Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns everything Twilight related. No copyright infringement is intended and there is no financial gain by myself in this story. The original characters, plot, and setting are the property of the author, NTJB. Please do not reproduce this story without the express permission of the author.

A/N: Hi :(

Keye, thanks for reading the first draft of this chapter and making so many great points. Second draft is so much better.

Melissa, Kelly, Cindy and Jea, thanks for being my sounding board.

Okay, here goes.


Chapter 38- Darkseid

November 17, 2010

Me: Edward, you didn't come last night. Are you OK? Please tell me you're ok.

Yesterday, 1:07 p.m.

Me:I'm going to the penthouse. You must be busy all day, but I'll wait for you.

Yesterday, 2:57 p.m.

Me: I baked you a cake and left it with Vincent.

3:00 a.m.

Me: Edward please call me back. Please. Vincent said you never went home last night. Where are you?

7:03 a.m.

SMS Error

The wireless number you are trying to reach is not accepting messages at this time.

Me: I just need to know that you're okay.

7:10 a.m.

SMS Error

The wireless number you are trying to reach is not accepting messages at this time.

I flung my phone on my bed, screaming at it until I thought my vocal cords would burst.

He couldn't do this. God, I needed him. He needed me, so badly. He couldn't disappear. Not again.

I pushed my hair off my face, standing in the middle of my room, unsure of where to go. For the last two weeks, I had spent my days waiting for him. He sustained me. I thrived because I knew with absolute certainty he would be in my bed between midnight and one a.m. What was I without this certainty?

My skin felt like millions of centipedes were crawling all over since he left early Tuesday morning. My heart had stopped pumping blood and turned to ash when I didn't see him at the penthouse last night. His brutal words cut me down. He never wanted to hear my voice again.

"Never." I hated the term. I wouldn't let it apply to us. I might not deserve him, but I needed him. I was a monsoon without rain. Never would not apply. I knew this for a fact. He wouldn't have kept my things in the penthouse if it did. He would've had Vincent pack everything and mail it to me as soon as he returned from LA.

Never would not apply.

Facebook was no help, as usual. I tried to keep down the nausea rolling around the pit of my stomach.

Edward was fine. He wasn't hurt. He was fine. He was just avoiding me for some reason.

Still, the memory of him as Hamlet, pale and near death, played and replayed in my mind.

Scrolling down my newsfeed, a hot tear spilled from my eye and hit my cheek. It was a cheek Edward had kissed so sweetly only two days ago. I held the tear to it. He would kiss it again. Things would be like they were.

Another tear slid down my cheek as I read a message from Rachel, asking me to take care of Jake for her. He would arrive here tomorrow. Ugh, as if he'd need my help. He wasn't the one going through hell.

I trudged over to the bathroom to shower, my apartment silent from the windows to my mind. I had no dreams last night. I didn't hear Edward's voice. When I stepped onto the scummy porcelain, I heard the water spray the tiles. I needed to hear his voice. Rinsing the shampoo that he liked out of my hair, I decided today was the day when I'd scour the city to find my home, my life.

Edward was fine.

Thick saliva filled my mouth as the hot air in my stomach rose up my throat.

Suddenly, I heard Beethoven.

"Edward!" I swallowed the nausea, rushing into my room. I jumped onto my bed with my towel falling open to see a number I had tried calling numerous times before Edward's return. I held the phone in my hand, staring at the Facebook profile pic on the screen. It was of Alice and me at my birthday party.

I had promised Edward that I wouldn't talk to her, but I didn't want to leave things hanging as they were. I wouldn't speak to her after this, that was all. I would tell her I was too busy with school, which would certainly be the case next semester when I work on my thesis.

If I were to sever all ties with her, then it had to be a clean cut. This phone call would do it. This could be a cordial goodbye. I'd tie the loose ends and be done with no bad feelings.

Except for the fact that I had a lot of bad feelings. Without doubt, I knew that Jessica's accusation about Alice sleeping with Evans for a better grade wasn't just an accusation. It was the truth.

I tapped "Accept."

"Alice." I breathed.

"Hi Bella." Her fragile voice shook me up, mixing up my disappointment about everything she kept from me with worry.

"Are you okay?"

"I'm sick to death of that question. I'm fine." She sucked her teeth. " I know it's been a couple weeks since we've spoken. I... um, I wanted to say thanks for the party. For whatever reason you didn't come..." her voice wavered.

