Chapter 16

"Shit," Jake breathes as he pulls himself away from me. He doesn't even sound concerned just irritated that we were interrupted.
I, on the other hand, am having a full-blown panic attack. Alice knows! She knows!
My feet start moving, pacing around and around the tiny dressing room while my eyes keep glancing at the door, as if I'll suddenly develop X-ray vision and be able to see Alice on the other side. I look to Jake silently begging for him to help me - to tell me what to do! Help me!

He just cocks his head, staring at me like I'm some sort of caged wild animal that's clawing at every surface trying to escape. Or maybe that's just how I feel. My mind is reeling with a million possibilities and outcomes. My hands are running over my cheeks and into my hair. I can't stop moving - I can't think straight - I can't -

He grabs both of my biceps, effectively stopping my incessant circling, his concerned eyes lock with my crazed ones, "Breathe, Princess."
"Breathe? Are you kidding me? Alice is right outside that door, knowing that you are in here with me and not just with me but making out with me in a dressing room where I've obviously been half naked! And your solution is to breathe?"

Although, the room does seem to be darkening around the edges...maybe he's onto something. Two warm hands cover my cheeks and Jake's forehead touches mine, "Breathe."
My eyes close and and exhale leaves my lips in an automatic response to his closeness.

Right, okay, concentrate on breathing.

In. Out.

In. Out.
"Okay?" He whispers and I nod. "Okay, so the little pixie figured it out." He shrugs, "She's your friend, right?" I nod again. "Then it'll be fine."

He takes my hand and (ready or not) opens the door.
Alice is standing with her arms crossed and an impatient look on her face but when sees me she squeals, "Yes! I knew it!"
I flinch, "How long have you known?"
"Huh? Oh, you mean about the two of you?" She flips her hand in a dismissive motion, "Oh, please, I figured that out ages ago! I'm talking about that dress! I knew it would look perfect on you! Turn around!"
"I-er," I'm in a state of shock but Jake laughs. He lets out an honest-to-goodness laugh while I'm left completely dumbfounded and staring stupidly at Alice.

"Turn!" She demands again and I'm so confused that I actually turn. "I knew the second I saw this dress it would be the one. Oh! I can't wait to see Lauren's face when she sees you in it! She's going to turn at least ten shades of green!" Alice reaches down and plucks a pair of heels out of a pile she's thrown together and shoves them against my chest. "These ones will go perfectly."

We pause for a moment. Alice looks at me expectantly, Jake leans back against the wall as if he's suddenly bored, while I'm desperately trying to wrap my head around what the hell's going on.

"Shoes, Bella!" Alice says as if she's needs to remind me.

Is she kidding? I can't concentrate on shoes right now! "But when did you- I mean, how did you- does anyone else know?" I want to say that I ask this calmly and rationally but in reality I screech it.

"You're not exactly sly about it, but no, I don't think so." She places her finger on her chin in a contemplative gesture, "I guess our friends are a little more self absorbed than I would've thought."


She shrugs, "Haven't you noticed I'm always the one who goes looking for you when you disappear? I've been trying to keep everyone else from figuring it out. Especially Edward."

"Douche," Jake scoffs.

Alice continues, unperturbed by Jake's comment, "Now can we get back to business? What do you think?"

"I can't believe you've known this whole time!"

She rolls her eyes, "About the dress, Bella! What do you think about the dress?"

Jake's reaction immediately comes to my mind and a red hot flush fills my cheeks. My gaze shoots to his and his rakish smirk appears. Okay, well, that got my attention. "I like it."

"Yay!" Alice claps her hands happily but Jake's earlier warning flashes through my mind.

"But I don't know if I should get it."

"Why not?" Alice looks so crestfallen, you'd think I just told her she could never go shopping again.

"Don't you think it's a little too…" I glance at Jake, a burning heat rising to my face, ""

"What? No, it's elegant and classy. It accentuates your curves and shows just enough skin to leave them wanting more."

"That's exactly why she shouldn't buy it," Jake growls.

Alice's eyes cut straight to Jake and the comprehension lights up her face, "Oh, I get it. You're jealous!"

