High school is over.
Like… completely over.
And I got into college.
A really good one.
A really, really good one… that is, according to my googling, 571 miles away from the one Edward got into.
Everyone – Edward included – keeps telling me to do what's best for me, and there's no doubt that in terms of going pre-med, Cornell is best for me. Logically, I know that it is. And I know that UNC will be a great fit for Edward, with his goals in exercise science. Which I'm beyond thrilled about, by the way. I'm ecstatic that I won't be spending the rest of my life with a trust fund baby toting a kangaroo pouch that I'm expected to fill. He finally stopped messing around long enough to discover that he actually held a real passion for sports and exercise, and began looking into schools with strong programs in the area. I couldn't have been more proud and excited when he'd been accepted to his first choice of schools.
But the idea of being away from him for weeks, or even months at a time makes me hurt in a way that I'm completely unaccustomed to.
Not in the old way. The crushing, overwhelming terror that his absence used to create is no longer something I feel. Those demons are slowly being relegated to my past, something I couldn't be happier about.
No, this is a new kind of pain entirely.
It's a cloying, heavily weighted ache in my chest, which, if I let it, has the power to steal the breath from my lungs and make me feel like I might be sick.
Initially, it frightened me, made me worry that the feelings I'd been fighting to overcome were manifesting in a new way, but when I spoke to Garrett about it, he just smiled affectionately and told me that when you love someone, the idea of being parted from them for extended periods hurts. It's not unnatural, it's not a remnant of my trauma – it's perfectly normal.
The smile on my face when he used that word was more than a little bit embarrassing.
That said, I'm trying as hard as I can to avoid that feeling altogether, regardless of how normal it might be, because it fucking sucks.
As the summer passes, drawing our inevitable separation even closer with each day, the feeling gets harder and harder to push away.
"It's a nine hour drive, Bella. Knowing me, I'll be able to cut it down to seven easily."
He's carrying my big beach bag in one hand and holding mine in the other as we stroll down to the path to the beach – our beach – for what will likely be one of the last times before we leave.
"I don't like it," I moan, uncharacteristically petulant as he tries to talk me out of my slump yet again.
"We can meet halfway, in Philly or something. Then it's an even shorter trip."
"Ew, Philly. Let's both just stay here. A life as trust fund babies sounds great right about now."
"Bella," he sighs, "stop it. It's going to be great. I'll be fine, you'll be the brainiac of the century, and we will be great."
"… You promise?" I wheedle.
He rolls his eyes at me.
"Of course I promise."
"And you won't fall in love with some bleach blonde Carolina debutante-sorority-president-skank and leave me rotting in Ithaca, will you?"
"How much of a skank are we talking, here?" he asks, and I throw a fist in his general direction which he neatly dodges.
"That's it, I'm not going," I pout, flopping down on the sand as I absorb some of the last Florida sun I'll be seeing for a while.
He drops down onto the blanket and then pushes himself on top of me, locking his eyes with mine as he presses me into the sand with his body weight. My hands instinctively slide under his shirt and rest just under where his rib cage finishes on his back.
"If I wanted blonde and tanned and vapid and generally second-rate, I'd have it. But I don't want that. I want first-rate, so I chose you."
"You got stuck with me," I mutter, regardless of the fact that there's no way my words could go unnoticed given our proximity.
"Enough, Bella." His voice holds a seriousness that I very rarely hear – he's usually so playful.
"I know, I know," I sigh. "I'm just being needy and stupid because I'm going to miss you."
"I'm going to miss you too, but we'll see each other every chance we get, and we're both going to awesome schools, so we really have no right to be complaining. Not to mention, you're pissing away what little time we have left acting like this, so enough is enough."
"Yes, sir," I say defiantly.
"Is it wrong that hearing you say that turns me on a little bit?"
I roll my eyes and try to wiggle out from underneath him, to no avail.
"You writhing around like that isn't helping matters one bit, I hope you realise."
"You know what? I changed my mind. I'm not going to miss you at all."