It was a good reason. "I'm so sorry I... didn't make it."

After a shaky breath, she continued. "Thank you for trying. I just wanted to call to tell you that."

"Oh. Well, Erik told me how upset you were."

"Really? Nah, I'm fine." She sounded a bit livelier. "I'm super busy now with all the holiday parties and finals coming up."

"Erik..." I frowned at the lavender flowers on my comforter. "He also told me about the internship."

"Yeah? What about it?"

"You asked your mom to give it to me last summer. Why'd you do that for me, Alice?"

"Because I could. It wasn't a big deal," she said in a matter-of-fact way. I rolled onto my back, covering my eyes. She lived on another planet, this girl.

"You knew how important it was to me." My heart hammered against my ribcage. "You even bought me the Xoom. It was a big deal."

"My mom liked you. She wouldn't've chosen you if you weren't qualified. I just gave her a nudge."

"Enough to open another spot for me?"

"That was her idea, not mine. Anyway, how's your class? Is Evans still being a prick?"

I cursed under my breath. I had to get back to Jessica about the presentation. "Class is... class." The mention of Evans made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. "Okay, I'm gonna ask you this question, and I don't want you to hate me."

"I could never hate you, Bella," she whispered. She sounded so sad. I couldn't have caused this. She had lived through worse with Jasper's death, and Edward's abuse. Maybe something else happened. What if it was Carlisle?

"Did something happen to Carlisle?" I held my breath.

"No, I don't think so," she stammered. I sighed, getting up on my knees. "Was that the question you thought would make me hate you?"

"No." I cleared my throat.

"Spit it out, Bella."

"I just... I know about you and Evans."

"What?" Her voice was as dull as the evening news in Forks.

"It's true, isn't it? He's-" I remembered our "Sex and the City" session the day after Halloween. Her ex was Richard. "Evans is Richard."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

I sat back on my heels. "Oh, so he's not? You didn't have an affair with him or use him to get a better grade in class last year?"

"Will you listen to yourself?" Her voice was shrill like a whistle. "Where did you get this shit? Jessica?"

My voice caught in my throat. I couldn't believe this. She wouldn't admit the truth. She was gonna lie to me again. And I knew she was lying because on my way to the penthouse yesterday, I saw Evans kissing that blond student he'd been flirting with in the hall at the 59th St. subway platform. They scampered to the exit like rabbits in heat. It didn't even cross my mind how just because Evans was with that girl didn't mean that he was with Alice because as soon as they finished kissing, she put a green fedora on her shiny blond locks.

Alice had told me right after Halloween that Evans gave green fedoras to his "hookers." It was the only gift he gave them.

"Why're you lying to me?" I tried to keep my voice level, but it shook anyway. "After everything..."

"I'm not lying, Bella. I swear to God." She sounded so earnest.

"Alice, I'm not judging you. You can trust me, okay? I just wanna know the truth."

"The truth?" Her harsh laugh rose from the phone. "The truth is, I was the one who saved your life, and you threw me away like I was garbage! I saw you with him, Bella. I saw you with Edward when you were supposed to be with me."

My fingers trembled around the iPhone. Knots tied up in my stomach. "You saw us?"

"I gave you all that I had..." She began to say in a morose tone.

"You were spying on Edward and me?" I asked, baring my teeth. She knew Edward was back? That was why she didn't return my calls? That was really why she cried, not because I missed the lunch, but because I chose Edward over her.

"I was on my way to the library when I saw you in the subway station, touching him, almost kissing him!" Alice gagged. "Did you forget the blood? He put you in the hospital last summer, and you let him touch you again? Do you know how humiliating that was for me? I gave you more than I had given anyone else in my life, and you still chose him."

Her words hit me like a cannonball. They were so much like the lyrics to the song she'd quoted in her update a couple of days ago. Was I... I was her "no ordinary love"? I had cried for hours thinking of Edward after watching that video, and it turned out Alice was crying for me.

I hated how this conversation had dissolved, but there were so many lies. There was so much pain between us that I simply couldn't accept anymore. It had to end today, even if it was on bad terms.

"I should've left you on the floor," she spat. "Then, you would've known just how much he really loves you."

Tears welled up, and my throat stung. "I'm sorry I missed the lunch. I'm sorry that you're hurting. And I'm grateful for everything you've done to help me. I just thought we were better friends than this resentment you have towards Edward." I grazed my lower lip with my teeth. "Better than your lies."