For a brief second, I think I see shock cross his features but it shutters so quickly to anger, I can't be sure. He's looking at Alice like he could murder her right here and now and not have any second thoughts about it. Surprisingly, all it does is cause Alice to straighten her spine and glare daggers right back. Damn, girl. I need to be taking notes!

Jake's gaze cuts from Alice to mine and it occurs to me that he's not denying his jealousy as he takes a step toward me his eyes taking on a teritorial gleam. "Fine, get the dress." He dips his head, his lips brushing against my ear as he whispers menacingly, "But if anyone, takes it off of you besides me," his body is flush against mine, his fingers run down my spine, as he breathes, "I'll kill him."

I know he means Edward and I think it's an empty threat. But I don't really want to test it.

Then he seals his words with a kiss.

That heat I mentioned? Yeah, add about a thousand degrees to it.

Maybe I should just live in this dress?

"Okay," Alice drawls, "I can see we're not going to get anywhere with you here. Time to go." Jake lifts his eyes to Alice and an eyebrow raises. "Go on now." She reiterates, "Shoo."

I've never seen anyone talk to Jake like this. Quite frankly, I'm amazed but Jake? He looks impressed.

He smiles, gives me another peck on the lips and says, "I like her." Right before he aimlessly walks out of the dressing room as if he had every right to be here in the first place.

Alice looks exceedingly proud to have gained his approval. "I can see why you like him."

"Yeah." Biting my lip I hesitate my next words, "Do you think I'm horrible person?"

"No," Alice gives me a contemplative look, "I just think you're confused. And who wouldn't be with someone like that chasing you down?"

"But I've been cheating on Edward for weeks! Besides, don't you hate Lauren for throwing herself at Edward? How can you even stand to look at me?"

"First of all, Lauren is a conniving bitch. She only wants Edward because he's the most popular guy in school and she has a superiority complex. Second, she's supposed to be your friend but she's actively going out of her way to try to steal him from you. Ultimately, she doesn't care if she hurts you or Edward as long as she gets her way. You, however, are the opposite. You've found yourself in a complex situation and you're too afraid of hurting anyone to get out of it."

If you only knew what I've gotten myself into, Alice. "I think you're downplaying it to make me feel better."

"A super sexy guy may be able to easily influence you but that doesn't make you maliciously evil. Naive maybe, but not evil."

"Oh gee, thanks."

"Bella, I love you but we both know it doesn't take much to sway you. I mean, aside from robbing a bank or doing something completely crazy like murder, you never say no to anyone."
"That's not true!"

She gives me a look that says stop living in denial, you little pushover. "I'm not saying its a bad thing. You're a very likeable person who is happy doing whatever other people want and right now, two boys want you." She places her hands on my shoulder and looks me in the eye, "Now you just have to decide which boy you want."

My mind immediately screams, bet! Yes, I like Jake and, yes, I fear that I'm falling for him, but the reality is that I'm just a bet to him. The argument we had in study hall confirmed this. Except, just a little bit ago, when he didn't deny his feelings of has me wondering, could it be possible that he's developing some genuine feelings for me, too?

"I don't think it's that easy," I respond to Alice but also myself. I'm an idiot to think Jake could actually like me when he's only ever seen me as a conquest.

She shrugs, "In my opinion, you just need a little bit of time to figure out what it is that you want and then you'll do the right thing."

"Which is?"

"When the time comes, I'm confident you'll figure it out." I let out an involuntary and disbelieving laugh. "You will, Bella. I know you. In the meantime, I'm here to help you. But please, stop trying to lie to me. You should know me well enough to know I'd never judge you." She smiles and adds, "My parents are psychiatrists after all, I think it's ingrained in my DNA."

A wave of gratitude washes through me. What did I do to deserve a best friend like this? As if she can read my mind she pulls me into a tight hug.


Can someone show me where the opt out button for Homecoming coronation is? I would've pushed it a long time ago. Since eight this morning I've been preparing for this moment. Alice had me getting a manicure, pedicure, waxing, hair blow out, styling, etcetera.

