Thank you so much to everyone who reviewed the first chapter, and to everyone who put this on alert or on their favourites list… It made my way to see that, and you guys all rock! :D
I don't have an exact plan for this, and I suspect that even if I did, it wouldn't go that way. Stories I write tend to end up going in an entirely different direction to what I had planned.
But enough of me rambling, and on with the story… If you want to be awesome and leave a review again, I won't complain. ;D
"Hello, Bella." That voice – it was exactly the same as I remembered. I'd done a pretty good job at repressing memories of the Cullen's, but they all came rushing back with a vicious sting, and I flinched away from her, back against the wall of the room. I felt suddenly claustrophobic, and I was distantly aware that I was shaking.
I couldn't speak; I was paralysed, though with what, I couldn't say. I just knew that there was no way that she could be here, that I must be seeing things. Because it just wasn't possible.
I'd been thinking about the past, after all – maybe this was all just a terrible, horrific nightmare, a result of drinking so much last night. Really, I was still curled up in bed next to Nikki, and this wasn't really happening.
"Bella?" Her voice snapped me back into the present, and I saw that she had taken several steps towards me, which made me start to panic. She was frowning, her eyebrows drawn together and her eyes swimming with what looked like worry.
But I couldn't handle this. Not here, not now, not ever. I had never wanted to see any of them again, never wanted to be reminded of those days, of that perfect immortality that had been within my reach. To have it all brought back – and suddenly, too – was unbearable.
I stepped to the side, further away from her, and flinched away from her outstretched hand, turning and making a dive for the door, wrenching it open and stepping through it as fast as I could. I had no idea what look was on my face, but I imagined that it couldn't be good. I was still shaking all over, my hands being the worst, and Lisa and Alex turned simultaneously to face me, stopping in mid-conversation with a third party, someone I didn't recognise.
"Bella? Are you alright?" Lisa's voice was concerned, and she took a step towards me, but I waved her off, dropping my hand as it trembled in mid-air. I saw her eyes track the movement, and she took another step forward.
"I'm… I'm fine. Perfectly fine. I just… I think I'm going to throw up." I didn't offer any further explanation, my body finally catching up with my mind and my stomach heaving horribly, as I turned and practically sprinted for the bathroom. If I had eaten anything that morning, I imagined that I would have been hunched over the toilet for a lot longer than I was, but as it was, I hadn't had the chance to force anything down that morning.
I heard the door open after I'd been there for a few seconds, and Lisa's concerned voice echoed off the walls. "Bella, honey? Do you need the day off?"
"I… Yes. Yes, I think I do." I hated to miss work, and in fact, I don't think I ever had missed a day before. Well, willingly, anyway. I'd been forced, by Lisa, to stay off for a week about a year ago when I'd had the worst food poisoning known to man. I'd tried to come in on the first day, but she'd sent me home. Other than that, though, I'd been a model employee.
Wincing, I stood up from where I'd been crouched on the floor and, feeling steadier on my feet, opened the door of the stall to face my boss, who looked more worried than I had ever seen her.
"What's up with you? Alex said you'd gone out last night, but… This doesn't look like a hangover. You look like you've seen a ghost." I was unable to stop a bitter laugh from escaping me at her words, their irony in no way lost on me. After all, Alice was a ghost – one from my past. And one that I didn't feel up to facing. I knew that she wouldn't go away, because she must be here for a reason, but I needed some time to work up to it.
"I… I know her. That's all I'm going to say."
"Ok. Get yourself home, and get some rest. I'll get someone else to fill in for you." I could tell that she reluctant to let the matter drop, but I also knew that she respected me enough to trust me, that this was something bigger than I was willing to talk about.
I left the back way, abandoning my bag and my phone, not wanting to go back to my office at the risk of encountering other people. I walked purposely slow on the way home, and a quick glance at my watch told me that Angela wouldn't have gone yet. I was glad – out of everyone, she was probably the best person to speak to. She might not know about the whole vampire side of things, but that wasn't the most pressing matter here.
Sure enough, she was stood in the kitchen, cooking, when I got home, and the blonde and Nikki were sat at the breakfast bar in front of her. All three turned at the sound of my approach, and Ange, bless her, took one look at my face and pointed towards my bedroom with the wooden spoon that she was holding.
I ignored the other two and carried on walking in the direction Angela pointed, and threw myself onto my bed, burying my head into the pillows and hoping that everything would just go away if I stayed here, never leaving my apartment.
"What's happened?" Angela's voice was quietly concerned as I heard her shut my bedroom door behind her and come to sit on the bed beside me. I didn't move, and after a few minutes of silence, she rested her hand on the small of my back and inched closer to me. "Bella? You're scaring me."
"The fashion designer. My big interview." I turned to lie on my back so that I was sort of facing her before I carried on, wanting to see what her reaction would be. "It was Alice."
The name hung in the air between us for a second, and I saw recognition, blank shock, then disbelief, and finally, anger, pass across her face in quick succession.
