A/N: I am not in any way shape or form a psychologist, physiotherapist or an authority on this subject by any stretch of the imagination. It's just something that intrigues me and I did do some research, but please know not all the facts may be accurate. Katbug86 worked her beta magic on this.
This is a o/s I did for Fandome for Preemies. A BIG THANK YOU for all who donated! All babies are precious, and this was such an amazing cause. You all are wonderful for participating. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!
Please check out Fandom for Preemies: http:/fandomforpreemies(dot)blogspot(dot)com/
Disclaimer: I do not own Twilight; all the respective characters belong to SMeyer.
[kuh m-puhl-shuh n]
Psychology . a strong, usually irresistible impulse to perform an act, esp. one that is irrational or contrary to
"All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsion, habit, reason, passion, desire." - Aristotle
I pull my jacket tighter around my waist; it is getting colder out, summer days giving way to crisp, cool fall mornings. I watch as a group of kids file onto their school bus, the smaller ones teetering up the steep stairs precariously, attempting to balance their large backpacks.
I sigh, remembering this time of year as a child. It was exciting and new, a fresh start; new teachers, new friends, clean slate. As an adult you don't get that opportunity; to have months off from life only to start unsullied in the fall. It is something most definitely taken for granted when you're a child.
The school bus huffs, all of the children loaded successfully, and rumbles down the street. I wave to the group of mothers watching the retreating yellow mammoth. They all smile and wave back eagerly.
"Good morning Dr. Cullen," Ann Marie, my neighbor and desperate housewife if there ever was one, croons as she trots back to her house. I am thankful she doesn't attempt to talk to me this morning and cringe at the thought; those conversation are inevitably uncomfortable. Not to mention the way she said my name makes my skin crawl. Doctor never sounded like a dirty word to me until I moved into my neighborhood and met Ann Marie.
Once the street is clear I reverse down my driveway. Turning down the familiar streets, I'm on my way to an appointment that had been made very last minute, which is rare because I am normally booked months in advance. The call came late last night and the woman sounded rather distraught about her friend. There was something in her voice that struck a chord with me so I agreed to meet with her the following morning.
I am a Psychologist who specializes in OCD and anxiety disorders. When I went into the field I didn't expect to pick a specialty, more just hoped to help people. But as I found more and more of my clients all seemed to carry traits of these things, I decided to focus my energy in that area.
I make it into town with little to no traffic and find a parking space close to the small coffee shop rather quickly. Normally I make a trip to the client's home and meet them in their own space, but I was requested to meet in a public setting. I couldn't find a problem with it, so I agreed, choosing a coffee shop where we could meet comfortably.
With my brief case and my unassuming suit, I blend in well with the early morning crowd, most on the way to work, only stopping in briefly for their morning vise. I order a small herbal tea before I assess the patrons who are lingering on the various plush chairs and couches.
Most of them don't notice me, never looking up from their morning papers, or what's more common nowadays - their laptops. One man speaks stridently into his cell phone, asking someone to push back a meeting, seemingly unaware that he is in a public place with others to consider; he might as well have been in his own private office. His voice is loud, and carries easily around the small shop despite the people bustling in and out of the doors.
I catch eyes with a young woman who appears to be canvassing the room as well, she smiles tentatively. This must be her. She has chocolate brown hair, pinned back simply on either side of her face. Her eyes are almost violet in color and her face is absolutely stunning. I nod, ignoring my initial personal assessments of her physical appearance, taking on the mindset of a physiologist instead and assessing her body language. She is nervous, but just barely. The only sign is the whiteness around her knuckles as she clutches her purse strap too hard.
She approaches me before I have the chance. "Are you Dr. Cullen?"
"Yes," I nod extending my hand, which she accepts eagerly as she introduces herself.
"Thank you so much for meeting me here. My roommate, well, she doesn't really know about this, and I think she might kill me if she did."
My brow furrows, as this is news to me. As far as I knew she had called me to help with her roommate, but I was never under the impression it would be an intervention type scenario. "I'm not certain this is the best course of action then, your friend should know prior to our meeting what is happening. I don't do interventions."
Her hands fly to her cheeks, and then the tips of her fingers find my arm that holds my tea loosely in front of my body. "Oh, no, Dr. Cullen, I would never imagine ambushing her like that. I have spoken with her, we've discussed this a lot. I mean, this is not something that sprang up overnight, just something that has gotten progressively worse. She recognizes it, and I've told her I was bringing someone by to speak with today, I just…" She trails off, her eyes falling to her feet. "I didn't tell her it was a full out psychologist, let alone a specialist."
I think it over a moment, her violet eyes finding their way back to mine, and I can feel my normal stringent resolve falter. She looks so hopeless, so in need, just as she had sounded on the phone. I have the sudden urge to protect her from this, to try and fix her problems. "Come, let's sit and you can fill me in." I gesture to a set of chairs in the corner of the shop and she beams back at me like a child.
Now she seems too hopeful, and my normal propensity to adhere to my strict policies flares up. "I can't promise anything, only that I can meet with her - but I cannot force her into therapy. You understand this?"
She nods emphatically, and we sit and begin discussing her friend at length. The conversation goes on for little over an hour as she tells me how her friend has always had some obsessive compulsive tendencies. But, as children, and into early adulthood, it never manifested past being somewhat of a 'control freak' as she put it, and especially tidy.
I listen about this poor girl and how she had lost both parents in a plane crash right after she graduated from college. From that point on she spiraled deeper into her obsessive tendencies, becoming acutely aware of the world around her and things that 'might' happen. It doesn't sound like anything that is outside of the scope of clients I have dealt with in the past, but as I listen to her gush so openly about how it has affected both their lives, I am given a new perspective on it, which did make the whole situation seem desperate. This woman is scared for her friend, and I can hear it in the quake that stole from her voice as she speaks.
After my tea has long since cooled to an almost icy temperature, and the woman no longer has stories to tell me of her friend, we agree I will follow her to their apartment.
We stand at my car, and I take the moment to reiterate what I said before. "I can't promise anything." She nods, not as happily as the first time I stated that fact. "But I'll try my best," the words fall out of my mouth before I can stop them. I have no idea why I feel the need to add a personal touch, but I do. I internally kick myself even though the words make her face lighten slightly, her violet eyes shimmering in the early afternoon light. She thanks me again and turns to make for her car. I watch her cross the street and find my gaze trailing to her hips as they move softly from side to side.
Shaking my head, I attempt to clear it of any inappropriate thoughts. Get it together Cullen, it wouldn't be the first time you worked with an attractive woman. But somewhere within my self-conscience a pathetic voice tries to rise and be heard, justifying that she's not technically the client and that it's been so long…
The trip is short, the apartment complex only a few blocks from the coffee shop. I wonder idly why she hadn't just walked. I follow her up two flights of stairs before she pauses in front of 2B. "Ready?" She asks, key poised at the lock. I nod and she turns the key, calling to her friend that she's home and there is a visitor.
The entrance of the apartment opens up to a wide living room, a hallway runs straight back to what I imagine are the bedrooms and bathrooms. There is a small dining space to my right, and the opening to the kitchen lies within the nook.
I glance around, taking in the extreme cleanliness, not a thing out of place. Then I see her, moving slowly, unsurely, down the hall. She pauses just at the mouth of it. Her sandy blonde hair is pulled tightly back into a ponytail, not a strand out of place. Her pale hands rub nervously against the tops of her jeans. I can see the skin is dry and cracked from too many washings. Her clothes are pristine, hanging from her body with neat, ironed creases at each edge.
"Hello," she speaks softly, eyeing me with what I can already sense is a bit of contempt.
"Hello, I am Dr. Cullen," I say in the least threatening manner possible. I imagine my voice is a warm pool, and I am inviting her in, not scaring her off. Only when I say the word Doctor her eyes first widen and then narrow, flitting to her friend as she takes a step back into the hallway. Her friend must know she is about to retreat because she grabs her by the hands, forces eye contact, and I can hear her whispering "Please," very softly to the woman.
I watch her perfectly creased shoulders drop with a sigh, and she steps fully into the living room, her caramel eyes meeting my gaze. There is a sort of determination there, and I can't decide if it is that she has already written me off, or if she is determined to try for her friend, but the fire is there as she nods curtly to me. "Hello Dr. Cullen, I'm Bella."
He appears to be harmless enough; I can't envision germs crawling all over his neatly pressed suit, so that is a plus. And when Rose grabs my hands, something she seldom does anymore - try to touch me - I can't escape the plea in her face, in her voice. I know as much as she does that I need help, but accepting it and following through are two completely different animals.
So, I find myself sitting as far from him as possible, on a small wooden chair by our fireplace that no one ever really sits in. As he speaks I wonder what the point of a chair is that no one ever sits in, to have it purely for decoration seems idiotic, and the fact that it is in our living room, completely useless, begins to eat away at me. It is uncomfortable and ridged. I squirm slightly, trying to relieve the part of my backside that is becoming numb from sitting on its unpadded surface. In that moment I want nothing more than that chair out of our apartment. The thought gnaws at my brain.
"Ms. Swan?" the doctor calls my name, his face is expectant, and I know he has asked me a question. I need to try for Rose. Focus Bella, focus.
He smiles kindly, the way everyone does when they learn just how ruined I am. Poor, damaged Bella, she can't help it. "I asked if you understood what I have told you about the type of therapy I work with," he states calmly, patiently.
I rattle my brain, trying to shake free the answer, it's in there somewhere, the man just talked for twenty minuets - I have to have retained something. But the only things that come to mind are the mail Rosalie brought in and strewn across the dining room table. So out of place; they need to be put away. And the chair that was useless, except to be deceiving to people, trying to convince that it is in fact a chair and not a torture device. And then I see it, hiding in the blackness of his shoes, but carelessly leaning away, about to fall onto our white carpet; a small piece of dirt.