Glancing over at Edward wearing khaki pants and his football jersey causes me to shake my head. What is that about anyway? Why do the football players get off wearing only their jerseys while the girls have to dress up full-on Oscar style? It isn't fair! A point that I made sure to reiterate to Alice at least a dozen times while she fixed my makeup. Why couldn't I just wear my cheerleading uniform? Why did I have to put on heels and a floor length dress and have to carry around a duffle bag with my change of uniform when all the guys have to do is scurry down the the locker room and throw on their jerseys?

It isn't fair!

"I'm so nervous!" Jessica wraps her freezing cold fingers around my wrist. The October air isn't exactly friendly and our prom dresses don't really provide much wind resistance. Jessica and I are shivering and practically turning blue while Lauren flips her hair back as though she doesn't have a care in the world. Just more proof that the girl isn't human.

"Don't be nervous." I respond to Jess, placing my hand over hers. "Just...try and have fun." Although, in all honesty, I'm starting to pick up a few nerves myself. I hadn't really thought about the coordination since I'd heard my name on the intercom but someone was going to be crowned King and someone else Queen. What if it's me? What if it's not?

Half of the town sits in the stands, my own father is front row and center rooting for me to be queen. He was about as excited as Alice when he'd heard the news. Next to him, Dr. and Mrs. Cullen are continuously snapping pictures and video. Before the coronation started Mrs. Cullen got about a dozen pictures of Edward and me like it was the Prom. Unsurprisingly, I was running late so she (thankfully) didn't have a lot of time. Otherwise, I'm sure her dozen pictures would've tripled.

It was only minutes ago, that the band began playing the procession and Principle Greene had announced each of us as we walked up to the dias set up in the middle of the football field. I was concentrating so hard on not falling and finding my marker on the stage that I missed everything he said other than my name. Currently, my gaze keeps traveling to Edward standing across from me with the other King nominees. I can't help but feel a little jealous of his relaxed stance. I wish that I had that kind of composure. If he were a foot closer I'd reach over and hold his hand in hopes that it would somehow rub off on me through some sort of miraculous osmosis.

"And now the moment you have all been waiting for!" Principle Greene's voice rivals a Ringmaster gathering up his animals for the circus. The thought has me almost laughing as the ridiculous image of Lauren, The Dancing Monkey, pops into my mind. Apparently, the cold has gotten to my head and started making me delusional. "Our second runner up for Homecoming King is…" We all watch the boys as suspense fills the air while my fellow cheerleaders stand at the 50 yard line ready to bestow sashes, crowns and flowers. "Mr. Zachary Holt!"

Everyone claps, the cheerleader in front, walks up and places a Homecoming Royalty sash over Zach's shoulders.

Principal Greene wastes no time in continuing, causing the cheerleader to quicken her pace. "Our second runner up for Homecoming Queen is...Miss Jessica Stanley!"

Jessica gasps beside me and takes a step forward. Another cheerleader mimics the first and walks forward with a bouquet of flowers, handing them to Jess, though this one pulls her into a hug and whispers Congratulations before she goes.

"Our first runner up for King is…" There's a moment of deafening silence as everyone waits for the results. "...Mr. Tyler Crowley!" Tyler smiles at the same time that Edward's eyebrows shoot up with surprise. "Making this year's Homecoming King Mr. Edward Cullen!"

More cheerleaders step forward now, one giving Tyler his sash, another placing a King's crown on Edwards head and another pinning a purple, velvet cloak around his neck. Edward smiles graciously and I can't help but think how wonderful he is. He's the perfect regal picture of power and grace, everything I'd think would make real royalty. I'm glad he won.

"For Queen, our first runner up is…" Mr. Greene pauses for effect, except, I think the only people it's really affecting are Lauren and me. My heart is about to beat straight out of my chest as I try with all my might to keep a sweet smile plastered on my face, though to be honest, it probably looks more like a grimace. "Miss Bella Swan!" My racing heart suddenly stops. "Your Forks High School Homecoming Queen is Miss Lauren Mallory!"

People are cheering all around us, Lauren is beaming as she steps forward to accept her Queen's crown and bouquet while Angela approaches me and places my own bouquet of flowers in my hands. Beth, a sophomore cheerleader stands behind her holding a red velvet pillow with a small crown on top, it's about half the size of the one Tracy is placing on Lauren's head right now. Angela takes it gingerly in her hands and places it on my head, whispering, "Oh, Bella, I'm so sorry."

