I just want to make sure that nothing bad happens to either one of you. There's nothing wrong with hanging out around Forks with kids your own ages. And when I'm around, or when Alice is around, we'll bring you girls out to Port Angeles and even Seattle when we can. Okay? Just…try to stick around Forks when we're not around."

For a long time, Jessica simply stared at Bella while Lauren stared at Jessica, because whatever Jessica decided, Lauren would go along with.

"Yeah, sure, whatever," Jessica finally said. "Hey, are we going to order desert now or what?"

OOOOOOOOOO

The night before leaving for New York, Bella tried to talk to her dad about keeping a closer eye on the girls, paying more attention to where they were and with whom.

"Bella, no matter how much attention I pay to what they do," Charlie said from behind his paper, "those girls are gonna do what they want to do, especially with your mother always covering up for them."

"All I'm saying, Dad," Bella insisted, "is that maybe you should try to spend a little more time with them. You have no idea of the things that are said about them around the neighborhood, and as a result, are said of all of us."

Charlie sounded bored when he answered. "Bella, I'm sure that whatever those two get up to doesn't affect you or Alice one bit. Everyone knows you two are great girls, while those two…" he trailed off. "Just go on with your life, Bella. Don't worry about what those two get into. Now let me get back to my sports section before your mother gets home and starts driving me crazy."

With Charlie's obvious dismissal, Bella got up and walked away.

OOOOOOOOOO

Bella finally flew down to New York to join Emmett and Alice for the holidays, hoping to be able to put her own misery behind her enough to lift Alice's spirits – anxious to tell her in person of all that had happened with Edward yet still unsure as to how much to tell her about Jasper.

OOOOOOOOOO

As soon as they were settled back at Emmett and Alice's apartment and Emmett had gone to bed and left Alice and Bella alone in the living room, Bella told Alice what she'd been dying to tell her for weeks but had needed to do so in person.

She started with Edward's declaration of love towards her, the manner in which he'd declared it, and her response to him.

At first, Alice's jaw hung open with shock, but after a few minutes, she was able to close it, and the power of speech was hers again.

"Bella, it would be unbelievable, except for the fact that of course he'd fall in love with you. I mean, look at you."

Bella couldn't help but smile at Alice's comment.

"Still, I can understand how his…mode of declaration may have upset you." Alice bit her lip. "But, Bella, think about it," she said calmly. "Edward may be a bit arrogant, but what if it's not just a whole lot of arrogance, but a slight bit of arrogance coupled with a whole lot of shyness? Wouldn't that make him awkward…perhaps uncomfortable enough that he'd say things he didn't really mean to say, that he'd trip over his own tongue and forget to think before speaking?"

"I…suppose, but-"

"I mean, let's be honest, Bella, our family isn't exactly the picture of decorum. And yes, he was wrong to say those things, but like I said, maybe he was just extremely nervous and had some sort of verbal diarrhea."

Bella thought silently, her chest rising and falling.

"But, God," Alice went on, "think of how embarrassed and mortified he must've been when you turned him down! Yes, he was wrong to say the things he did, but imagine how much more it must've wounded him to have finally summoned enough courage to tell you how he feels only to be turned down so roughly!"

"Oh God." Bella felt nauseous. "Believe me, I do feel horrible about that, but all the doubts he had about us in the first place were probably enough to kill away that love he claimed to feel anyway, right?"

Alice didn't answer.

"You don't think I was wrong to turn him down, do you?"

"Bella, it's not for me to answer that. If you didn't feel the same as he, then there would've been no point in leading him on. Do you think you were wrong to turn him down?"

Bella stared at her sister. "There's more I haven't told you," she said, in lieu of an answer to Alice's question.

She went on and told Alice all about Mike and watched as all the blood drained from Alice's face.

"I…don't even know what to say," Alice finally said, her voice shaking with disgust and heartfelt empathy for all that poor Rosalie had gone through. "That Mike could be so downright evil! And poor Edward! Bella, imagine what he must've felt! Not only did you turn him down, but you defended Mike through the whole thing! And then for him to have to tell you his sister's story to get you to understand the kind of man Mike really is!" She shuddered. "Oh God, it's just horrible!"

"Yes, it is," Bella agreed. "I thought I was so smart, so justified in calling Edward an asshole from the very beginning, for no other reason than that he'd privately told his friend that he didn't find me attractive. Yet if that was his opinion, then that was his opinion. We all have opinions, which if overheard by others might cause hurt feelings, but I wasn't meant to hear Edward's opinion of me that night, and maybe it would've been for the best if I hadn't."

Alice looked at her sister sadly.