I freeze, my heart halting in my chest. The small, harmless piece of dirt laughs at me, seizing my entire being with it's presence. I can focus on nothing else. My eyes are locked on the nuisance, and, suddenly, my still heart beats erratically against my rib cage. Get rid of it, that's all I can think. If I don't make it go away then it will get everywhere.
It will spread.
"Don't move!" I say without thinking and am on my feet, in the kitchen, grasping for paper towel and Windex. It was the first thing my fingers touched in the cupboard, but it will have to do. I race back into the living room like I am fighting the clock and dive at his feet. I wipe incessantly at the top of his shoe, long after the paper towel has captured the offending dirt. But all I can see is dirt all over, being tracked along the carpet, onto the tile of the kitchen floor, and I can't stop. I count as I wipe, spraying the Windex carefully as to not get any on the carpet.
I don't let go of his shoe until my heart calms to a regular pace. The shiny surface reflects my frantic expression in a weird blurry fashion. I pull away slowly, my gaze fixed to my hands which are itchy from their dryness. "Sorry," I mumble and scoot backwards to the chair by the fireplace. My punishment for my outburst, I will take the discomfort now without complaint.
"Sorry for what Bella?" His voice is gentle. I realize that he sat there the entire time and let me do what I did - what I had to do.
With a great deal of effort, I manage to focus on his hairline, bringing my eyes to his fully would be impossible. "Sorry for, um, cleaning your shoe."
"Don't be silly, there was dirt I gather?"
"Well, then thank you. I would hate to track dirt all over your clean floor. Can I ask you a question Bella?"
I nod again.
"What did you think when you saw the dirt, Bella?"
"That it would spread," I recite my exact thoughts.
"And where would it spread, what do you think would happen if it spread...?"
"Um," I pull at the corner of my shirt nervously. "Everywhere, it would get everywhere. It was out of place."
"And how did that make you feel?" He is studying my answers carefully, and I feel a bit like a lab rat.
I consider his question, the answer seems obvious, but I am not sure if he is looking for a deeper meaning. "Just focused on it, I needed it gone," I shrug.
I can see him smile softly from my peripheral. "Okay … and physically, how did you feel?"
"Uh, anxious, nervous, my heart … it beats hard and fast when things bother me like that."
"And the anxiety you feel, the fast beating heart, those things push you to do what you 'have' to do, is that how you feel?"
"Sort of, it's a kind of a building sensation, like it might become too much to bear. But that's not why I feel like I have to do anything." I gather the strength to meet his eyes. They are a light grey, slight specks of blue highlight around his pupil. They are smart eyes, knowledgeable.
"What does, Bella? What makes you follow through on your impulses?"
"I don't know," I reply honestly.
His answering smile is warm, the flecks of blue seem to multiply as his eyes light up. "Well, that's what I'm going to help you figure out."
"Emergence therapy," I blurt, the name appearing to me suddenly.
"Yes, that is one of the ways I intend to help you."
Fingers pick at the hem of my shirt, my throat feels dry, and all I want is a glass of water. "Okay," I croak lightly.
"We will work our way up to that. My first assignment for you will be that I'd like you to keep a record of your incidences, no matter how big or small. And I would like for you to number the feeling in intensity. From 1-10, how extreme the feeling is, one being the least intense and ten being the most potent. Can you do that for me?"
Shrugging, I figure it seems simple enough. "Sure."
Standing, he hands me a journal. It hangs in the open space between us, I don't reach for it, I'm not sure where it's been. He seems to understand my dilemma and places it on the coffee table between us.
"We will meet again in three days. Does that work for you Bella?"
"Yeah," I sigh, my vision still focused on the spiral bound notebook sitting on the coffee table.
He makes for the door, and my mother's teachings kick in. I stand to be polite, "Thank you Dr. Cullen."
He pauses, smiling kindly. "You can call me Edward, and you are welcome." He looks to Rose, his smile warming slightly, and I know that look. He likes her.
She bites on her fingernails as she lets him out, thanking him profusely. I cringe at the bacteria that she is spreading by gnawing on her nails, but try not to think about it. I count slowly in my head to keep my heart from running wild. Thankfully it stays obedient, slow and steady.
Then I remember something.
"Where are you going?" Rose calls after me as I push through the front door.
"To get rid of this chair," I reply huffing as I lug it down the steps, relief already filling me as I get it further from our apartment. This will be one thing I don't lose sleep over.
"Bella!" My mother calls from the bottom of the stairs. I don't answer because I am deep in concentration. "Belllllaaaaa!" She tries again.
Finally I can hear her give up; her foot falls sound lightly on each step. My door opens, her head peaking in. "Bella, I was calling you, did you hear me?"
I shrug, my focus remaining on the task at hand. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple…
Over and over again I repeat the colors so I don't get any out of order. We had just learned the color order of a rainbow in school and something about that knowledge consumed me. All I could think about for the rest of the day was how wonderful it was that there was a specific order. It made sense.
"Bella, honey, what on earth are you doing?" Her eyes trail along my bedroom floor, over all the markers, crayons, color pencils, and construction paper strewn about.
"Putting these in order," I say quickly. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple … I pause at the crayon in my fingers. Yellow-orange? This perplexes me. How could that be possible? Wouldn't orange-yellow make more sense? Exasperated, I toss the crayon in a trash can behind me, trying not to think about the fact that the set will be missing one. I will count to make sure they are even numbers at least.
Delicate fingers thumb through my hair, the sensation sends cool waves through my body. "Bella, what's wrong baby?"
My mother knows me too well. "Nothing," I grunt.
"Okay," she whispers and continues working her hands through my hair, my heart beat slows. My eyes slide closed. "Jamie wouldn't talk to me today," I say without thinking.
"Jamie? But she's your best friend."
"She was my best friend, but she ignored me all day, and … I don't know why because she wouldn't talk to me. It just doesn't make sense," I huff, crossing my arms tightly across my chest.
My mother slides to the floor, pulling my small frame into her lap. Her fingers find my face, my still closed eyes. They trace my features, and my brow relaxes to her touch. "Oh Bells, I'm sure it's just some silly misunderstanding. Some things in life don't always make sense. All that matters is how you deal with the chaos. You can let it control you, make you feel angry and scared, or you can confront it head on, feel confident and know that no matter what you are a smart, beautiful, amazing girl and you'll be okay."
It is quiet while I process her words. They work; a feeling of pride and assurance swells in my heart. "I'll talk to her tomorrow."
"Good," she replies, nuzzling her nose against my cheek. "Now what do you say we fix this mess?"
My eyes open, half her face covering my field of vision. I pull back and look at her smiling face, but I see the worried creases in her smile that she is trying to hide. She has noticed my tendencies, and she always has a way of bringing me around, helping me without saying it.
We stand and she grabs a bucket, one by one dumping all the crayons and markers and colored pencils in haphazardly. No rhyme or reason, no order. My heart quickens slightly, hands hover above the bucket. I swallow, glancing at her face that still smiles at me. Swallowing, I smile back, that warm feeling hugs my heart again, causing it to slow. "Thanks," I say softly, and dump what's in my hands into the bucket. And in it's chaos I can still find that it makes sense.
Two days ago Edward Cullen gave me a notebook to record my "episodes" in. Well, he didn't call them that, but I did. At first it seemed trivial and after disinfecting the notebook I took it to my room and found a place for it by my bed. Then I remembered the mail that was lying on the dining room table. A million things went through my head at once. We have a basket to place mail in … God knows where those have been … Where the mailman's hands have been … And now they just sit on top of the place where we eat our food.
The panic rose in me, but I forced my feet to stay. Rose hates it when I clean up after her. In truth, I know it makes her feel bad, like she is a slob or something. And on top of that she knows it triggers those types of reactions, and she tries so hard not to. Listening at my door, I could hear her moving about the kitchen. She was cooking dinner, another thing that I try not to think about. I can't stand watching the mess accumulate, and after a few times of me following her around cleaning as she cooked, getting in her way incessantly, I made a point to steer clear when she was in there; often times blaring music and singing loudly to rid my head of any thoughts whatsoever.
My heart was already slamming against my ribs, my palms becoming clammy. I swallowed hard against an abruptly parched throat. Moving brusquely back and forth, I paced like a lion in front of it's iron gate, waiting for feeding time. She just needed to leave the room for five minutes, and I could have rushed out there and made it all right.
My mother flashed before my eyes, the worried crease to her smile. I tried to think what she would say, feel her soothing fingers on my skin, but that just pushed me into overdrive. Because she was not there, she would never be there again. My heart thundered, blood rushing in a loud whoosh against my ears, I felt light headed and flung myself from my room.
It was horrible. I made Rose cry, abandon dinner, and half the mail was ruined in my attempts to disinfect it. It took me a long time to calm myself down and accept the fact that the dining room table was not going to be thrown out. I managed to settle for bleaching it down several times. By the time I sat on my bed, blank notebook staring me in the face, my cracked hands were bleeding, and I was exhausted.
I sat forever it seemed, trying to form the words to put to paper, explain exactly what happened, what my 'level' was. The only thing I learned from the exercise was exactly how painful it was to truly dissect my episodes and a looming fear that I couldn't do this; that I would fail Rose.
After that night I didn't have any more major instances, so recording the little things was somewhat easier. When Dr. Cullen comes this evening I will have four full pages of things for him to read through.
Sitting on my bed, I close the notebook, having just finished a recent entry. Glancing at the clock I realize it's lunch time. Standing, I stretch my arms to the ceiling, my back popping a few times. I replace the notebook on my bookcase by my bed and go to the kitchen to hunt down some lunch.
Plate, bread, cheese, mayonnaise, turkey, knife…
Just as I methodically spread out the condiments and lunch meat, turning the mayonnaise jar so the label faces out and I can read it, there is a knock at the door. I frown at the food, I don't like being interrupted when I am following through on a task. It makes my skin crawl to have the steps interrupted.
The knock sounds again, and I grunt, wrapping the turkey back up and replacing everything back in their proper places. I cannot stand to leave it sitting out even for a second.