"Better friends?" She snorted. "You're the one who keeps choosing him over me. Better friends?"

I hated how she kept making this about him. It made me think my earlier notion was right: I must've been a means to an end for her. She was trying to use me to get back at Edward. That video she posted meant nothing. The internship, the clothes, this phone, and the parties were all part of her game.

"You think you're better than Edward." I hopped off the bed to stand up. The floor was cold beneath my prickly heels. "You told me you'd never leave someone you'd love like he left me, as if that were the worst thing in the world. But Edward would never manipulate me like you did. You lied about needing my help for the final. You knew you were gonna pass that class. You lied about wanting to make things up with Edward, too. You'd never give ten grand to a guy who hurt you unless you were fucked up and playing games with me."

"I'm not the one who's in love with that bastard!" Her voice scalded my ear like acid.

"He was right about you from the beginning. I hoped you had gotten better. I thought you weren't that conniving little girl who lied to hurt others, but you still are. You're using me to get back at him. It's not gonna happen, Alice. I'm not gonna play your game."

"Now you're talking crazy!" She cursed with a guttural edge, sounding like a pitbull. "You're so fucking blind! When you see that asshole for who he is, do me a favor: don't call me."

"Gladly! Bye Alice!"

I hung up before she could respond. Squeezed the phone in my hand, I began to resent it. I wanted to throw it at the wall and destroy it, but couldn't. I needed it in case Edward called.

Alice saved my life. She gave me that internship, but I didn't know the first thing about her. How could she even call it love if her machinations brought us closer? She tried so hard to be this perfect friend, yet couldn't trust me enough to tell me the truth. She used me, and when Edward came into the picture, she thought she could take me away, as if I were a pawn in a chess match.

Her truths were revealed, despite all she did to cover them up with lies upon lies. And unlike Edward's, they weren't pure; they were mired in vengeance. I hoped one day she would see that she didn't have to play all these games to get what she wanted. Not everyone had agendas. If she really knew me, she would've seen that I wasn't like all those people in her life who wanted things from her. I just wanted the truth.

Pivoting on my heels, I counted all the contents of my room: the sheets, blankets, the t-shirts spilling out of my dresser, my blue panties on the floor from when Edward was here. Ninety percent of it didn't belong.

I wouldn't be able to scour every crevice of the city for Edward, not without getting all this shit out of here and off of my skin. Even this phone was a remnant.

Stroking the phone's screen, I decided to call Jessica. I dialed her number and regrettably got voicemail.

"Jessica, I'm so sorry. I had an emergency the last couple weeks. Family thing. Don't wanna get into it. But we can get Evans to reschedule the presentation for the first class after break, right? I hope you have time. And you were right about Alice. She lied to me. I'm naive. I know. I know. No, 'I told you so's' needed. I just wanna-" I sighed. "I wanna put her drama behind me. Anyway, I'll see you in class tomorrow."

I had no intention of going to class tomorrow, though. I had to find out if Edward was okay.

I had so much to do to be the girl he could trust again. No lies. No broken promises. So, for the second time in two weeks, I took a step outside. This time, I didn't have a cake in hand and optimism in my heart. I had a couple of humongous black garbage bags, sore arms, and my white shorts and yellow t-shirt billowing around my back in the chilly wind.

I lugged the bags a couple of blocks over to the Berean Baptist church on Bergen St., introducing myself to an older man. Welcoming me with a cup of hot coffee, he told me his name was Pastor Tyler.

"Thank you so much for these clothes."

"And shoes and sheets and a comforter," I said. I downed the rest of the coffee, then rubbed my arms. His gray eyebrows rose and fell slowly with a question in his eye. Their query: Why was this young girl half naked on a chilly November morning?

"I need a favor, Pastor."

He placed his large warm hand on my shoulder, his pinky ring cold on my skin.

"Are you alright?" His breath smelled like decay, but his velvety voice soothed me. I hunched my shoulders from the weight of his question. It wasn't a question I was used to anymore. I had forgotten how to shrug it off and act like I was okay. So, I told him something that had emptied my heart since August and hurt to hear aloud.

"I'm lost. I don't know what to do without him, Pastor Tyler."

"You don't have to figure it out yourself. That's why we're here." He let go of me to clasp his hands in front of his big belly. I shook my head as the dread stretched and climbed up my throat. Of course he would think I was talking about God.

"I don't think you can find him."