"The fucking nerve of her to show up here without warning you! That's the most fucking - " She paused, mid-rant, catching my eye and seeing I shared none of her fury, and I saw the visible effort it took her to try and calm down. Angela was fiercely loyal to her friends, and if anyone hurt them, she was unstoppable. I was always amazed by this – I swore that half of the time, she got more riled up on her friends behalves than her own. "I'm sorry. How are you holding up?"
"I'm... I don't know, Ange. It's fucking my head up, that's for sure." Her hand clasped mine in her own, and we stayed like that for a long time, neither of us speaking or moving. I was just glad for the company, and she knew that this was exactly what I needed without me telling her, something which never failed to amaze me.
"Is she ok?" I recognised Nikki's voice, but I didn't look up. I never wanted to move again, and I let Angela reply to her – which she did non-verbally, so whether she nodded of shook her head, I didn't know. "I've gotta go, Bells, but I'll come back later, alright?"
I nodded without looking at her, and she left, and it was then that I remembered that Angela had a flight that she needed to catch. With a sigh, I pushed myself so that I was sitting up.
"No. But you're going to miss your flight."
"I don't mind."
"Well, I do. You're not missing your flight 'cause of me brooding. Have you packed up your stuff?"
"Sorta?" I spent the next few minutes helping get everything together, and I was grateful for the menial task, because it forced me to focus on something, anything other than my whirling thoughts.
When she'd gone, though, I had no such respite. A shower didn't take me long, and then I started cleaning my apartment with an obsession that I had been previously unaware that I was capable of. It left my mind to wander though, after a certain amount of time, and I gave up after a while, instead curling up on my couch with my knees at my chest.
I could think of no conceivable reason of why she could be here, no glaringly obvious answer to the question at the forefront of my mind. The only possible thing I could think of was that it had something to go with him. But there had been no sense of urgency in her words, or her actions, nothing to convince me that there was some sort of emergency that I was desperately needed for.
So all in all, I was just back at square one. I had so many questions, but no desire, not truly, to have them answered. Because doing so would mean talking to her, and I didn't know if I was ready for that yet. My mind was still spinning from our encounter that morning.
I knew though, that she would soon appear. She had to. There had to be a purpose to her visit, and she was a freaking psychic vampire – there was no way I could hide from that. I could only hope, though, that her brother had not accompanied her.
The thought of him made my stomach churn, and I knew without a shadow of a doubt, that if he was here, with her, that I couldn't see him. I couldn't talk to him, couldn't be around him, not after everything he had selfishly put me through. Giving me everything that I had ever wanted, only to rip it away. I didn't know how, exactly, I was going to achieve the feat of staying away from him, though I did have a desperate and probably stupid back-up plan – phone my dad up and ask for Jake's number.
I'd cut off all contact with everyone from back home when I'd moved, apart from my family, and Angela, of course. But everyone else had had to go. I wasn't awfully close to anyone at school, so cutting ties there hadn't caused my any strife.
Jacob had been a difficult decision for me. On the one hand, he was a great friend, and I valued that, not to mention how he'd been there for me when no-one else had. I would forever be grateful for everything he had done for me, those few months when I had acted like a pathetic, love-sick fool – I could look back at those times like that now, now that my mind wasn't clouded with thought of him. I'd been stupid to think the way I had during that time, and I hated what I'd put my loved ones through, how I'd made them suffer. But, I'd managed to put all of that behind me and had risen above.
I knew that Jake liked to think that there was something more than friendship between us, that he had wanted me to give us a try, but I had never been able to see it, myself. I had loved him, sure, but as a friend, nothing more. He had been unable to see that, and it had put a strain on our relationship.
That was one reason why I was glad I had cut ties with him – I had felt awfully guilty, knowing that while I was friends with him, he would always continue to think that we would have a chance, when I knew with my heart and soul that I would never be able to love him back the same way. Maybe it had been because of Edward, maybe because I'd started, subconsciously, to doubt my sexuality, or maybe it had simply been because I thought of him too much like a friend. But, in any case, it had just gotten too much for me, in the end.
Another reason for the sudden separation was the fact that he was too much of a constant reminder of the supernatural, of what I had wanted and been unable to have.
So, I had left, without telling him, forcing my dad to swear that he wouldn't tell Jake where I'd gone. I knew that he had been cut up about it for a while, but he had gotten over it, and now he was, as far as I'd last heard, engaged to another wolf from the reservation – Leah Clearwater, to my amazement. I would have never expected the two of them to end up together, but I guess sometimes, opposites really do attract.
I was broken out of my reverie by the sound of my door opening, and I half-expected Alice to waltz through the door as if she owned the place, but I was relived to see that it was just Alex, looking at me warily to ascertain that I was feeling (and, most probably, looking), better.
"You look less like death," she commented, flinging herself down onto the couch beside me.
"I did your interview." She was watching me carefully, I noted, and I kept my face expressionless at her words, doubting that she was here of her own accord. Lisa was well-known for wheedling out information, using whatever means possible – it was one of the reasons she had brought the magazine on so much – and I didn't doubt that she would stoop so low as to send Alex to find out what was up with me. I knew that she meant in a harmless and caring way, but even so, I was keeping my mouth shut. Personal and professional lives should always be kept separate… Or so I liked to tell myself.