For a moment, I don't know what she means. I think perhaps that she's talking about the fact that I lost, but I find that I don't really mind. Now that it's all over, I feel as if a weight has been lifted. It isn't something that I had my heart set on winning but when she steps back and looks over at Lauren who has a death grip on Edward's arm I realize what she's really apologizing for.

The crowd starts to hoot and holler, several wolf whistles sound through the air. A few of the football players standing nearby start telling Edward to kiss her good.

Oh God, no. How could I have forgotten?

It suddenly occurs to me that a kiss is customary between the King and Queen. The following years its been a mix of small pecks to a full on make out - the latter being the preference among the student body. I'm suddenly mortified and from the look on Edward's face I'd say he is, too. Lauren, of course, has the audacity to look bashful when I know she's really jumping for glee on the inside. This is a dream come true for her and a nightmare for me.

Edward's gaze catches mine, silently asking me what to do and I gotta be honest, I don't know. I'm sure I look like a deer caught in the headlights but what am I supposed to do? Act gracious? Act like its all okay? Like this isn't the most horrifying moment of my life? Not only am I supposed to watch my boyfriend kiss the very girl that's been trying to steal him from me for months but I'm supposed to act diplomatic about it because half the town is currently watching and encouraging it? What kind of archaic tradition is this?

Trying to hold a blank expression is the hardest thing I've ever done in my entire life. Although, in truth, panic is probably the only thing showing on my face. Edward's expression suddenly clears to one of resolve, with his decision made, he leans forward and quickly pecks Lauren on the cheek. A harsh breath bursts through my lips that I didn't even realize I was holding in. About half of the crowd cheers while the other half boo's, but it's fine. Its over. The tension starts to drain from my body as Edward looks straight at me and smiles. But with his eyes still locked on mine, Lauren grabs the sides of his face and pulls him in.

Shock grips me as she kisses him with abandon and one, two, three seconds go by. I don't think I'm breathing anymore and Edward, who started with his body stiff, his hands clenched to his sides, slowly closes his eyes and is that..? It is! That is definitely tongue! Edward is fully leaning into the kiss now and the crowd around us is going crazy. And-and-they're still kissing! My stomach feels like it's filling with acid but I can't take my eyes off of them. This isn't happening. I'm dreaming. I have to be dreaming! But I'm not. I'm fully awake and one of my absolute worst nightmares playing out in front of me. Finally, after what seems like an eternity, Edward pulls back, his eyes open slowly and he almost looks startled to see Lauren standing in front of him as if he's completely forgotten who he was just making out with in front of half the town. He tries to catch my eye again but I refuse and lock my gaze on the crowd instead. My fellow cheerleaders are all staring at me, half of them with their mouths open and the other half with sympathetic faces.

And what am I supposed to do? When nearly everyone here knows that Edward is my boyfriend? They're all staring at me like that, their eyes shifting from Edward and Lauren to me. I try not to let my emotions show through. I try to stand tall and give a half smile like this is all okay, like it was just for show and nothing more. I try not to think about how utterly wretched and humiliated I feel. How awful it was to watch my boyfriend openly make out with some other girl. And not just any girl but Lauren!

The tears burn the back of my eyes but I fight them off as much as I can. The lump in my throat is so large that it actually hurts while my bottom lip quivers. But I'll be damned if I let anyone see me fall apart right now. Straightening my spine and holding up my chin, I only have to wait a moment before the recessional starts. Edward and Lauren lead the way off of the field, Tyler and I are next. When he takes my arm in his I feel a slight squeeze from his hand.

"You all right?" He whispers just loud enough for me to hear. With a barely discernible shake of my head I tell him no, I'm not.

How could I be? I just watched my boyfriend make out with the enemy.

Okay, so maybe she's not really the enemy. But I don't like her and I have a right to be upset.

No, you don't, my inner voice snides. And the worst part is, my inner voice is right.

As soon as I'm off the field a swarm of people come around me. Some are congratulating me and others are going off on what just transpired. I can't believe she kissed him like that! In front of you! I'd dump him immediately if it were me. If you wanna talk I'm here. Are you doing okay? Congratulation ons on runner up! You totally should've won. I can't believe that bitch won!