"Bella Swan, you're lost in search of a man who you think I don't know." He rubbed his bald brown head. "I do know him. I've known men like that for thirty years, men who leave bruises on women who think they love them," he said, pointing to my right wrist and thigh. Both were blue and black with reminders of Edward. "These women remained lost when they continued searching for these men, but their men never wanted to be found."

I should've been insulted and left. I preferred some speech about God. Edward was not one of those abusive men. I probably could've defended him to the Pastor, too, but it would mean nothing. His opinion didn't matter. Instead, I told him what he must've been dying to say since I, a stranger to his congregation, walked through the door.

"So, you think if I lose my man and find your God, I'll find myself?"

He smiled at me in a knowing way. "I'm not trying to sell you a car, young lady. You were the one asking for direction."

I rubbed the back of my neck. "Thank you. Thanks for listening. I just don't think this is the way to go right now."

His amused brown eyes became somber. "You know that you don't need those." He pointed at the bruise on my thigh. "You can donate them to us just like you donated your clothes and sheets. Both are better between these walls."

"Umm... Thank you. I'm fine. And... these bruises are mine to keep. There's nothing to talk about." I knew what helped me get better, and he transcended these walls. "I really need that favor, though."

The Pastor promised his door was always open, but I respectfully declined.

Ten minutes later, I pushed through the tall, heavy white doors in a brown cotton hoodie and blue jeans covering my bruises. Whoever owned the sweater before was three sizes bigger than I was, but the jeans fit like leggings, thankfully. They both smelled like mothballs. I wanted to get more clothes but didn't want to be a freeloader. I wasn't homeless. Those people needed the clothes more than I did.

The local department store where everything smelled like plastic had clothes. I wanted to buy another sweater, at least, but my debit card declined. When I looked up my checking account balance at the decrepit ATM machine, near the register, I had only eight dollars. This was on top of the dollar I had on my Metrocard. I had spent all of my money on those panties, panties Edward didn't even like.

My throat burned, and the bitter wind spread my tears down my sodden cheeks when I hit the corner of Bergen and Utica. My apartment building was in my sights. The train station wasn't.

When I got to the apartment, I pulled on a couple of Edward's discarded socks and wrapped my blanket around me.

My blanket. Edward's socks. A stranger's hoodie.

*Darkseid*

November 18, 2010

I had no dreams last night because I couldn't sleep. My body was recovering from Edward's holds on me, aching in every possible cell. I felt like I couldn't get out of bed even if someone told me the apartment was on fire.

Pulling my phone from under my blankets, I checked Facebook and my texts for the fifth time that morning.

Alice's status update was friggin weird, and I didn't bother reading into it.

Brandon, Inc.

Swans will fly.

about five seconds ago · Like · Comment

Was it a threat? She was referencing me, obviously, but I could give a rat's ass if she was. What could she possibly do to me? Ruin me? As if I wasn't already? I couldn't possible go to a darker place. I just needed to get my mind off of her. She was an unnecessary waste of very necessary brain space.

Still nothing from Edward, but Jessica got back to me.

Jessica: Fine. Sorry about your fam. Dec 2nd is fine but can't do any other dates. Hope to see u in class later
12:03 p.m.

I sent her "okay" and hit send, shutting my eyes. I could've told her I wasn't going to see her in class but didn't want to see a reply text from her asking questions. I had no excuses for her.

I felt like little sadists were ripping my muscles apart just about every time I moved an inch. I fell into a fitful sleep a few minutes later, ignoring the way my stomach grumbled. When I woke up, it was dark out, and my phone chimed from somewhere beneath the blanket I folded beneath my cheek.

"Edward." Digging beneath my blanket, I pulled out my phone and found a strange number. I'd have to change this ringtone for his number only and use the standard for everyone else.

"Hello?" I had cotton mouth and barely got the word out.

"Bells?" It was Jacob. Why... Oh wow! He was in town to record his CD.

"Jake?"

"Yeah." Jacob chuckled. "Am I calling at a bad time? Thought you'd be happier to hear from me."

"No. Not a bad time. I- I am." I was happy, just not as much as he wanted me to be. "I just. I'm busy with an assignment right now."

"Oh sorry. Are you home, though? I got a surprise for you."

"Yeah, I am." I sat up with a slouch. "What's the surprise?"

"I'm outside. Let me up."

My eyes bulged as I stared at Edward's mismatched socks on my feet. He couldn't be. What the hell?

"Umm, can you give me a second?"