"Lies," he murmurs, dropping his face into my neck and, much to my surprise and chagrin, rubbing his rough stubble all over the sensitive skin there. I squeal and try to push him off, and although I see straight through his attempts to distract me and make me laugh, I allow the juvenile happiness to take over.
"I still can't fucking believe that he – ARGH!"
"I know, Alice."
"But he just – I don't even… and YOU!"
I'd be more sympathetic if this conversation hadn't occurred countless times since the fateful graduation lunch.
Esme had invited myself, Charlie, Alice and her parents over to their home to celebrate the three of us graduating. Alice, although slightly taken aback by the invitation, had been quick to accept it when she found out that Jasper, who had just finished college for the semester, would be back in town for the affair.
That was, until we met Charlotte.
She really was lovely. Charming, with a dry wit that instantly made you like her. She was pretty much perfect… but with one glaring flaw.
She was essentially a blonde, 22 year old Alice.
The similarities between them in terms of appearance were just… disturbing. Even more so with Alice sitting beside her, chatting happily away as though she hadn't been coveting the girl's boyfriend for a year. She was blonde, yes, but she had the small frame, elfin features and wide eyes that gave Alice all of her appeal.
It was just… creepy.
I sat beside Edward, watching the two women converse, and tried to stop my mouth from hanging open.
"It's fucking weird, isn't it?" he murmured into my ear.
I could only nod in response.
"Jasper swears he didn't realise, but… come on, they're basically identical."
I nodded again, unable to tear my eyes from the freak show in progress.
In all fairness, Alice handled everything like a champion. Most of the guests as well were able to avoid the elephant in the room, and acted for the most part like there was nothing unusual about Edward's brother dating what was essentially Alice's twin.
Except for me.
I was a total buffoon, and, if the kicks Alice sent to my shins were any indication, my attempts to cover my morbid fascination with the whole ordeal failed dismally.
But I just couldn't look away.
"So, Bella," Charlotte addressed me directly, probably to break the awkward tension caused by my staring, "are you excited about college?"
"Oh," I blinked harshly, trying to break out of my trance, "um… yeah. It's going to be weird – like, really, really, unbelievably weird – Ow!"
"What is it, sweetheart?" Esme asked.
"Stubbed my toe on the table leg."
Alice's shoe slamming down on my toe.
"Oh, well be careful," Esme chided gently before her expression slid back to the careful nonchalance that had permeated it all day.
"You were saying?" Charlotte prompted.
"Oh, right. Well, yeah, as I said, it's going to be an adjustment, but I'm excited, you know?"
"Me too, New York is going to be amazing!" Alice crowed, glaring in my direction quickly before she diverted the attention of the room safely away from me.
That was probably for the best.
"Your apologies mean nothing to me, Bella!"
And the glare is back.
"Probably because I've already said them a thousand times before, Alice."
I roll my eyes, hoping that her eyes are focused on the road and she didn't see.
"And now I'm leaving for New York, and you're leaving for Ithaca – which I'm totally thrilled about by the way because you're so close to me and all – but that means that I won't even have an excuse to come home for the weekend to try and molest him."
"… Except for your parents."
"Oh, good idea!" she says, bouncing once in her chair. "I knew there was a reason I kept you around!"
"Alice, maybe it's time to just… let this one go."
"That's easy for you to say, you already have a Cullen all to yourself."
"Darling, he's with someone else."
Granted, she could be Alice's twin, but still, the fact remained.
"If Esme raised him the way I suspect she did," I continue, trying to mollify her with my tone, "there's no way he's going to cheat on her."
Alice sighs deeply.
"I know that. I do. It just… it sucks, y'know?"
I reach across the console and pat her knee softly, because it does suck.
"But," I continue before we succumb to the depressive tone in the air, "you're strong, and you're awesome, and headed to New York, so you have nothing to be upset about."
"Yeah," she sighs, her forlorn expression lifting a little at the very mention of her dream coming true.
"You never know, maybe you could hook yourself an oil magnate's son or something," I tease.
"You're right. Although, I'd definitely prefer something a little more glamorous than oil… maybe hotels."
"Whatever you want, Alice."