Smiling and nodding is about all I'm capable of. I don't know how much longer I can hold in all of my feelings. Thankfully, Alice elbows her tiny body through the crowd, carrying my duffle bag and dismissing everyone. Out of the corner of my eye I see Edward trying to get past the swarm of people surrounding him but I can't stand the thought of talking to him right now. The crowd feels like quicksand, like they're pulling me under and I can no longer breathe. My fingers reach out and grip onto Alice's arm, my only hope for escape. She pushes us through until we're finally on the other side of the bleachers. I know I should go straight to the bathroom to change, the football game will be starting in about thirty minutes but I need peace. I need to get away from everyone right now.

Alice's head swivels in all directions before she yanks me around the corner and straight to the storage shed.

"Go," she says, "Take a minute and cry all you need to. I'll go get my makeup bag. When you go back out there no one will know any different. Okay?"

As I nod the tears start to overflow onto my cheeks. Inside the shed I throw my duffle and flowers down but I can't get the crown off fast enough. Ripping it from my hair I throw it as hard as I can against the wall and contemplate screaming. I let myself cry, all the while berating myself for doing so. I don't have a right to cry. I don't have a right to be upset. I deserve this.

Suddenly, the door opens, causing me to jump. Looking over my shoulder I see Jake sliding his large body inside, "Figured I'd find you in here."

I don't respond.

"Look, I..." Jake pauses and sighs, rubbing the back of his neck. My eyes drift back to an ugly black spot on the concrete floor. "Shit, Princess, I know I'm not the best guy or whatever but even I thought that was fucked up."

An involuntary scoff escapes me, "Was it?"

"Yeah, it was. But I don't understand why you're in here crying instead of out there beating the shit out of that Lauren girl. You could take her, I've seen how much you bench."

I think he's trying to make a joke but all it does it does is make me angrier. At myself, mostly.

"For what? Kissing my boyfriend? Embarrassing me?" Throwing up my arms and spinning to face him I continue, "I've kissed you! I've done more than kiss you! How does that give me any right to angry with them?" He starts to say something but I'm on a roll now, the words pouring out of me, "I want to be mad at her- at him- at both of them! But I can't because of you!"

Anger immediately clouds his eyes, "Are you fucking serious? You're blaming me?"

"No, I'm blaming myself! What just happened out there is ten times more justified than anything I've done with you! Fifty people didn't pressure me to kiss you. I did that all on my own! Repeatedly."

Jake scoffs as if I'm being unreasonable, which I don't think I am. "What I know, Princess, is that what happened out there doesn't have anything to do with you and everything to do with them. And yeah, we've hooked up a few times yet everytime we have you've done nothing but agonize about it every second of every day because you're so damn worried about hurting your precious boyfriend's feelings. But you've never kissed me in front of him and a hundred other people."

"That's not fair. He tried to just kiss her on the cheek, she's the one who-"

"Yeah it really looked like he was trying to shove her off when he had his tongue down her throat." He crosses his arms and raises a skeptical eyebrow, daring me to try and defend Edward again.

"Fine, you're right! Is that what you want me to say? I saw him kiss her the same way you did! But that doesn't justify the crimes I've committed against him! I've still done worse."

"Again, with the self-depreciating bullshit? Think about it this way, if you and I had never hooked up, this still would've happened, right? And what then?" I hesitate. "You'd be pissed and maybe even thinking about kicking some ass. Not hiding away in here obsessing over what you've done wrong."

"But that's the thing, Jake, I have done wrong! I can't pretend like I haven't!"

"Then what are you gonna do about it?"

"I-" I don't know. "Why does it matter to you?" My voice is small, the question honest. I don't mean for it to sound condescending, and I don't think he takes it that way because his tone is soft when he answers.

"I'm tired of you beating yourself up over someone who doesn't deserve it."

A quick knock sounds at the door and Alice sneaks inside immediately after, interrupting my response. There's hardly enough room for the three of us standing but Alice is able to crawl up on a mat so it doesn't feel as crowded. If she's surprised to see Jake in here she doesn't show it. She simply sets her makeup bag to the side before she speaks, "I, for one, think the contest was rigged and I have to say that I'm not the only one."