"Yeah. But get your ass down here. It's fucking cold."

"Uh, okay."

I hung up. Jake couldn't be here. Jake could not be here right now. God, there were too many questions he'd ask me. There were too many things to keep from him. I didn't have the will to do this now.

Suddenly, my phone rang again.

"Hello?"

"Yeah. Why'd you hang up on me?" He laughed. It was such an effortless laugh. I hadn't heard a sound like that since I had been at the penthouse with Edward.

"Because I'm coming down to get you. Gimme a second."

"You said that a second ago, and I'm still here."

"Bye Jake." I hit "End Call."

What the fuck am I gonna do?

My bedroom looked like a mausoleum, and I smelled rancid after not showering since early yesterday morning. Hobbling over to the living room, I saw my iPad on the coffee table, and the empty bag of organic popcorn Alice had brought the last time she was here. Even if I threw the bag away, Jake would wonder about why I didn't have sheets on my mattress. And when I wouldn't have an answer or attempt a lie, he'd see right through me.

Jake couldn't come in here. That was all. As long as he was in New York, we would have to meet elsewhere. And if he asked me to stay here, then I'd refuse him. If Edward came back tonight for me, Jake couldn't be here.

I grabbed my keys and wallet and unlocked the door. One. Two. Three. Four. Five.

"You're a liar, and I'll never forgive you for what you did."

I snatched my breath back before I lost it and locked the door behind me. This time, from the outside, things sounded different. The way the clicks echoed down the hall quieted Edward's voice. I had to keep it together. Jake couldn't see me so frazzled. He couldn't see me break down. I was always stronger than he was. If he saw me fracture, we'd have to talk about Edward, and I could not bear it.

When I got downstairs, Jake was walking in through the front door. A couple of tall black men with black coats and baseball caps let him in. Jake pinched the tips of his ears, which he liked to do when they were cold.

"Bella." He grinned from ear to ear and dropped his duffel bag to the floor.

"Jake." I couldn't believe it. He looked exactly the same. Everything about him was the same. His hair was the same tapered cut, parted at the right side. He was still so big. He about filled the hallway with his wide shoulders. His white teeth gleamed as his full lips spread into a warm smile.

I thought I couldn't bear a talk, but I couldn't bear his expression. His face conveyed what I hadn't seen or felt in months. He looked content.

I couldn't hold it in any longer and began weeping, my voice soaring across the stale lobby air like a gust of wind.

"Hey. Hey, come on now. I'm not famous, yet. Save your tears for when my CD goes platinum."

I covered my face with my hands, the tears dripping down my chin. When I felt his strong arms around me, I fell forward and gasped. He was so cold. He was as cold as Edward used to be before I moved into the penthouse. He used to feel like ice if we spent a day apart. Jake was just as cold, but his hug wasn't the same.

Jake's nervous laughter stopped and started as he patted my back. His Axe cologne enveloped me, reminding me of when he'd try a new song for me late nights in my room or we'd play "Grand Theft Auto Vice City" all day until we passed out on his couch. All these old memories overshadowed the new ones. I was flooded with the sensations of them. I could still hear his voice cracking when I first met him. After puberty, he couldn't hit the high notes like he used to. There were times when I'd make his Jacob's Friesapalooza for him, eat it all myself because I was so hungry, and make another pan-full just for him. My mouth watered at that memory.

Every moment I'd spent with Jake in Forks had been my deliverance from the crap my classmates and my dad put me through. I probably wouldn't have applied to NYU if Jake hadn't been there to cheer me on. He was my rock. He was my stability. And a part of me wished this would be true today, when I felt like I was so close to floating away.

Nothing was real. Alice lied to me, and I didn't care about school worth a damn. The only pure force in my life blocked me... or could be gravely injured. Jake's presence should've set me right. The glint in his dark brown eyes when he saw me should've been enough to ease me. However, neither the memories nor his presence made me feel better. I was still empty, and nothing filled me. I was an unmoored visitor without a map of this land. I had no idea how to speak this language.

"You're so skinny, Bella. Jeez." He patted my side after we pulled away and breathed through his mouth. "I thought you looked weird in your pic from September, but you look worse now. Is it 'cause of that chick you tagged in your FB pic? Brandon?"

I shook my head, then lowered it to the floor. "I've been sick."

Quickly, he backed off to his bag near the door. "Whoa! What? With what?" He pinched his nose with his gloved right hand. "Dude, no wonder you smell like Mr. Clearwater's fish after he forgot it in the trunk of my dad's car for a couple days."