I wash my hands, luckily only feeling the need to do it once and another knock jars the door, louder this time. "Just a minute!" I call, drying my hands on a towel.
Grumbling to myself, I reach the door just as another, lighter tap raps against the door. "Good grief." The door swings wide, and I am set off immediately. This is wrong, our appointment isn't until tonight. I check my watch again, 1:13 … not 7:00pm. What the hell is he doing? "What are you doing?"
"Good afternoon Bella," Edward smiles sweetly at me.
"Yeah. Why are you here?" I can't stop the abruptness to my voice, my words come out clipped and my irritation is obvious, but I can't worry about that when my hands are tingling and my heart beats so rapidly.
"I had a change of plans and had to reschedule our meeting for this afternoon."
"I glance around, trying to makes sense of his words. "You don't own a phone," I spit tersely.
"No, I do, but I didn't think this would be a problem. Is it a problem Bella?" His tone is even, calm, cool, he does not seem put off by my indignant attitude. My eyes narrow at his easy smile. He did this on purpose.
"Actually yes, yes it is. I, uh … I was just leaving."
"Oh?" His eyebrows nearly touch his hairline, he is genuinely surprised. "I apologize then."
I shrug him off, but he makes no move to depart, staring at me expectantly.
"What?" I snap.
"I was going to walk you out," he smiles, his gaze dropping to my bare feet.
My arms cross defensively across my chest. Shit. "Oh, well, I wasn't exactly leaving right this second…"
He sighs, his hand tugs on his right sleeve, straightening his jacket. When his eyes meet mine I detect the vaguest note of irritation, but he masks it well. "Miss Swan," his tone is stern, fatherly. My back stiffens. "I know that you have your propensities, but I was unaware that lying was one of them."
My face goes pale, I hate being reprimanded.
"I have come to help. Your friend has all but begged that I do so. But if you do not desire my help then tell me now, because I do not wish to waste each other's time."
My mouth hangs lamely, he is right, and I have nothing in response, only… "I do. I want help," it comes out barely a whisper. I look to the carpet beneath my toes contritely.
"Good, then shall we try this again?"
And I know then that he did do this on purpose, but not to be mean, to perform some sort of exercise, see how I would handle it. I nod, attempting a small smile and move to allow him in. "Sure."
"Would you care for something to drink?"
"A glass of water would be wonderful, thank you."
My stomach grumbles when I enter the kitchen. "I was about to make myself a sandwich, can I offer you anything?" I call around the corner.
"No, thank you, I ate before I came."
Tipping my head to either side, I crack my neck and take a deep breath. Surprisingly, I feel calm enough. My anxiety forgotten when I felt like I was being chastised, that seemed to have snapped me out of it. I consider this as I pull out all of the necessities to make myself a turkey sandwich. Slowly following my self-imposed protocol when cooking, it takes me a few minutes to complete the task. I return to the living room with my sandwich neatly on a plate and a glass of water for Edward.
"Here you go," I place it squarely on a coaster on the table next to the side of the couch he is sitting at. Pausing for a brief second, I remember the only other place to sit is on the other side of the couch, as we no longer have the ugly sham of a chair next to the fire place.
Reluctantly, I sit as far on the other side of the couch as possible.
"So, Bella, how have you been these past few days?"
"Good," I mumble around a mouthful of food. Edward cracks a smile, and I feel like a pig, dropping my sandwich to my plate.
"You knew I didn't have anywhere to be," I blurt, the fact occurring to me suddenly.
He grins sheepishly, shrugging. "I may have spoken to Rose."
I wiggle my eyebrows, "Oh, you may have? Do you speak with her often?" My words are saturated with insinuations and he squirms slightly.
"No," his voice cracks.
I wave my hand in the air, taking another bite of my sandwich. "Why don't you just ask her out already?"
He starts to speak, but stops, first shock registering and then intrigue. "I don't…. why, has she said something?"
I shrug, uncommitted to an answer. "What does it matter, just ask her out. What have you got to lose?"
"Nothing I suppose, it's just that -" Our eyes meet and he seems to remember himself, clearing his throat. "Right, well I don't think we should be discussing my personal life. You had the notebook to work with the past few days, how was that?"
Swallowing my last bit of sandwich, I considered my answer. "Okay I guess, harder than I thought it would be," I say honestly.
"Yes, it can be, forcing yourself to analyze your actions is the first step in addressing what the cause of everything may be."
I nod, understanding how that could be true.
"May I see your journal?"
"Sure." I grab the book from my room, wiping it off before I hand it to him.
We spend the next hour going over my notes, discussing the accuracy of my 'anxiety scale' and how I can better self-diagnose exactly where it hits during an episode. He seems happy with whatever information he gleans from our conversation, smiling as he stands.
"Bella, I am very hopeful for you. In all, it seems your 'episodes', as you have called them, remain relatively tame. Aside from the first one in your journal, you haven't documented any over a level five. If you are willing to work with me, and try whatever it takes, then I really think that you have great potential to concur this."
"Thank you," I say.
He extends his hand for a handshake, and I stare at it. It seems clean, and I don't have an immediate repulsion by it, but something keeps me from moving to accept it.
"Does this make you uncomfortable Bella?"
"Yes." I force eye contact, his grey irises warm with understanding.
"Why? Do you worry about the germs on my hand?"
"No. Sort of. I don't touch people. Or I haven't much in a long time. It doesn't feel right."
His eyes narrow at me, and I know I'm not making any sense. "I'd like you to try. Can you do that?"
Swallowing hard I think of Rose, and I close my eyes. My hand lifts, and I can almost feel the energy around his hand close to mine. My skin is tingling again, and I don't like it. I always make a point to steer clear of physical contact. I don't want any kind of bond in that form, I can't bare it. But before I can retract my arm Edward's hand slips into mine and grasps lightly. I gasp; the tingling buzzes intensely, spreading into my arm.
My eyes fly open, and Edward is staring at our connected hands. "What is your level?"
"Eight," I say without hesitation. My chest is tightening, and I don't want him touching me anymore.
He lets go, and I gasp out another breath, my hand bracing against my chest.
He looks to me again, judging my response and then supplying me a soft nod. "We will work on that."
I don't respond and he turns for the door. I walk him out, saying our goodbyes, and close the door before sliding my body down the wooden surface. My hands lodge deeply into my scalp, tears pouring out on their own accord. I don't like being touched, it was too much.
It has been two weeks since Edward Cullen first waltzed into my life. We have had a handful of meetings, one every few days. At first they were relaxed, easy, mostly talking was all that they entailed. But then last Friday he requested that we meet in my bedroom. I didn't think much about it until he came in, clearly with an agenda as he looked over my belongings. His hands trailed over my books, along the top of my dresser, and my anxiety grew with every touch.
I asked him what we were doing in there after it had been quiet for too long, and I couldn't take it any longer. Without responding, he pulled three books out from my shelf and dumped them on my bed. They landed mangled, open carelessly, pages bending beneath the weight of the hard covers.
"What are you doing," I all but shouted, rushing to my bed.
He held his arm out across my body, but didn't touch me; it was enough to make me stop short. "Please leave them," he said.
I stared down in horror, my scalp prickling, my hands going almost completely numb. My breathing was coming in quick burst, and I fought back the tears that flooded my eye lids.
"What is your level?"
"Ten," I said quickly, hoping that would make him cave, and I could restore order.
"Okay," he was speaking slowly in a low, even tone; it would have been soothing if I were able to focus on it. "I want you to work with me here Bella. Let's leave the books there until your level has come down a bit, okay?"
"What?" I spat, eyes locked on the poor innocent books.
"Once you are at a level five, we'll talk about moving the books. For now I want you to feel it, live in the anxiety, can you do that?"
"No," I said, a sob breaking through, tears spilling over.
"I think you can. Try for me? For Rose? Take deep even breaths."
I shook my head, keeping my mouth shut from fear of what I might spit at him in agitation. We waited in my room for over an hour before I could even feel my level waning from a ten in the slightest. In total it took two and a half hours, and several breakdowns, before I was breathing better, my hands shaking just slightly, and my anxiety level only at a five. It was hell on earth, the worst thing I had experienced in a long time.
Edward had been as supportive as possible, explaining calmly how working through it, living in the anxiety would help me to realize that these things don't matter as much as they seem to. I couldn't really take much of what he had said to heart until later that evening, once everything was right with the world again, my books sat neatly on their shelf, and the darkness surrounded me, allowing me to think.
I felt slightly different, a little proud that I had survived and had not murdered Edward over some misplaced books, but I was still doubtful that it would ever feel any different.
Today we are going on a field trip, Edward won't tell me where we are going and that in and of itself is making me nervous.
"Relax Bella, I'm not taking you somewhere too terribly extreme." Edward peers down at my fingers that are wearing away the edge of my sweater sleeve. I groan at the fraying threads, shit I liked this sweater.
"Well, maybe if you'd just tell me where we are going I would be able to prepare myself and not feel so antsy," I grind out.
"Sometimes you just have to let go Bella," he practically hums. He is too fucking happy about all of this.
Before I can reach over and strangle him like I am day dreaming about, he turns off the road and into a parking lot. We get out of the car and head for a large building. During the drive I was too busy sulking to pay attention to where we were headed, but as we round the building I know exactly where we are.
Stopping short, I turn quickly and begin walking back to the car. "Oh no, no way. I'm not going in there."
"Hey, Bella, wait!" Edward calls after me as he grabs my elbow. I jolt at his touch and freeze, my vision fixated on his fingers wrapped around my elbow. He needs to stop touching me.
"Just hear me out. This won't be as bad as you think."
All I think is that he needs to remove his hand. My skin itches, my hands go ice cold. The air I am attempting to breathe in seems too thick, and I can't manage to get a full breath. "Stop," I mumble, eyes locked on his perfectly manicured finger nails, but he doesn't hear me.
"We'll just go in for a couple of minutes, there are a few exercises I want you to try, but I promise we will communicate your levels the whole time and I won't let you get above a six." He is speaking calmly, but his god damn hand is still on my elbow.