"How could it have been rigged?"

She shrugs, "I don't know, but everyone knew Edward was a shoe-in for King and I find it a little too coincidental that a bitch like her could win Queen. I think she planned it."

"It doesn't matter," I sigh.

Alice gives me a sympathetic look and I grimace at the thought of how many of those I'm going to be getting when I walk out of here. "I'm sorry, Bella." Alice's gaze cuts to Jake, hesitating only a moment, "I wish he hadn't kissed her."

"But he did." A heavy resolve settles over me, I glance at Jake thinking about what he said. Regardless of what we've done these last several weeks, Edward would still have kissed Lauren. I could've been completely innocent and it still would've happened. If I was, would I forgive him? Maybe, but I'm not innocent and I can't keep pretending that I am. I'm not a victim here.

"What are you gonna do?" Jake asks, again and that's the million dollar question isn't it?

"I don't know, I think…" the sense of dread and unease settles within me, "I think, I need to break up with him."

"What?" Jake says at the same time that Alice says, "When?"

Jake looks slightly taken aback, he expected me to say I'd tell Edward or Lauren off or perhaps he really thought I'd get into a physical altercation with Lauren. While that thought does seem appealing it's a no-go. I wouldn't know how to throw a single punch and Lauren wwould probably kick my ass regardless of how much I bench.

"The dance is tomorrow," Alice reminds me or maybe Jake because she's looking at him when she says it. "Are you still going with Edward?"

"No," Jake answers for me, "she's gonna skip that."

"I am?"

"Yeah, I'll take your mind off it." He flashes his devilish smirk and I think that's a promise for something more. His eyes travel down my body and he shakes his head, "Fuck I'm gonna miss that dress, though."


Jessica comes up to me as soon as I take my position with the cheerleaders, "I'm sorry Bella. Lauren shouldn't have kissed him that way."

"No, but he shouldn't have let her either." I know Jessica feels responsible for Lauren most of the time, though, I wish she wouldn't. She can't control the things Lauren does and the best part about that girl is her friendship with Jessica. If only she'd see that.

During the game it's obvious that Edward can't concentrate on what he's doing. He fumbles the ball and practically hands it over to the other team at least three times. Eventually, the coach benches him and I start to wonder if he didn't play poorly on purpose. The minute he gets to the sidelines he takes off his helmet and starts fighting for my attention.

"Bella, talk to me, please."

I ignore him. The other girls do, too, but I'd be lying if I said hearing his voice isn't a kick in the gut. I've been thinking non-stop about how I'm going to break up with him, when, where, how - whether or not it's really the right decision. Over and over the words and possible scenarios repeat in my mind. The coach shouts for Edward to sit back down on the bench but he keeps begging for me to talk to him. My cheeks burn red and a lump forms in my throat making it hard for me to concentrate on the choreography. My eyes keep sweeping over the crowd, embarrassed and upset that so many people are staring. I hate that he's causing so much attention to be put on the both of us.

"She doesn't want to talk to you," Jessica snaps. "Just sit down before you get us all in trouble."

"Bella, please." It's the please that tears at my heart as Edward's voice cracks. I know he's holding back tears himself now and that makes it so much harder.

Giving him my profile, I respond, but I still won't look at him. Not yet. "Later, Edward. We can talk after the game."

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I didnt-"

"She said later," Jessica hisses.

Angela, more gently adds, "Edward, the coach is coming."

Coach's harsh voice is the next one I hear, "Cullen! Get your ass back in the game! Or do I need to send his Royal Highness to the showers?"

"No, sir."

The first half the game goes by at an excruciatingly slow pace, but by the time second half rolls around, most of the the crowd has stopped staring at me and gossiping as if I wasn't standing right here, witnessing their fingers pointing directly at me and Edward. Let me just say that it's much easier to ignore gossiping when its going on behind your back and not straight in front of you. I've looked for Jake's face several times but he's not out there. Instead, I try to focus on Alice or my dad, both of whom watch me with concern.