I frowned as I wiped snot off my upper lip.

"And I'm an asshole. There, I said it so you don't have to. Look, I can't get sick till after New Years. I'm gonna be in the studio. Damn, why didn't you tell me?" He lifted his coat over his his nose. Bending down for his bag, he glanced up at the stairs. "Your apartment isn't infested, is it?"

I couldn't believe I was about to do this to my friend.

"Yes. It's disgusting up there. You're gonna have to stay in a hotel."

"Dammit Bella!" He let go of the lapel on his coat.

"Sony gave you money for it, right?"

He grimaced. "No, because I told them I had a place to stay till Christmas. You better thank God that I saved all the money from my advance. Do you know how much it'll cost to book a room tonight?" He huffed. "Let's go."

"Go where? I can't go anywhere. I told you I'm sick."

He pointed. "So why are you holding your wallet? You were about to go somewhere."

I nodded. "The corner store for some medicine."

"You look like you'll need more than that. So, come on. We're gonna get something to eat then we'll come right back here so you can sleep."

"Jake-"

"I'll carry you if you're not up to it." Dammit, he would. He totally would. "So, where can we get some really good chicken soup?"

A cab ride and a half an hour later, I had so much chicken soup that I thought I'd cry and sweat it out. Jake was one of the most persistent people I knew. Usually, we contested every little thing until eventually I won. Arguing over food was not how I wanted to spend the night with my old friend, though. Tonight, I was starving, and any soup at the slow food restaurant, Applewood, was always good. I even had some of Jake's ribs when I was done.

Throughout the meal, he would scrutinize me without a word. Jake didn't like to eat and talk. So, when he chewed the last piece of meat, I braced myself for what he'd clearly been dying to say.

"Did you hurt your knee or something? You were walking funny when we got out of the cab."

"Oh, you noticed." Blushing, I rubbed my knee a bit even though it didn't hurt at all. "I tripped yesterday. Fell down half a flight." I shrugged. "The meds made me woozy."

"Oh." He wiped his hands with the cloth napkin. "So, you gonna take that hood off or what? I wanna see your haircut."

"Um, it's been a while. It looks really terrible now. I didn't even wash it this morning." I drew circles on the white tablecloth, blushing. I couldn't care less about my hair. If I took off my hood, he'd see all the crimson hickeys on my neck.

Jake tilted his head to the right and gave me that damn impatient look.

"I'll show you tomorrow, alright?" He tapped his fork on the table.

"Actually, I don't know what my schedule'll be like tomorrow. I might be in the studio all day until the 22nd. Are you gonna come home for Thanksgiving?"

I shrugged. "I don't know. I don't know what I'm doing."

"You know you can always stay with us. Charlie won't mind and Dad and Rachel wanna see you."

"It'd be nice to see them."

"So, you'll come?"

I shook my head, watching the waiter come with the huge slice of cake, holding his curved hand around the fiery wick of a long white candle.

"Jake, you didn't."

"Hey, I told you we'd celebrate your birthday when I got here, didn't I?" His self-satisfied grin and puffed up chest was so obnoxious. It made me giggle, nonetheless. I wasn't expecting a celebration today. I didn't know how to react to the surprise. I hadn't been celebrated since September.

As the cake slid across our table in front of me while an empty plate was placed carefully in front of Jake, the waiter said, "Happy Birthday" in this southern accent that reminded me of Alice. He had a Hispanic accent when he took our order, now it was southern. He must've been an actor. I furrowed my brow, trying to swallow down tears.

I leaned my chin on my right hand and blew out the candle. Along with Jacob, the waiter clapped. He smiled down at me, then headed off, but Jake frowned.

"Dude, your face just turned darker than Darkseid's." He picked up the candle and licked the end like he was twelve. "What's wrong? I thought you liked red velvet?" He lowered the candle to the table.

"I love red velvet. It'll always be my favorite." We used to get the heebie jeebies whenever Darkseid was the villain in an episode of "Superman," our favorite cartoon in high school. He was the manifestation of evil and terror; he was utterly void of compassion. Reason couldn't sway him. He was after one thing: destruction. "I just don't wanna go to Forks."

"Dad and Rachel wanted to come, but they have to work at the garage." I noticed he didn't mention Leah's name. "They can't afford time off, not yet. Not till I get my millions!" he grinned, cracking his knuckles. I frowned.