"Stop!" I shout, unable to contain myself. The outburst catches him off guard, and he takes a step back, his hands reflexively going into the air. For the first time he seems to notice my body language, my labored breathing, and he looks down to his hand. I am shaking and my vision blurs slightly. My mouth is parched, my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. I count my breaths. One… two … three …
"Bella, I'm sorry, I wasn't thinking. I shouldn't have… That was a gross miscalculation on my part. I was only excited for you to try this, so that you could move forward, and I could-"
"What?" Whipping my head towards him my words come out laced with venom. I want him to drown in it. "So that you could bring me home and show Rose how you've made me all better?" My eyes narrow into tiny slits, he looks shocked, the falsity of his demeanor spurs me on. "Maybe then she'll let you get into her pants, Dr. Cullen."
Edward's jaw hangs slack, unsure of what to say to me. My chest heaves in and out, finally able to pull in full breaths. As my heart calms I feel a tinge of guilt for my words, Edward looks truly hurt and baffled. But I'm too stubborn to admit it, and I turn, stomping back to his car.
It takes him a full five minutes before he joins me. By this time I have soaked thoroughly in my guilt, and I can't stand it. I open my mouth the extract my foot and apologize, but Edward speaks first.
"I just got off the phone with Rose, I explained to her it would be best for all parties concerned if you found someone better suited to help you Miss Swan. I can refer you to someone…" he speaks softly, his eyes never meeting mine.
Confused, I burrow my brows into my eyes. "What?"
"This doesn't change the fact that I think you have wonderful potential for recovery, I just think you will find a swifter, better road with another doctor."
"I…" Shaking my head to rid it of Rose's sad expression, I try hard not to take my frustration with myself for overreacting out on Edward. But it can't happen this way, it just can't. Surly he knows that I was only reacting to him touching me; that it had triggered me to act out of hand. "I don't want another doctor."
"Well, I don't think that you want me."
His eyes finally settle on mine, they are focused, but unsure. "I don't know Miss Swa-"
"Bella," I interrupt. "Please stop calling me that - it's too, it's too formal."
"I simply thought in light of your accusations it was best we keep things as formal as possible."
"Fuck that," I shake my head, Edward's eyebrows shoot up. I am doing this all wrong. Shit. "I'm sorry, what I mean is that I was wrong. Please call me Bella, we don't need to walk on egg shells, I was wrong for what I said, I was only lashing out. So please, I'm sorry, don't dump me."
Edward stifles a laugh, covering it with a cough. "Okay, Bella, I won't dump you. In fact, I had no intentions on letting you off the hook that easily."
What the- "What!"
"I didn't actually speak with Rose. I wanted to see how you would handle this, having to take personal responsibility for how one of your "episodes" affected someone else."
I gap at him, my fingers twitch, wanting to stretch around his neck and squeeze, but my brain wants a full explanation. "I don't…"
"It's quite simple Bella. Whether you mean it to be this way or not, your reactions to certain scenarios affect others. The only problem is that Rose, primarily, never holds you accountable. Everyone "walks on eggshells," as you just said, around you instead, and you are left to wallow in your own self-pity. It has desensitized you to your surroundings, or at least the people around you. Quite frankly, your reactions can be downright offensive, especially when you lash out, and if you ever hope to assimilate yourself back into a regular lifestyle, then you need to become more aware of this."
"So you planned this? But how did you know I would turn around?"
"No, Bella, I didn't plan that. I just capitalized on what happened. But, just so you're aware, I think you did swimmingly. It took you no time at all to account for your actions. That was very good." He smiles at me, but I don't know what to say. I feel duped, but happy to know I handled it correctly.
I finally settle on irritation, pointing my finger at him sternly. "Don't ever lie to me again."
Holding his right hand over his heart and his left into the air, he nods. "I promise. I do need to speak candidly with you though, if I may."
I nod, still glowering at him.
"What I said is partly true. In light of any personal lines that have been crossed, I think it may be best if I refer you to a colleague of mine."
"But you said-" I begin, but he interjects.
"I know what I said Bella, and I meant it. I am not giving up on you. I would still like to continue working with you, under the basis of a mutual respect and friendship, not as much a professional relationship. How would you feel about that?"
I cross my arms tightly over my chest. "I don't want to start over with another psychologist," I pout.
Edward shakes his head. "It doesn't have to be like that. I can speak with a friend of mine, someone I regard highly, she is very good. You could commit to seeing her once every other week, in her office, a more traditional therapy session. You and I can continue what we've been doing. What do you think?"
"So I'd just have to go see this woman a few times a month to talk?"
He nods, grinning at me. I am unsure why he's being so positive, but I sigh, shrugging and mutter my descent to his request.
"Wonderful, I'll give her a call this afternoon. Now, how about that library?"
"Ugh," I grunt, glancing back at the building. "Fine."
"I don't like this."
"Are you aware that most of your sentences begin with that phrase?" Edward peers at me over his reading glasses expectantly. I shrug, resisting the urge to stick my tongue out at him like a nine-year-old.
I am sitting in a leathery chair, more uncomfortable than I have ever been sitting in a chair in my entire life. Scratch that, I almost forgot about the sham chair. I should have chopped that damn thing up and used it for firewood…
Edward has asked me something, I look at him, expressing with my dull look that I was obviously not paying attention.
"Your level?" he mouths, and his peachy lips curl into a smile. That damn smile. Sometimes it makes me want to pull his bottom lip over his head and suffocate him with it. Taking a deep breath I remind myself that the anger is coming from my anxiety, which is coming from my discomfort. Okay, my level…. I stretch my fingers out wide, they feel pretty normal. Bobbing my shoulders lightly, trying to remain discreet, not too much tension. "Four," I finally say, and Edward's smile grows showing those damn teeth. Only a doctor would have teeth that white.
He nods, turning back to his book. I've read it before, but then again, there isn't much I haven't read. Reading keeps me in a safe, sterile environment, but allows me to explore other worlds. Unless I come to this filthy library to do so, which I never have. It is riddled with germs and people who don't care too much about their personal hygiene.
My eyes wander around the room. I think about my assignment. Right now I am supposed to sit here and revel in my discomfort of being in this kind of public place. Edward said he had a few levels he wanted me to try for, and I could only imagine what they might be.
He sits comfortably next to me, happily reading, a small smile hanging on the corner of his lips, his glasses perched neatly on his nose. He is handsome, I have to give him that, the glasses helped, they added a certain spark to his demeanor, perhaps they made him look smarter - I really can't put my finger on it. I wonder about him, his life. He has to be in his late twenties, possibly early thirties, I can't be sure. Despite his talk of crossing boundaries, we never discuss his personal details. I bet Rose knows…
I know he obviously is not married, no sign of having any children stashed away anywhere. I'd seen him take out his wallet when he got his library card out earlier, and there were no pictures of any family inside of it. He looked like the lonely type, but he was nice enough. I can't help puzzling over why he was still single.
"You don't have a girlfriend?" I blurt, pinching my own leg as the words come out. Stupid mouth…
He barely glances up from his book. "No," he shakes his head.
I quirk a brow at him, "You don't date?"
Edward looks up now, grey eyes dance above black-rimmed glasses. "Now and again, is there a reason you're asking Bella?"
"Does it make you uncomfortable Edward?" I tease.
He does not respond, only looks back down to his book. I think that is a yes, I wonder why he is so secretive of his personal life. "What's your level?" I prod jokingly.
This causes him to laugh, and it's the first time his smile doesn't grate on my nerves, it's kind of a nice smile.
"Speaking of which, what is your level now, super sleuth?" He cocks a brow at me, and my eyes linger on his face. He is a little more than handsome…
"One," I say without thinking and without double checking myself. Edward looks surprised, but happily so.
"Good, well then, I'd like you to try something more."
I groan. Is it too late to tell him my level was a ten?
"I just want you to go to the shelf over there and find me the next book in this series, can you do that for me please?" And I swear on my life that he bats his lashes at me, and I blink rapidly. That was probably just in my head…
"You want me to touch one of these books?" I say incredulously.
He nods and turns back to his reading, leaving me to deal with this on my own. I stand, my legs already feeling shaky. Okay Bella, man up, you can do this. It's just a book.
I meander over to the section I know the books to be under and stand in the aisle. The shelving seems to tower over me, looming like a sinister villain. I can swear the books are laughing at me, spitting dust as I walk by. Forcing myself to breath, I reminded myself that they are just inanimate objects. I find the book with ease and stare at it. They are just small, rectangular, unassuming, dieses ridden, touched by God-knows-who, evil little pieces of death…
I can't do it. I lift my hand a dozen times to no avail. Closing my eyes, I picture Rose, happy. Her and me normal, making a Friday night dinner together, having friends over … God, friends… we haven't had those in a long time. She has given up a lot for me. The vision shifts, and Edward's proud smile each time I've made the smallest of baby steps causes a reaction in me I did not expect. It's an old feeling, familiar. One I haven't experienced in years… not since the last time I saw my mother. It's that warm sensation around my heart.
My eyes fly open and there are tears trailing down my cheeks. I never think about my mother or father, it is usually too painful, but that memory, experiencing that feeling again, that is not pain I am feeling, what is causing me to cry. It is longing, I want so badly to feel that warmth again.
I grab the book without thinking, marching back to where Edward is sitting. He beams up at me, and I shove the book at him.
"Excellent Bella," he exclaims with an even brighter smile, ignoring my tears. His excitement makes the longing that pulls at the pit of my stomach increase. I suddenly have the overwhelming urge to give Edward a hug, but I drop down into the seat next to him instead, my sodden eyes stinging as I focus on the wall across the library.
Taking a moment to evaluate what just happened I can't really make sense of it. I should tell him, but I don't want to, something makes me keep it to myself. I was not anxious about touching the book, I was overcome by other emotions, and didn't even have time to go through my normal feelings.
I can't think about it.
"So you like these books?" I motion down to the book in his lap, wiping my tears away with my other hand.