Edward finally starts to turn things around and playing as well as he usually does. It's a close game but we manage to come out on top at the very end. Edward runs the ball and dives over the line for the final touchdown with about five seconds left. It's exciting and everyone screaming and there's several chants about "King Edward" but I can't muster up the slightest enjoyment for any of it. Was it really only weeks ago that I would rush into his arms after winning the game? It feels so far away now. When the Cheerleaders and student body sprint onto the field, I gather my things and start walking in the opposite direction.

For one of the first times in my life, I'm grateful that I was running late to something as it caused me to park on the other side of the school, away from the main parking lot. I'm able to sneak around the bleachers before the crowd starts to disperse and effectively avoiding running into anyone. While walking alone in the opposite direction of everyone else leaving the game, I think about my relationship. I suppose the end of it has been coming ever since Jake cornered me in the closet on the first day of school. I shouldn't be surprised that it's come to this even if it does cause me to feel like someone is literally trying to tear my heart from my chest with dirty garden shears. Ew, graphic much? my inner voice quips.

Shifting my now plastic covered dress onto my other arm, I dig around inside my duffle bag for my keys. The longer I search for them the more frustrated I get. Where the hell are they? I just want to go home! I want to forget that this night ever happened! I feel like I'm on the verge of breaking down again when my fingers finally wrap around the cold metal. Carelessly, I toss the dress into the back and shove the large bag into the tiny space behind the driver's seat.

"Bella, wait!" Suddenly, Edward's arm is around my waist, spinning me around and his mouth slants across mine, kissing me as if his life depends on it. At first, I'm too shocked to move but then the weight of the entire evening comes crashing down on top of me and within a second I'm placing my hands on his padded chest, pushing him away. He's still wearing his football gear which is rock hard and soaked with sweat, in fact, every inch of him is soaked and consequently, so am I. His hands grip onto my sides and for a second all I can think about is how his arms are glistening and how I wish he'd taken a shower before he kissed me because now every spot that he's touched me is wet. It's quite disgusting, actually, and illicites a hysterical laugh to bubble up. My right hand comes up to my lips as if I can physically stop the crazy from coming out. I can't, of course, but the hurt etched on Edward's face is enough for the small laugh to turn into a sob.

"God, Bella, I'm sorry. I don't know what came over me." Me either. Honestly, I don't know if we're talking about before or now but I suppose it doesn't really matter. "I'm so sorry, Baby" Edward says again, his voice wavering. "I didn't mean to hurt you. I didn't even mean to kiss her, it just- it just happened." He sighs and shakes his head, "I love you so much. So goddamn much, you know that don't you?"

He says he loves me with such conviction that it physically hurts. Seeing the tears overflow causes my heart to ache. "I know," are the only words I'm able to get out. But shouldn't that be some sort of a sign, too? Shouldn't I be able to say I love you, too? And the fact that I can't...isn't that be validation enough for what I'm about to do? I think about what Jake said before, that Edward isn't worthy of my self-deprecation and anguish but I don't see it the way he does. If anything Edward is too good and deserves so much better than me.

"Forgive me," He takes my freezing cold hands in his and begins kissing my fingers, asking forgiveness between each touch of his lips even as I'm shaking my head, no. This isn't about forgiveness anymore. I may be able to forgive him but I don't expect him to forgive me. I don't deserve it so I won't ask for it.

"Edward," I fight to speak around the lump in my throat. "I think that-" laughter stops me from saying what I started. A group of kids leaving the game are walking toward us. "Edward, we should talk later."

"No," he says forcefully, fear overtaking his voice, "I can't wait. I need to know that you forgive me."

My heart is breaking. Looking into his eyes and seeing all the pain and love mixed together there has me speaking before I think better of it, "I forgive you." Because I really do.

"Oh, thank God!" I didn't realize how much tension he was holding until he lets it all loose. Every muscle seems to relax as a look of euphoria crosses his features. His hand moves to my cheek and he kisses me again. His relief is palpable.

Turning my head, my eyes shift back to the kids walking passed, thankfully, they keep going. I don't want an audience for what I'm about to say. "But, Edward, we still need to talk."

"We will," He smiles and gives me another peck. "I promise, but I'm so happy right now. Bella, you have no idea how scared I was. I thought for sure you were going to break up with me."