Bella sighed. "I have other things to tell you, but before we get to them, I want your opinion on something else, Alice." Alice waited patiently. "Do you think I should let everyone know exactly the kind of man that Mike is?"

Alice looked away thoughtfully for several minutes, contemplating Bella's question. Finally, she turned her eyes back to Bella.

"It's up to you, Bella, but how would you go about explaining what kind of man Mike is without telling Rosalie's story?"

Bella shook her head vehemently. "I can't tell Rosalie's story. It's not my place to do so, Edward told me that in the strictest of confidence. Even though I'm sure he never wants to see me again after the way I treated him, I could never betray his trust like that."

"I agree," Alice nodded.

"And anyway," Bella went on, "Mike isn't hanging around Forks much anymore, and I've spoken to Jessica and Lauren about staying away from him and out of Port Angeles."

"Good," Alice said, and they both breathed a sigh of relief.

But there was one more thing Bella wanted to speak to Alice about, and this piece of information was almost as hard and uncomfortable to explain as had been that about Mike.

But Bella went ahead and told Alice what Edward had told her about Jasper. She told her that to Edward it hadn't looked like Alice was all that in love, and that he'd told Jasper this, and Jasper had taken it to heart.

Alice was quiet for a long while afterwards.

"Talk to me, Alice," Bella pleaded. "What are you thinking? Are you angry at Edward?" And though it shouldn't have mattered to Bella whether Alice was upset at him or not – especially since she herself had been furious with him when she'd found out – she couldn't help hoping deep in her heart that Alice wouldn't hate Edward for this.

After a couple more minutes, Alice drew in a long, ragged breath and let it out slowly, staring at her hands. "I have to admit, I was a bit upset with him for the first couple of minutes," – she looked up at Bella – "but the thing is, Bella, regardless of what Edward told Jasper, regardless of what my feelings may have appeared to be to Edward, Jasper should have spoken to me about it, not simply taken Edward's word for it. No, I don't blame Edward for doing what he thought was right for his friend, but I blame Jasper for being so easily persuaded, for not giving me the benefit of the doubt, for not at least attempting to speak to me about it!"

Bella looked at Alice sadly. "So you're mad at Jasper?"

Alice shook her head tiredly. "No, Bella," she said in a weary tone, "I'm not mad at anyone. I'm just…disappointed that because of a lack of communication, this is how things ended."

Bella put a warm hand on her sister's shoulder. "So why don't you try calling him?" she whispered carefully.

Alice shook her head. "He didn't have enough faith, Bella, enough respect to speak to me personally, and I can't be with a man who doesn't have faith and respect in me."

Bella felt tears sting her eyes, because she could see how much Alice still loved Jasper, but she understood her. She neither could ever be with a man who didn't have faith in her, who'd claimed to have fallen in love with her, but didn't respect her. The thought was almost too much to bear.

So she went to bed, forcing thoughts of New York City and all the exploring she'd do in the next few days into her mind – refusing to think of the man who'd claimed to love with no respect.

OOOOOOOOOO

The first couple of days in New York were spent at all the tourist sites: The Statue of Liberty, Time Square, Rockefeller Center, etc. Emmett and Alice took her everywhere, and though the weather was cold, they bundled and explored, took pictures, and had hot cocoa at Serendipity.

But Emmett could tell something was off with his cousins. Over the past couple of months, he'd grown used to Alice's occasional sad smiles, the way her eyes would take on a far-away look when she thought no one was looking, the wistful expression on her face when she'd see a couple walking down the street together. He'd hoped more than actually believed that this visit from Bella would completely bring her out of the funk she kept trying to hide.

But now Bella looked as forlorn as Alice had for the past few months. His usually cheerful and impish younger cousin looked upset, and at first Emmett couldn't make heads or tails of it. She'd sworn to him that Mike's involvement with that other, much richer girl hadn't affected her at all, but though he wasn't much of a betting man, if he had been, he'd swear that Bella was nursing a heart as wounded as that of Alice's. Yeah, sure, she enjoyed all the sites they went to, she laughed at all his jokes, made all the appropriate sarcastic comments, but something was off, and Emmett was going to get to the bottom of it.

They were riding the cross-town bus back to the apartment one night when Bella got a text. She pulled out her cell phone.

Hey, Bella, long time no see. Been missing you, sweetheart. R U in Forks for the holidays? Want me to come by? Mike

The disgust that rolled around in Bella's stomach at seeing the text was almost unbearable. She swallowed thickly and decided not to answer, but then she thought about it. She wouldn't put it past Mike to stop by uninvited, and she didn't want Lauren or Jessica anywhere around him. So while Emmett and Alice were distracted in conversation, she gave a quick reply.