"These, yeah, I think they are great. I've actually already read them, but I hadn't in a while," he shrugs.
"Oh? They are some of my favorite books that have been published recently. I was so pulled in by the overwhelming tragedy of it all. It just seemed to get worse and worse. You ache so badly for the main character, you just want it to be all better for her … she goes through so much…" I am rambling so I trail off, forcing my mouth to stop moving.
"Do you relate to that Bella?"
"Oh, no, don't do that," I say shaking my head.
His eyebrows shoot up. "Do what?"
"Go all shrink-y-dink on me when we are discussing literature. That's my safe zone. I just like books."
He squints at me, his head tilting as he thinks over my words. "Fair enough. You are right though, the story compels you to keep reading entirely on the basis that it's unbelievable things could keep spiraling so viciously. But she gets her happy ending. I think everyone deserves a happy ending." Edward winks and then stands, and I know he is talking about me. In that moment I know he truly does care whether or not I succeed, he has invested in me in some way. So now I owed it to not only Rose, but also Edward, to succeed.
"Two banana strawberry smoothies please," I say to the girl behind the counter. I am on my newest mission, ordering food at a place where I have to allow others to prepare it. I can't quite stomach the idea of eating something someone else has touched yet, so Edward and I settled on drinks.
Smoothies seem safe enough because I at least get to watch them prepare the drink. Also, I have to get change in return, something I never do anymore. I steer away from handling cash all together, but Edward wants me to sit in the discomfort of touching something that I haven't controlled where it has been.
I count in my head to deter any episodes as I hand the girl a crisp twenty dollar bill. The smiling teenager is holding out nine dollars and thirty cents in change and my arms hang limply at my sides. I am staring at her hands, but what is mostly disturbing me is the germy cash within her fingers. I don't want to touch it, but I have to. My heart beats just slightly faster; something I am getting more and more used to feeling, and it doesn't set me off as it normally would have. I will be fine, I will be fine… I chant over and over in my head.
"Your change, M'am," the girl says, her smile dimming.
Slowly, I lift my hands, and it takes a few mental preps before I can pry my fingers open. I stare at the tiny half-moon shapes that are imprinted into my palms. She drops the change into my hands without warning and I flinch, but she has already turned away to make the drinks so she doesn't notice. Quickly, I dump all of the change into the 'tips' bowl and rub my hands furiously against my jeans.
"Hey, that was my change," Edward's low voice in my ear causes me to jump. He was supposed to be waiting outside and allowing me to do this on my own. I glare up at him.
"What are you doing in here?"
"Well, I could see from the window over there," he points his sunglasses at a window to my right. "And by your expression it was a high possibility that you were going to murder that poor girl. I just wanted to keep you from doing something so drastic."
I grunt at him, rolling my eyes. "I wasn't going to murder anyone."
"Well, the daggers you were shooting into that girl's head as you ordered said otherwise."
"I was only concentrating." I shrug.
"Ah, perfecting the art of killing with your mind? Men who stare at goats kind of thing?"
I can't help but crack a smile at his ridiculous comment, and then the vision of George Clooney staring feverously at a goat pops into my head, and I lose it. "I didn't look like that, did I?"
"Well, maybe not that bad, but you need to learn to relax your face a bit. You did good though Bells," Edward smiles at me, and I smile back. He has taken to using Rose's nickname for me, which I thought would irritate me, but it's kind of nice. It makes me feel like I have more than one friend in this world. And then it occurs to me that he had just nudged me with his elbow and I didn't react at all, only joked along with him. I hadn't even noticed… that was very strange.
The girl returns with our drinks, and I realize that I hadn't even watched her prepare them. I narrow my eyes at Edward, wondering if that's truly why he came in, to distract me from hovering. When he smiles and winks it confirms my suspicions. I smack his arm as we step through the front door, and he halts abruptly, staring down at his coat and then back to me.
"That's for lying to me again."
He rolls his eyes. "First of all, Bells, I didn't lie, you really did look tense. And secondly - you just touched me."
"No, I hit you - that's not touching."
"Hitting is still touching."
"No it's not. I didn't even feel it, just the impact against my hand, it doesn't count."
"Oh, sorry, it counts," he replies smugly, taking a long sip from his smoothie.
"Nope," I say curtly, sipping my own smoothie. He's not the only one who can act arrogant.
"Well, then by that logic, I should be able to smack you all the time without any issue."
"No, I don't like you touching me-"
"Ha!" He burst, laughing and pointing at me. "Point in case. Thank you for making that for me." He dips in a slight bow, and I contemplate kicking him in the balls.
"Don't act so smug Cullen."
"It is very good though that you did such a normal, if you want to call it that, gesture without thought. Quite excellent Bells, you should be the one taking the bow."
I grin at him wryly. "So you are saying I should hit you more often?"
"If it helps, why not," he laughs.
"So you like it rough then?"
"Um, excuse me?"
I am laughing so hard at his expression I have to grip my stomach to keep from bursting. "I knew you were the kinky type Edward," I breathe between laughter.
Laying long ways on my couch, I lounge while I read my newest book. It isn't that great, but I am board and it is something to do. I groan as the lead male character professes his love yet again to the fragile heroine. I liked books where the girls kicked ass and took names, not pinned over boys the whole damn time.
Frustrated, I toss the book to the coffee table and reach for the remote. Just as I flick on the TV it hits me. I jump up, staring down at the coffee table. "Holy fucking shit!"
Gawking at the book that has been cast aside so carelessly, I feel like doing cartwheels around the living room. I didn't even think twice about the action. Quickly, I evaluate myself, flexing my fingers, breathing in and out - there is nothing, no anxiety, no need to pick it up. Only elation; that is all I feel.
Six months ago I would have never, ever thought I would experience a moment like this. All the stupid little exercises and torturous moments Edward has put me through, and the hours spent on a couch blubbering about my past, suddenly seem completely and utterly worth it.
I have made great strides in the past several months, most of the time never hitting a level above four for anything he throws at me. Edward set me up with his psychologist friend, Esme, and she hasn't ended up being horrible. Our sessions are more centered around my past, and to my surprise talking about mindless events that happened twenty years ago has actually helped.
Esme said she has seen a lot of growth in me, and Edward has been very pleased with my progress with his therapies. I know he has something big in store for me this weekend, I was told to clear my schedule, but I don't know what it is. The funny thing is I am looking forward to it. Edward and I have become good friends, and I find myself, more often than not, looking forward to our time spent together.
He opened up a bit over time about his personal life, and I found out that his family lived out East so he barely ever saw them. He had been married, but she cheated on him and left him while he was still in school. I could sense that was a sore subject, so I never really pushed too hard for information.
Likewise, I have opened up to him, talking a bit about my parents. Esme confirmed his opinion, during our sessions, that my episodes are most likely triggered by feelings of needing control because I had no control over what happened to my parents. She also said that remembering them spurred the anxiety in me and made it worse. Edward had the idea for me to write out some memories in my journal as an exercise, and that has helped quite a bit.
I race back to my room to grab my cell phone when there is a knock at the front door. Changing my direction abruptly, I jump for the front door. Excited energy surges through me.
To my surprise, Edward stands there, brows straight, lips set in a stern line. He does not look happy, but I am too in the moment to notice. I grab him by the arm and pull him over to the couch, jumping up and down and pointing.
"Edward, look, look," I buzz with happiness.
He stares down at my hand gripped to his arm and then looks to the book. I gasp at my hand and jump backwards, but before I can reel over that second accomplishment in such a short time he speaks.
"You dropped your book there?" He speaks softly, eyes fixed on his arm.
"Yeah, I wasn't even thinking about it, I was tired of reading it, dropped it there, and started to watch TV before I realized!"
"And you just touched me, that's really good Bella." His use of my regular name and his monotone snap me out of my emphatic euphoria.
"What the hell is your problem, I thought you'd be happier than me."
His eyes meet mine, and they are cold grey slates. "She's engaged Bella," he spits at me.
I furrow my brows. "What? Who is?"
He widens his eyes at me dubiously. "You know who - Rose," he shoots.
'Oh,' I mouth, dropping down onto the couch - completely deflated.
"Why didn't you tell me? I just made a complete jackass out of myself!"
"I don't know, I didn't think it was a big deal. Guess I figured you knew," I shrug.
He glowers at me. "Not a big deal? What the fuck Bella? How could I have known? You TOLD me to ask her out!"
I stare, taken aback, Edward has never cursed, not even so much as used the word 'damn' with me. "I… I… I don't know." My eyes well up with tears. I taste the salt in my mouth as they spill over furiously. I can't stand the anger in his eyes. What's more, I can't take what lays behind the anger, cold and despondent, nothingness.
Panic rises in me, I feel like this will cause me to lose Edward. I had been stupid, messed with him the way I thought he had toyed with me. Only what I'd done was mean-spirited, and he always had my best interests at heart. Truthfully, I'd forgotten I ever prompted him to ask Rose out, that was so early on, and he hadn't spoken of it since.
My insides shrivel, and I want to curl into a tight ball and weep for the loss I know is to come. My head falls to my hands, and I allow the emotion to take me over. No more holding back. I sob into my hands, weeping that I am sorry, but I'm not even sure if the words are decipherable.
The couch shifts with Edward's weight when he sits down. My hands are pulled away from my face, and he is forcing me to look at him. "Why did you do it? Tell me why, Bella." His anger is ebbing, but the hurt that replaces it, the unbound look of betrayal, is almost worse.
"I d-don't know, I'm sorry. I was trying to get back at you, you seemed so mean in the beginning, and I didn't think past that - I should have, I should have told you," I sobbed, my breathing becoming erratic.
"Bella, I thought I earned your trust."
Shaking my head furiously at him, I plead, "Yes, yes you did, I'm sorry. I don't know what else to say."
"It took me so long to work up the courage…" he mumbles. Edward drops my arms, and I can still feel the buzzing just under my skin from where his fingers were. I almost miss it.