"That's nice. Want your folder back?" It had been sitting on my kitchen table all morning, and I had barely suppressed the urge to fling it out of the window, not wanting anything to do with her in my apartment. As it was, I had managed to refrain, not knowing whether or not Alex had wanted it back.
"No, you can keep it. I'm only here to drop something off… The girl – Alice – she told me to give you this." She held a note out in her left hand, and I stared at it for a long, long time, not wanting to take it, but knowing it would raise questions if I didn't. With a barely repressed sigh, I snatched it from her hand and crumpled it slightly in my own, perhaps hoping I could quash whatever words were within it, knowing that I would regret reading them as soon as I did.
"Thanks." Whether she heard the sarcasm in my tone or not, she just smiled softly before making her excuses and leaving. When she'd gone, I stared at the sheet of paper for a long, long time before finally, finally opening it. Inside, written in the neat, perfect script that I remembered, were just a few simple words.
I'm sorry for showing up so unexpectedly. I should have thought this through more, I suppose, but I've been known to rush into things in the past.
I didn't want to hurt you, or bring anything up that is best left forgotten, but I know I have, and for that I apologise.
I'm not going anywhere until I've at least spoken to you, though I think you already knew that. Please, please, at least let me talk to you, just for a few moments. I can explain. Or try to, at least.
Again, I am so, so, sorry.
I stared at the note for a while longer, reading it over and over again until the words were branded into my mind. I would have probably sat there for hours longer had I not heard another knock at my door. I was frozen for a few seconds, paralysed by the fear, once again, that it was her, that the note was given to me to prepare me for some sort of meeting… that she would refuse to leave until we'd spoken.
Thankfully, I heard Nikki's voice call through the door a while later, and I breathed a second sigh of relief as I went to let her in. I didn't really want to fill her in on what had happened, but I knew I had freaked her out that morning and she was unlikely to go away until she'd checked that I was feeling better.
"You look like crap," she said as I let her in. I shut the door behind her, shaking my head, before throwing myself back down onto the couch. The note lay open on the coffee table, and I lunged forward to move it before she had a chance to read it.
"…Do you want to talk about it?"
"How did I know you were going to say that?"
"'Cause I'm me?" I sighed once again, knowing that there was no way, not really, that I was going to be able to shut her out. With Angela gone, she was my best friend, and I knew that if I didn't have someone to talk to about all of this in times to come, it wouldn't end well for me.
"Do you remember the story I told you, of why I came out here? Well, partly why."
"The one with the jack-ass ex-boyfriend?" I'd told her everything about Edward other than the things I couldn't – though I can't lie and say that I haven't been tempted. Exposing his secret would, in a way, give me some gratification, but I knew that no-one would believe me. That, and I wasn't idiot enough to bring the wrath of vampires everywhere down on me if people did believe me.
"He's not back, is he? 'Cause if he's back, and he's giving you shit, then I will beat the crap out of Bella, I swear. Whether you want me to or not." I had to smile at her reaction, so similar to Angela's, and then again at the mental image I got of those two fighting. Edward might be immortal, but I'd seen Nikki in action before, and she was pretty damn scary.
"Not necessary, even if he were back. But he's not. It's… his sister's in town. She was the fashion designer I was supposed to be interviewing." I was playing with the frayed edges of one of my cushions as I spoke, not really wanting to see her reaction. I could practically feel her trying to reign in her anger before she replied to me, but I still didn't look up.
"Did she… Did she know that it would be you? Did she pick your magazine on purpose? Because if she did, then that's some pretty fucked up shit."
She brought up a good point, though I suspected I already knew the answer. Had she not sent me the note saying she needed to talk to me, then I could have almost believed that this entire thing was just some God-awful coincidence. But what she had sent me suggested to me that at least that if she hadn't known that it would be me interviewing her, then she must have known that I would be around.
I didn't want to think on it too much, though, fearing that guessing the reasons behind what she did would only drive me to the point of insanity, and make me want to speak to her, which, as of now, I would quite like to avoid. The longer it took, the better for me.
"I don't know. I presume she did, though."
"Fucked up, Bella. Seriously. She hadn't brought him with her, has she?"
"No." I answered with a certainty that surprised even me – I had no idea how I could be so certain, I just knew that I was. He wasn't in town, or not yet he wasn't, at least. Of that, I was positive – he would have revealed himself to me already. When my subconscious had come to this decision, I had no idea, but I was glad that it had. I felt like I could breathe a little easier if I knew I wasn't going to run into him.
"Even so. I can beat her up for you, if you prefer."
"That's alright, Nik. I can deal with her for now."
"She try to speak to you?"
"Yeah, but I ran off. Scared the crap out of Lisa – I don't think she's ever seen me move that fast. But she gave me the day off, and I came back here, and you know the rest. I just hope she isn't at work tomorrow…"
"Well, here's a crazy idea… I have the day off. Isn't Tuesday take-your-slightly-insane-but-smoking-hot friend to work day?"