"Sorry sorry. I know you hate when I do that." He didn't even wait for me to take a bite. He sunk his knife into the moist two-layered cake and placed it on his plate. I guess he wanted me to keep my "germs" on my side of the table. Taking a huge chunk, like half, he scarfed down his cake.

"But you've been weird even before I mentioned Forks. Since I got here you just agreed to basically everything I asked you to do. Well, except let me in your apartment. You wouldn't even let me drive that beat up piece of crap pick-up truck when I begged you to borrow it last Christmas. That used to be my truck for fuck's sake! And the crying in the lobby like you just saw Jesus. What the hell was that about?"

I stared down at the cake, the crimson reminding me of Edward's eyes the last time he came over. He was so tired. He was so disgusted.

"Ah, dammit, Bella. What's wrong? Talk to me."

When I looked up, Jake was poking crumbs along the plate with his finger and staring at me. Worry lined his forehead and the corners of his mouth.

"I'm just tired. This semester's kicking my ass."

"I thought you only had one class?"

Dammit. He shouldn't know my business. He should be worrying about his own.

"It's- I do. It's a tough project, though. But enough about me. If I recall, you were supposed to bring Leah to this trip. Where is she?"

He scowled, then licked his thumb of the crumbs. "Broke up with her."

"What?" I sat back in my seat, stunned.

He cut into my cake and ate it. While his mouth was full, he said, "She cheated on me with Paul."

"Again?"

"Bella."

"God, I'm sorry. I didn't know." I reached out for his hand to comfort him, but he cocked an eyebrow. "What?"

"Sorry?" He turned his hand around and grasped mine. "Whatever sickness you have, it's bad. And I have a feeling chicken soup can't cure it. What's going on with you?"

"No-"

"Don't say 'nothing.' You've been waiting for me and Leah to break up for what? Five years? No, 'I told you she was a bitch, Jake?' I even had a comeback for that." He pouted.

"I just know how hard it must be to break up with someone."

Jake peered at me. "You know? Since when?"

"I mean." My face got hot. "I can relate. I've had my heart broken before by a couple of jerks last year."

"Yeah, well, you weren't in love with them. You can't know what it feels like when someone you love betrays you with your friend who turned out to be a total dick."

I pulled my hand back and onto my lap so that he wouldn't see it tremble. Then, I lowered my head so he wouldn't see tears well up my eyes.

"Bells, come on. Bella, what's going on?"

I shook my head and cleared my throat. When I lifted my head, I felt a tear fall, but that release was enough to keep the rest at bay.

"I'm just glad you're here. I'm really happy, Jake." I gave him a watery smile with my chin up and a quiet sniffle.

"I am, too. Dude, whatever it is, you can tell me. You know I can get you right out of any funk you're in."

I nodded, sitting on my hands. "Yeah, I know. But you don't have to worry about me. I'll be fine. You just have to finish your CD so that you can make millions."

He stabbed his fork into the rest of my cake. "Damn right. I'm gonna win that bet. There's no way you'll write that article before I get a song on the radio, now. Hehehehe."

I laughed at him and covered my mouth. It was a strange sound. I hadn't laughed since I watched "Sex and the City" with Alice.

Jake's eyes lit up. "Hey, I don't know why you're laughing at me. I'm the one recording a CD. You just did an internship at The New Yorker. You won't be laughing next year when my song plays on the radio." Suddenly, he dropped his fork, and his mouth went slack. "Unless... Don't tell me they let an intern publish an article!"

I tried to keep my mood lifted for him as I said the next few words. "No, I'm laughing because of your laugh. I haven't heard it in a while." He bit his lower lip and wriggled his eyebrows suggestively, which made me laugh again. "But I lost the internship."

He gaped at me like two heads that looked like Charlie grew out of my neck. "Lost? You've never lost anything in your life."

"Yeah, well, I lost that. So, I guess you're gonna win that bet after all."

"Whoa whoa whoa! What happened? And why didn't you tell me? Damn, you've wanted to work there since you got to New York? And you got fired? How?"

"Long story," I said with a sheepish grin. My summer came back to me. The days before and after I lost the internship were rough because Liam had just died, Emmett had put a strain on my relationship with Edward, and he didn't get the Macbeth audition. Nonetheless, they were good days. Edward had asked me to move in with him, he had tended my knees, and he had told me his future was inside of me. We'd get there again. Edward would return and our future together would become more certain. I just couldn't share this with Jake until then.