Pinching the bridge of his nose between his fingers, he lets go a low, exasperated sigh. "Bella, I'm sorry, I shouldn't be so angry with you. I was only hurt, and I feel rejected I suppose, it's just made this all worse."
After a moment my sobs turn into heavy wet breaths, I try to calm myself, wiping at my splotchy face. "How can I make this up to you?" I ask weakly.
"I don't know Bella, I'm not sure." He stands, and I feel the panic returning.
"Are you leaving?"
"Yeah, I think it's best that I go."
"Well- what about this weekend?" I'm clearly grasping at straws. I wouldn't blame him if he never wanted to see me again.
He shrugs, "I don't know, let me think about it." He heads for the door, hovering with his hand on the handle. Looking back over his shoulder, he manages a meek smile. "You had some really tough breakthroughs today though Bella. You should be proud."
And with that he is gone. My heart feels so heavy my chest may cave with its weight. I should be proud, but I am not, and I didn't miss his words either. He made a point not to tell me he was proud, but how could he feel pride for someone who deceived him?
More tears fall slowly down the curve of my face, dripping from my chin as it quivers. I run back to my room and bury my body under the covers on my bed, losing myself to the tears.
Pacing back and forth, keys in hand, I feel like an idiot. What the hell am I doing? Why am I even contemplating going? But she looked so sorry, shocked even, when I yelled at her. It was not the face of someone who had tried to hurt me. I believed her. I suppose that's what it all boils down to.
Where do we go from here? Do I go back to her and apologize again for my outburst? I knew from the start I was taking my rejection out on her, even if her actions had been malicious. But it didn't stop the hurt I felt - the betrayal that carved a void in my stomach. Why was I so affected by that, because I see Bella as a friend? Perhaps that was my mistake, clients should not become friends.
Six months, that's how pathetically long it took me to work up the courage to ask Rose on a date. The worst part was she laughed because she thought I was joking. She, too, assumed Bella had told me Rose was engaged. Truth was, I never really asked, and Bella never really told me anything at all about Rose outside of their friendship.
She had spurred me to ask her out, but that was within the first few weeks of our therapy. I shouldn't have blamed Bella, it wasn't her fault. My car is packed and I am ready to go, but I have been pacing for the last two hours. Finally coming to the conclusion that I had no one truly to blame but myself, I have made up my mind.
A cringe runs the length of my spine as I step out my front door. Ann Marie is leaning against the driver side door of my car, peering in the window.
"Morning handsome," she purrs when she notices me approach.
"Ann Marie," I tip my head, keeping my voice clipped.
I've stopped just a foot from her, keys held aloft in front of me as if they form a protective area between us. I don't answer. I'm not in the mood for banter.
"If you'd excuse me, I'm running behind."
She pouts, or tries to, but her face looks like it's melting instead. "Oh, Doctor Cullen, it makes me so, so sad that you're always alone." Her hands are on my shoulders now; her face leans in as she whispers out her pre-meditated lines.
I glance around for the cameras, confirming we are not on some horrible soap opera, if only someone would tell this woman that.
"Thank you for your concern, now if you'll excuse me," I allow my voice to become curt. Perhaps if I offend her she'll never speak to me again.
No such luck.
Her finger glides slowly up my shoulder and pokes into my jaw. "Such a strong jaw…" she trails, and I am done.
"Okay," I grab her hand and take a full step back, holding my arms out defensively. "Ann Marie, I am sorry, I do not mean to hurt your feelings, but I understand what all of your insinuations mean, and what you try to tell me with your body language, but I just simply am not interested. I'm sorry."
Her eyes go wide, hurt registering before anger clouds over the green. "Well, soo-rry, Doctor Cullen, for trying to be neighborly."
I glare at her, she is not fooling anyone. "Ann Marie, as a professional, let me give you a piece of advice. Being dishonest with yourself only hurts you. You will never grow as a person if you cannot assess yourself candidly, an my advice as a 'neighbor' and a man? Sleeping with anything that has two legs and walks upright is not considered neighborly."
"Oh, well I never," she clutches her arms around her chest, her shocked expression priceless. Now I wish there were cameras.
"Well, maybe you should be honest with yourself and admit you're gay …. a-a-and lonely!" She sputters at me.
I laugh - a knee jerk reaction. "I have plenty of people in my life," I respond honestly, and for some reason the first person who comes to mind is Bella.
Turning on her heel she stomps across her yard and into her house. I can't stop the giggle that escapes me when I envision her stunned expression. That felt really good, I have been putting up with her harassment far too long.
"You came!" Bella is surprised, but happily so. For a split second when she opened the door, I thought she might actually throw her arms around me for a hug.
"Well, we have an appointment, or did I get my dates wrong?" I smile at her, her joy warming my chest. I like seeing her smile, it was something I didn't see hardly at all for the first few months, it is refreshing that it comes so easily now.
"Yes, yes we do. So I have packed all different types of clothes, but that's it because I didn't know where we were going. And NO, that's not a control thing, I know what you're thinking, that's a girl thing," she rambles.
I hold my hands up to halt her tirade. "Don't worry, Bella, bring what you've packed, and I've taken care of the rest."
I help her with her suitcase to my car, and we start down the road. Before we get too far I can feel her eyes on me, she is nervous.
"What is your level?" I ask automatically.
"For what?" She asks, and I am slightly confused.
"Uh, well, you look nervous. I assume it's because you don't know where we're going."
"Oh, that, it's a two," she mutters, looking out her window.
"Two?" I say surprised. "Are you sure?"
She nods, not looking back to me. We ride in quiet for some time, bustling cityscapes give way to a small suburban town, and soon we are surrounded by mountains.
"Six." Bella says suddenly, her voice deflated and soft.
"Is your level going up?"
"No, that is where my anxiety level is, but it's not about where we're going." She turns to me, and her smooth brown eyes bore into mine.
I swallow hard, "What is it for then?"
"Do … do you hate me now?"
"What? Hate you? No."
Her expression loosens slightly, relief washes over her face. "You don't? You're not mad?"
"No, Bells, I'm not mad," I say reassuringly, and I have to remind myself not to pat her hand.
She sighs heavily. "So we're okay then?"
I raise my eyebrows, "Okay?" I flash her a smile and nod. "Yeah, we're okay. And I should apologize, I know I told you that day, but I truly mean it when I said I shouldn't have taken things out on you. So I am sorry for that."
She dismisses me with a wave of her hand and bobs in her seat slightly as she glances back out the window. The atmosphere in the car has lightened perceptively, and I take a deep breath as well. I know for sure in that moment that I do see Bella as a good friend, because that moment mattered to me, I am relieved as well.
"They look like broccoli," she says with a chuckle.
"The mountains. In the distance the trees look like a bunch of broccoli."
I laugh, seeing what she means. "Yeah, I guess they do."
"I don't like this," she grunts, and I can't help but smile. I hold out my hand, and she stares down at it groaning again. "Seriously?" she says.
I wiggle my fingers at her, and she curses under her breath, reaching for her purse and pulling out a dollar bill. I am happy that she carries cash now - that was a hurdle that took a while to get over. The fact that she pulls the money out without a second thought elates me, and I am just trying not to laugh that she has to follow our old rule, one she hadn't had to do in a while.
We made a rule that every time she said the phrase 'I don't like this' when it pertained to an exercise I had in place for her, she would have to pay me a dollar. Truthfully, I put the rule into place because it got to the point where she was just repeating that over and over during some of our sessions together and it was driving me crazy.
I accept the dollar with a thank you and supply her with an encouraging smile. "You'll do fine."
"Camping? This is what you think I'm capable of?" She replies disbelievingly.
I nod, my smile goes wider. "Yes. It's what I know you're capable of."
"One night," she all but shouts emphatically, throwing her hands out, and I have won the first round.
For the first time I notice her flannel shirt, it hangs loosely from her body and is slightly wrinkled in some spots. I smile at the wrinkles. Wrinkles are good.
With much prompting, Bella is able to help me get our campsite put together. I am proud of her though because she kept the complaining to a minimum, and when I asked her to go retrieve sticks for our campfire she returned victorious and proud.
The fire crackles and pops as I prod it with a thick stick, moving the wood around. "You know, when we first met, there is no way you would have even considered going into the woods and touching wood," I say, delighted.
Bella sits across from me, munching on a graham cracker, nodding. "Yeah, I probably would have threatened to cut off your balls or some shit," she shrugs.
I laugh, "Well, at least you're honest."
We talk for a while about pointless things, eventually venturing into more important subjects. Bella tells me that she always wanted to be a writer, her degree in college was English literature. She even had an offer from a publishing company for something she wrote in college, but after her parents died she lost all interest.
"I mean, it's hard in the first place to be motivated when you don't need the money, but add in the fact that for so long I didn't care about anything, I just wanted the world to go away. I wanted to burrow my little hole and be content in my misery," she says, her expression sad.
I can relate to that feeling, I have felt that, and in some respects still do isolate myself. In truth, I could have dated plenty of times since my wife left me, but I am content being miserable. "I can see that," I say.
"So your parents left you money then?" She glances up when I ask, supplying me a funny look. "I'm sorry, that was rude. I shouldn't have asked that."
"No," she shakes her head with a laugh. "It's fine, it's just, I know everyone always wonders, but nobody ever has the balls to ask." She grins at me. "Yes, they left me some money, but there was also a settlement from the airline," she shrugs, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear.
The sun dips behind a mountain top, signaling dusk. The sky glows a brilliant goldenrod, and I lay back and look up at it, staring into space as far as I can see. Underbrush rustles next to me, surprisingly, Bella is stretched out on the ground at my side.
"It's beautiful, you can already see some of the stars and it's not even night yet," she says mesmerized.
"Yeah, it is beautiful," I reply watching her and not the sky. Clearing my throat I turn my face upwards. "You can't see many stars in the city. You're in for a real treat once the sun goes all the way down."
"I've been camping before," she says plainly, and when I look back to her she is propped up on her elbow, her gaze fixed on me.