The look on my face must've been enough because at that moment all of his happiness drains away. "You were, weren't you?"

My voice wavers, "I just think that it might be better if we did." Edward starts shaking his head before I can even finish.

"No! Bella, please don't do this. Please," His voice cracks. "You said you forgive me!"

"You don't understand, it has nothing to do with you and Lauren. I mean, it does but it doesn't."
"Then what? What can I do? What do you want me to do?" His panic is insurmountable.

"It's not you." I cry and roll my eyes at the same time. The old it's not you its me sounds like the stupidest, most cliche thing I can say right now but it's true.

Edward reaches for me again with tears on his cheeks and full blown terror in his expression, "Please don't do this. Please." his eyes are searching mine, beseeching. "I love you! I'm sorry I kissed Lauren. I'll never speak to her again! Or look at her! Or any girl! Please!"

He attempts to pull me toward him, tugging on my arm and trying to embrace me, as if he holds me tightly enough he can make me change my mind. But I know now that I can't. For once, I think I'm finally seeing clearly. He loves me so much. But do I love him? How can I? When I'm falling for someone else? "Edward, please let me go. You have to understand it's for the best if we break up."

He wraps his arms around my waist and presses his wet cheek against mine. I feel his shoulders heave with a sob. "This can't be it. I don't know what to do without you."

Feeling defeated and worn, knowing that there's only one thing left to do. There's only one way that I can convince him to let me go. Alice said I'd do the right thing when the time came and I really hope this is it. I'm such an emotional wreck that it feels like the confession is literally being torn out of me, "I kissed someone else, too."

"What?" His hands drop immediately, as if my betrayal has burned his skin. The way he's looking at me right now? That's the look that haunts my dreams, my recurring nightmare coming true right before my eyes. I've lived this moment so many times during the night that I was pushing myself to live in denial by day. I deluded myself into thinking that the time on the bet would run out and Edward and my relationship would eventually be fine. I pictured everything going back to normal but it can't and it's never going to. Not when I've been developing feelings for Jake this whole time.

Edward takes a step back, shaking his head as if the denial alone will make what I said untrue. I can almost see the wheels turning and his thoughts racing. "When?" I know he's thinking about the events after kissing Lauren, wondering if I went out and found someone purely for revenge. But if he only knew. Revenge never even crossed my mind. "Who did you…" He stops, not wanting to repeat it. Biting my lip and crossing my arms to fend off the cold that's settled deep within my bones, I give a small shake of the head.

"It was him, wasn't it? He's been after you for..." He releases a slow breath, "I think I'm going to be sick."

"I'm sorry." I whisper, knowing that nothing I say right now will make this okay.

He doesn't look at me again as he shakes his head and turns around, heading back into the dark of the night. A small part of me wants to chase after him, beg him to forgive me the same way he was just pleading with me. It hurts, more than I imagined it would. So much more. But it was the right thing to do wasn't it?

I don't know. For once, my inner voice isn't snide but sounds as unsure as I am. He loved me so much.

My legs feel like they can no longer hold up my weight and I sink to the ground. I'm not sure how long I sit here, my fingers digging into the dead grass in the freezing cold, unable to control the body-wracking sobs before I'm able to pick myself up and drive home.

Hey friends! I'm really sorry it took me so long to get this chapter up. I honestly thought I'd have it posted sooner. The good news: I have 2 other chapters fully written right now. The bad news: I dont want to post them yet. I want to write a few more chapters because we are getting so close to the ending that I want to make sure I have all of my loose ends tied up before I post. I dont want to get to the final chapter and realize that I left something out that I had intended to explain earlier in the story. So, for this reason, I dont want anyone to expect a new chapter within the next coming weeks. It will probably be a while, but on the bright side, once I start posting more chapters, it'll be a pretty good indicator that I'll be completing the story so yay!

Hope all is well with you, I hope you enjoyed this chapter and I hope that you will let me know how much you love it and what you think! Feedback keeps me going!

Lastly, I apologize for any mistakes. I did not have this beta'd. My dear friend offered but I just didnt want to bother her. (Love you still jkane!)