In New York for the holidays. No need for you to stop by. -B.

New York, huh? Glad it's such a large state. Not much danger of your running into Edward. -M.

Bella's blood boiled.

Actually, I saw him last month. He's fine, by the way. -B.

For a long time, there was no response, and then:

Unlucky you, then. Was he as horrible as usual? -M.

As I said, he was absolutely fine. -B.

Really? Someone must've given him an attitude adjustment. LOL. -M.

His attitude, his manners, his character are all what they've always been. When I said he was absolutely fine, I didn't mean his attitude had changed. I meant that MY attitude towards him has changed. -B.

Again, it was a while before she received a response.

And what brought on this change, may I ask? -M.

Let's just say that I've seen the light.
Good-bye Michael. -B.

There was no response after that.

"Who were you texting with while we were on the bus?" Emmett asked later on as they ate at a small café in The Village, while Alice was in the restroom.

Bella made a face. "Ugh, with Mike."

Emmett studied her carefully.

"Bella, I've noticed you've been sort of…out of it lately? Wanna tell me what's going on?"

Bella looked down at her Pad Thai and shrugged.

"Did that asshat do something to you?" Emmett's nostrils flared. "Because if he did, I'm gonna tear him a new-"

At this she whipped her head up quickly. "Who? Mike?"

"Yeah, Mike," Emmett sneered.

"No!" Bella cried. "I mean, you're right, he is an asshat, but he didn't do anything to me. He's not why I'm…" she trailed off, running a hand through her hair.

Emmett reached out and put a hand on hers. "Hey, little cuz, what's going on?"

"Em…" she began. "It's just that, I did something really stupid. I judged someone wrongly, and I said some things…and he said some things…and it got really ugly."

Emmett waited patiently for her to continue, but when he saw she wouldn't, he sighed and backed up.

"If you judged someone wrong, just apologize."

"It's not always so easy."

Emmett snorted. "Bella, Bella. It usually is that easy. We just tend to make things more complicated for ourselves."

"I don't think he wants my apology. In fact, I'm pretty sure he hates my guts right about now. I know I'd hate me if it had been the other way around."

"And there you go making things more difficult," Emmett snickered. "Stop assuming you know what he – whoever he happens to be – thinks. It's usually the assuming that gets us in trouble. You know what they say, right?" he grinned wryly. "When you assume, you make an ass out of you and-"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Bella rolled her eyes, "I know how the saying goes, Emmett."

Later on that evening, while the three were around the TV, Emmett suggested a change of plans to their itinerary for the next few days. Originally, they'd planned to hang around the city for Bella's entire stay in New York, but the weatherman had just announced snow for the next three days, and Emmett thought it would be fun to head Upstate for the next few days, to Ithaca, where he'd gone to pre-med school. There were some nice ski-lodges in the area, as well as waterfalls and beautiful views full of snow-capped mountains.

There was also that huge vineyard where New York State's most popular wine was made – but Emmett couldn't quite remember the name of it so he didn't bother mentioning that to his cousins. Maybe they could stop by and take a tour if time allowed.

The idea sounded like a good one to Bella. She wanted to stay as busy as possible because it was the only way she could keep Edward and his letter out of her mind. And as she agreed excitedly with Emmett's plan, she looked over at Alice for her thoughts.

Alice smiled. "It really does sound beautiful, but you know what guys? I don't know about me and skiing," she chuckled. "Besides, you know that friend I was talking to earlier? She lives in Long Island, and she invited me over for a couple of days. I wasn't going to go, but if you guys want to go upstate, I'd be fine going to spend a couple of days with her."

Bella felt horrible because the whole point of coming to New York had been to help Alice get over her heartbreak, and Bella couldn't honestly say she'd done anything but quietly brood over her own issues since she'd arrived.

"No, Alice. I don't want you to spend the next few days by yourself."

"Hey," Alice laughed, "didn't you hear me? I won't be alone. She's a really good friend from school. I'm serious; I'll be just fine going off to Long Island for a few days if you and Emmett want to go skiing."

Bella studied Alice. She really did seem honestly excited about the idea. And then Bella started thinking that maybe, just maybe, Alice was finally starting to get over Jasper and going off with a friend for a few days would definitely be good for her.

"Well, if you're sure, I really would love to try skiing…"

Alice gave Bella a hug. "I'm more than sure."

So it was decided. Bella and Emmett would be going up to Ithaca, and Alice would go off to her friend's house in Long Island.

OOOOOOOOOO


A/N: Thoughts?

Another one of my favorite chapters coming up!

Twitter: PattyRosa817