"Yeah," she laughs. "I wasn't always so anal retentive. I thought we've been over that Doctor Cullen," and when she croons my name it sounds sultry and sends a different kind of shiver down my spine.
"I guess I wasn't thinking," I admit.
"My dad and I used to go all the time. We'd come to these mountains, he had 'his spot' he'd always take me to. It was closer to the lake, and we'd fish. That was his favorite part." She smiles fondly at the memory. That is a smile I have never seen on her before. It is quite breathtaking, and I have to advert my eyes, looking to the tree tops.
"I'm really proud of you Bells, you have come so far," I say, a tinge of awe in my voice. It is fully warranted though, she really has done amazingly.
"Thanks," she breathes, and lays flat on her back.
We watch the sky and its array of colors that play against the few clouds as the sun sinks lower in the sky. Purples and blues, pinks and oranges turn to deep reds as dusk settles.
"Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple…" Bella mumbles. She draws her pointer finger in the air above her, tracing invisible shapes as she repeats her mantra.
"Why are you doing that?" I ask softly, curious.
She stops, shrugs, and drops her hand.
"You don't have to stop, I was just wondering."
"It's just a memory I have of my mother. I did have OCD tendencies when I was a kid, and they would present themselves when I was stressed or upset about something. My mother knew this and she always had a way of pulling me back to the surface. It's an incident I can remember when I was trying to organize all of my crayons, markers, and colored pencils by color order. Only it was because I was upset, but she knew that and helped me through it. And, in the end, she made me put them all together, all the colors in on big box. But I was okay with it because she was there, and I knew it would be fine no matter what."
"Your mother gave you strength didn't she?"
She nods lightly, a single tear slides down into her ear. "Yeah, I guess."
I sit up, angling my body towards Bella. She follows my lead without a word. "Bella, look at me," I say gently. She does, her expression is that of a child, sad and lost, her strength stolen from her.
"That strength that you felt around your mother, that you think came from her, it was you."
Shaking her head she disagrees, "No, I was never strong, not without her, it was always her." Another tear glides along her freckled skin.
"I know it feels that way, but I want you to close your eyes and listen to me. Your mother was only a person, just like you and me. She simply brought out the best in you, drew from you what you can't seem to find yourself. But it's still in you, that strength. It was always you, you only lacked the confidence."
More tears stream down her cheeks, her chin quivers slightly. "I need her," she whispers.
"Of course you do, but she's there, in your memories, in the strength she instilled in you. She's always there."
She sighs, wiping the moisture from her eyes. "You remind me of her," she says barely audible. "You make me feel warm the way she did."
I don't have anything to say, I am taken aback by this. I can't be sure exactly what she means, but mostly I am caught off guard by what that statement stirs inside of me.
"Bella, why don't you like to be touched?"
Her eyes are still closed, but she seems to answer me more easily this way. "Because I don't want anyone to get close to me."
"Why not? You still want to isolate yourself?"
"No," her voice shakes, and she wrings her hands in her lap. "Ma-maybe at first, but not anymore. I don't like being alone," a soft sob escapes her as she pushes out those words.
"Then why?" I probe, knowing I may set her off, but that's what this weekend is about - breakthroughs.
It takes her a good minute before she finally responds. "Because then they leave. I can't take that feeling again - people I care about leaving, it's easier to be alone." Her face drops into her hands, and she weeps into them.
In that moment I feel more like Bella than I ever have. I know too well what truly isolating yourself is for, and I am just as guilty. I feel for this woman, I don't want her to do to herself what I have done to myself. It is horrible to be lonely. A sudden surge of determination rushes through me. I give her a few minutes to calm down and once she finally has I speak gently.
"Bells, please, look at me," I keep it informal. I am doing this as a friend, not a doctor.
She lifts her head, her face splotchy and red, her nose running. I reach in my pocket for the small packet of tissues I brought and hand them to her. She thanks me and blows her nose. Without speaking I hold out my hand to her. She glances down at it, but hesitates. I don't have to ask, she knows what my intentions are.
The fire glows against her face, casting shadows along the trees. The sky has grown almost black and the only light is the campfire. Her blonde hair looks slightly red in the light of the fire. The hue about us is golden and warm, and the atmosphere is easy. I hope she has the strength- or can find it with in herself rather- I know she has the strength.
Timidly, she lifts her fingers, and, with trepidation reaches. to meet my hand. At the last moment her brow sets firm, and I can see the determination.
She's found it.
I smile. Her hand slides into mine and that same current I felt the first time engulfs my skin down to the bone, working its way through my arm. She stares at her fingers wrapped around the top of my hand and a languid smile spreads across her face.
"What's your level?"
"Zero," she whispers and then laughs, throwing her head back.
Her eyes flash to mine looking wild in the orange glow. "Can I try something?"
I nod and she lets go of my hand. Her fingers find my face, touching my cheeks gently, my forehead, my jaw. I am surprised how soft her fingers are, but then remember she had gotten over the hurdle of needing to wash her hands all the time rather quickly. She stares at me in awe. "I'm fine," she whispers more to herself, but there is an air of disbelief in her voice. She is as surprised as I am. She laughs again before she lunges and throws her arms around my neck, knocking me back.
My body goes ridged at first, my shock apparent, but as she laughs and squeezes me I relax against her, a mixture of feelings running rampantly through me. I am elated for her success, but my body is reacting to the feel of her against me. I wrap my arms around her. I never thought of Bella in that way, why are these feelings rousing inside me?
She pulls away, abruptly remembering herself and apologizes for knocking me over. All I can think is I miss her warmth. "It's okay," I breathe.
I didn't sleep very well. Bella apparently slept like a baby. She woke up with more energy than she has ever displayed, and she seems like a new woman. Flitting about the camp site, taking it upon herself to go into the woods and retrieve wood.
I sit back and watch in amazement. Every time she passes by me, she lays a hand on my arm or shoulder - such a casual touch. Only now I find it's me who is obsessing over it. Not that it makes me uncomfortable, just the opposite, I like her touches - they are gentle and feminine. I had planned to take her on a hike, but part of me assumed she would be itching to get out of here by now. Instead she plops down next to me, smiling eagerly. "So, what's on the agenda for today, Doc?"
I am speechless… perhaps I'm the one in need of therapy for the day. The hike doesn't seem to be the hurdle I thought it would be, so I wrack my brain and come up with an alternative I believe may be something that is somewhat harder for her.
"Why don't we look for the lake where you used to fish with your Dad?"
The blood drains from her face and she swallows hard. "Um," she murmurs. "I guess."
She becomes quiet again, and I can't help feeling guilty for taking the wind out of her sails. "You'll do fine," I say supportively as we pack a lunch to take with us. I strap the backpack to my back and ask Bella to lead the way.
She walks us into the woods and occasionally peers up at the mountain. Unexpectedly, she seems to know exactly where she is going, and I wonder how often she came here with her father.
We trek through the woods with minimal talking for almost two hours before Bella stops and looks up to the mountain again. Wiping her brow, she points down the sloping forest floor. "That way."
I follow her down the declining dirt floor, the brush becoming thicker the closer we get to the bottom. When we reach our destination I pause and take in our surroundings. It is beautiful. The rich, green woods dissolve into a deep, blue lake, and on the other side is a rock wall that towers up into the mountainside.
Bella goes straight to the edge of the lake, sitting down on the shore and taking her shoes off. Slowly, she dips her feet in the water and smiles.
"Isn't that cold?" I ask, pulling my jacket around my body tighter. Although it is early spring, the mountain areas are still rather cold, that water has to be freezing.
She shakes her head, patting the earth next to her. "The sun warms it, it feels good on your feet, try it."
I pause and she sees my hesitation. "Sometimes you have to just let go, Edward," she mimics something I can remember telling her months ago. I can't help smiling.
The water glistens, reflecting rays of the sun as they twinkle across it's surface. I decide to take her word for it and take a seat by her side. Removing my shoes and rolling up my pants before shoving my feet into the water. It is frigid at first, but it's just the shock of having my feet out of my thick socks. After a moment the water warms, and I acclimate to it. It does feel quite nice.
"This lake is fed by a river that runs down the mountain. If you looked at it on a map it would look like the river swirls around the mountain and dumps out here." She motions to the blue stretch in front of us. "When I was little I used to imagine climbing to the top and riding the river down like a huge waterslide." She is smiling, this is a safe memory.
"Tell me a story."
"Uh, okay." She takes in a deep breath and considers for a moment. "I've got one," she grins and closes her eyes.
"I was only ten and my dad brought me here for our monthly camping trip. It was the end of summer, and although it was hot and sticky everywhere else, this spot, hidden behind this mountain and against this lake, always stayed cool. The air always smelled sweet and was thin and breathable. It was a nice break from the hot, muggy thickness late summer brings." Bella's fingers graze the water, breaking the surface and sending tiny ripples across the lake. Amazing the affect one small movement can have on such a large area.
"Anyway," she continued. "My father was fishing like normal, and I was swimming in the lake, day dreaming about going down my water slide. It didn't seem different than any other time we had come to this spot. The sky was a crystal blue, the wind moved smoothly through the trees, drying my hair as I sat on the edge of that rock wall over there." She pointed across the way and right against the base of the wall was a wide rock the stuck out, perfect for sunbathing. The words she used were colorful, and I could see how she would be an amazing writer. I decide that will be the next thing we address.
"Suddenly, everything changed, the air prickled with static electricity, and both my father and I looked at each other. We both sensed something, but we didn't know what. That's when I saw them - a pack of wolves, no more than four of them, standing at the edge of the trees watching us.
"My dad stood about knee deep in the water when he fished, but he was still only a hundred yards or so from them. It was the strangest thing that I'd ever seen. At first I was terrified, stifling a cry out to my dad. I was afraid they would attack him, but I also didn't want to scare them and prompt an attack."
"So what did you do?" I interrupted, unable to imagine a scenario where one of them didn't get harmed.
"I just watched. I was kind of frozen, I couldn't move. My dad just stared at them, never flinching. He was very brave, 100-percent cop, through and through. It occurred to me then that he would die to protect me. That's a weird thing to think at such a young age, and to have it really hit you. To know that your father would give his life for yours, it struck a chord with me, and I made a point to always respect and love him after that. I suppose I should be thankful for those wolves, for that flash of pure consciousness.
"But they just watched us for a moment and then moved up the hill and disappeared into the trees. Beautiful creatures really."
"That's quite a story."
"Yeah… Your turn," she smiles softly.
"Me? Well, I don't have any wolf stories…"
"Anything," she repeats my words, pulling her feet out of the lake and curling them under her body.
"Um, okay. I was in college, preparing to graduate and find a practice to join. My wife and I, well, we married very young. It was stupid really. We met in college, married, but she graduated before me because I had to complete so many more years of school. Anyway, she was tired of being stuck in a small college town, and I knew that. So we had been planning a huge trip to take together once I graduated. I was stressed about my finals and only had a few weeks to go, but I wasn't the easiest person to be around. Tanya and I were fighting constantly, so I suggested she go and visit with her mother until my graduation. I should have known what was happening when she was all too eager to leave.
"Anyhow, the day before my graduation I was expecting her back. Instead, I received a package in the mail. It was divorce papers. When I tried to get in touch with her to work it out, I found out from her mother that she had left on vacation with some other man. It turned out to be an old boyfriend from back home she had been corresponding with for several months. Apparently, he had been coming down to visit with her right under my nose. When I gave her leave, she jumped at the opportunity, and it was all she needed to drive the nail into the coffin of our marriage. And that vacation she took him on, it was the trip to Europe I had planned and paid for."
"Wow… that's horrible." Bella says slowly, staring at me with disbelief.
"Yeah, it kinda sucked."
"Edward, I'm sorry if this offends you but - what a stupid whore. How could she cheat on you? You're such a nice guy - didn't she see what she had?"
I laugh at her blunt but truthful response. "I don't know. Like I said, I wasn't the easiest person to live with."
"But you two made vows, promised to always be there for one another - no matter what. There is no excuse for cheating in a marriage. None."
"I suppose not."
"Does it still bother you?"
"It has been several years, but yes it does still hurt. I don 't think you actually ever get over such a blow. I mean, I truly loved her, or who I thought she was. There's a kind of void she has left."
"That would piss me off. I mean, I know what that feels like, I can definitely commiserate about the whole hole in your heart feeling, but she stole that piece from you, you didn't lose it. What an evil person."
I shrug, not wanting to talk about it anymore. Then Bella does something that surprises me yet again. She grabs my hands and pulls them into her lap, warm eyes locking with mine. "Edward, listen, you have done so much for me. I feel I owe you, so please, listen to me for a moment. I'm no shrink, and I can't pretend to know the first thing about repairing that void you feel, but I can tell you this; you are a good, decent guy. You are kind, and caring, and sweet, and I am dumbfounded that anyone in their right mind would just throw you away. You are worth it. Don't ever let yourself believe otherwise. You should get out there and find a girl who will treat you the way you deserve to be treated."
Her words hit close to home, I have always felt it was my fault, that I drove Tanya away. What girl would want someone who can't hold onto their wife? There was a fierceness in her eyes as she spoke to me, telling me exactly what I needed to hear. I could feel that warmth inside of me she spoke of last night. We stare at one another for a few moments, speaking without words. Her soft fingers slide over the palms of my hands, sending a tingling sensation up my arms. She traces the life lines on my hand without looking, the intimate touch not lost on me. I am fighting the urge to kiss her, it wouldn't be right.
His jaw flexes, his eyes dart to my lips and then back up. He looks so handsome in the waning light of day. The sun is cresting the mountain top, a long shadow from the rock wall hovers over us.
My heart is bleeding for him. I can't imagine being treated so poorly by someone who supposedly loved you. It must be twice as painful as just losing someone; at least I had the solace of knowing they cared, of looking back on the memories fondly. Does he look back on his memories with distain? Does he have to question everything she ever told him? It seems too much for one soul to bear, I want to take his pain away.
I knew, over the last two months at least, that my feelings for Edward were something more, but I pushed them aside, not wanting to acknowledge it. Something shifted though when I touched him last night. There was no anxiety, but the tingling of my skin was still there. It was then I knew it was something more, and it had been there all along.
"We should get back," I blurt before I allow myself to do something I probably shouldn't. This seems to snap him out of our trance and he springs up.
"Yeah, you're right. I don't want to get stuck in the woods when it's dark."
I put my shoes back on, having to remind him to do the same. His cheeks pink when he looks to his bare feet, his shoes lay next to where he sat. He was cute when he was embarrassed.
The walk back to camp seems longer than the walk down to the lake, the silence stretching between us, making time drag on.
When we finally make it back to camp the sky is cast in the same majestic colors from the night before. My stomach rumbles, and I realize we never ate our lunch. "Hungry?" I ask, pulling out supplies to roast hot dogs. He nods, sitting by the circle where we made our campfire. He places fresh wood on top of the grey ashes, making a small tepee with it. It takes no time at all to start the fire and we are cooking our hot dogs in silence. I pass him the ketchup and we eat our fancy meal.
The quiet is getting to me, and I can feel my heart begin to pick up its pace. It's normal, slow cadence doubling, I know I'm getting anxious. I practice techniques Edward has taught me to work through the feelings.
Nothing seems to be working, and I am holding myself back from pacing the forest floor. "I was jealous," I say finally, jumping head first into the conversation.
"When I knew you liked Rose, it made me jealous."
His eyebrows raise, he looks astonished. "Jealous?" He tests the word on his tongue as if it doesn't quite fit.
"Yes," I reply.
"I don't really understand Bella."
"Well, I don't know what's not to understand. You are an attractive doctor, and I was someone who wasn't even in the realm of possibilities for you. So far off your radar it's not even funny. But at the time I didn't entirely consider it."
He still looks confused, maybe he doesn't want to hear this, but I've already started so there is no turning back now.
"I didn't really see it until a few months ago, and then I tried to ignore it. You've… you've become a good friend Edward, not just my shrink." I shrug and this seems to register something with him, his grey eyes brighten, flecks of blue surface.
"I know it's not appropriate, and I don't even know why I'm telling you. I guess I feel it can't be ignored anymore, at least not from my end. I'll understand if you can't work with me any longer." I pick at my shirt sleeves, forcing myself to maintain eye contact.
"Last night there was something more, when I was able to touch you, it was like a spark or something, and it made me realize that you're more than just a friend to me Edward. You are the warmth around my heart that has been missing for so many years. You are the thing that keeps me balanced. You help me find my strength."
I steady my voice, taking a breath before I can continue. "Do you know how long it's been since I have hugged anyone? Anyone at all?"
He shakes his head, and I swallow. I know this will be painful. "The last person I hugged was my mother before she got on that plane."
"Four years?" He asks softly.
"Yeah, I guess."
I hold my hand up, interrupting him. "I know, I know this is stupid, and a horrible time to say anything, here in these woods, when we have to ride home together. I'm not trying to make anyone uncomfortable, really I'm not. Honestly, I don't know what I'm doing," I mumble, my resolve failing. Standing, I turn to pack up the food. "We can leave now if you'd like."
I don't hear Edward's response, and I take that as a yes. My heart stutters in my chest, constricting slightly. I don't know what I expected, but I failed in that I had my hopes up before I even started.
Turning to pick up the chair I had been sitting in, I jump as Edward is suddenly standing directly behind me. His body is too close, less than a hands length away. I look up into his face; his eyes search mine, for what I am unsure. Is he going to yell at me? His expression is that of determination, my stomach sinks as I realize I have angered him.
But then his hand goes to the nape of my neck, his fingers lace into my hair, sending prickling waves through my scalp. He bends his face to mine.
"Bella," he breathes gently against my lips before he presses his mouth to mine. The sensation rockets through my body, my fingers flex against the air. His lips are warm, and I am dizzy from the overwhelming feeling. I think I may faint.
The things she is saying pull at my heart strings. I am registering every word, but nothing seems to add up. It can't be true, most of the time my impression was that I was a nuisance to her. Granted, she was right - I too felt we had become good friends over the past few months. There was a mutual respect there, but there was no way she could possibly reciprocate the feelings I was just unearthing myself.
Objectively, I could see it all laid out before me, I obviously felt the same way she did, only I didn't let myself see it. The only question is - what do I do? I have no clue. She continued to speak and the things she was saying made me feel like I was flying.
But she was such a silly girl, when would she see that she didn't need anyone's strength? My legs stand without my permission. She is moving around, packing things up, but I'm still speechless. I move behind her, and before I can get her attention she turns, and I am staring into her warm, welcoming eyes. Her face is beautiful, I have always thought so, but it is the soul behind those eyes that has drawn me in.
I put my hand behind her head and breathe her name as I let my lips touch hers. It feels amazing, her warmth, the feelings swirling inside of me, it's all stuff you read about in books. I pull away, resting my forehead against hers. We are sharing breaths and lazy smiles. "Bells, when will you figure it out? You have all the strength in the world right here." I touch the tip of my finger above her heart. "It's you who brings out the best in people, in me, not the other way around. And you were always on my radar. It's just, well, it's been kind of broken for a few years so I hadn't bothered to use it. But you - you were always there."
She sighs against me, her lips turning up as she beams at me with a chuckle. "That was really corny, but I like it," she whispers.
I pull her body against mine, loving the way she forms right to me. Our lips meet again, and it's even better than the first. There, in those woods under the golden light of a setting sun, a mountain as our only witness, I kiss her honestly and truly the way I realize I have been yearning to for so long. With every smile, every accomplishment, every proud moment, I wanted Bella to get better for me as much as her.
What she did, admitting herself, pouring her heart out, it may have been a compulsion, something she had to do, but I was thankful, because it was something we both needed.
A/N: Please review! I love feedback, it helps me grow as a writer! xo -Buff