Edward was fine.

"I love long stories. You can start now and tell me the rest on the plane ride to Forks."

"Jake-"

He put his hand behind his left ear and leaned forward. "Did I just hear, 'Yes, Jake, I'm coming home for Thanksgiving. I'm buying a plane ticket tomorrow'? Awesome Bells."

"Jake, it's not happening."

"You're such a pig, you know that?"

"Oy." I pursed my lips, fighting back a grin. I felt like we were back at Al's Diner. He was teasing me. He always ordered another slice of red velvet cake after claiming I was the one who scarfed down the first slice. He did this to change the subject, as if the tactic would win an argument.

"I'm gonna have to order more cake. You ate all of mine."

I laughed again as he called the waiter in this mushy Hispanic/southern accent. When the cake was carefully placed down by the overly pleasant waiter, Jake muttered, "Pig," and I bust out laughing.

"Sorry, he's not talking about you," I told the waiter when he shot darts at him with his hazel eyes. "He's teasing me. Sorry."

Jake shook his head and in the middle of chomping down on a huge piece, he looked me up and down, trying to figure me out. But I wasn't about to talk tonight, not when I was laughing again.

Just like when he had begged to borrow my truck, I wouldn't budge. There was no way he'd get me to go back to Forks with him. I might have lost my competitive streak, but I would never step foot in that town again if I could help it. I might as well spend Thanksgiving with Alice.

Jake bought a large order of chicken soup for me to go and a another slice of cake for himself. Then, despite my refusal, he hailed a cab and brought me home.

"You'll waste all your money if you keep taking cabs around this city," I said after getting out. He scooted over to me as I shut the door and leaned my hip against the side of the car.

"And what? Take the subway? Pshaw. That's not how millionaires roll, Bells."

"Hardy har. You haven't even recorded your first song, yet, millionaire," I said with a poke to his shoulder. My finger met solid muscle. His eyes lit up. "Why're you looking at me like that?"

"You're smiling again. Keep it up."

I thanked him with my cheeks ablaze.

"I'll get you laughing again, don't worry. That hoodie will come off, and you'll tell me why you're in such a sour mood." He pressed the button to roll his window up before I could respond. He was headed for the W Hotel in Union Square. Sony hooked him up after all.

Back upstairs in the darkness, I pulled on another mismatched pair of Edward's socks and hopped into bed.

Edward was fine.

The chant wouldn't make it true, but it was better than thinking the worst had occurred.

My cell phone was an arm's length away; I put it on vibrate tonight. My eyelids were heavy, and I couldn't stop yawning. I felt weird. I was full. I couldn't remember the last time I was full.

As soon as I shut my eyes, I heard my phone vibrate.

Edward.

Reaching out for the phone, I squinted as the screen lit up and read:

Ben C.

"Hello?"

"Hi, Bella. I'm sorry I'm calling you so late, and this is gonna sound fucking lame after what happened last summer."

"No, it's fine. I understand why you did what you did. You were right. I should've been honest with Edward from day-"

"Yeah, that's all good," he quickly interrupted. "Look, have you seen Edward?"

My heart flipped. I threw my blankets off and sat up.

"No." I swallowed the frog in my throat. "Did he say he was coming to see me?" Oh God.

"He was supposed to be at rehearsal a few hours ago but never showed. We had to use his understudy, and I fucking loathe working with the guy. Shit!" He cursed again, then continued. "You're not just covering for him, are you? I know he's been seeing you again."

"How-"

"It doesn't matter how. Is he there or not?" His voice became so loud, I had to pull the phone away from my ear.

"No, no." I stammered. "I haven't heard from him at-"

"I called everyone else," he rambled on as if he didn't hear me. "I thought it might've been something with his dad, but he would've told me if he had to leave. Still, I called Emmett, and he said their dad was fine."

"S-so then Edward's fine." But even I didn't believe he was. Missing a rehearsal didn't seem like him. What if...

No what ifs. Edward is fine.

"If he calls you, tell him he needs to call me ASAP. Jane's been a fucking bitch lately, and today she was nearly impossible to work with. You got all that? Great. Call me. Bye."

He hung up.

I stared at the phone as it got blurry from the tears building up and redefining when they fell from my cheeks. The screen dimmed and went black as Ben's words sunk in.

Jane was in the play.

Those were her chocolates all those nights, not Ben's.

Edward came here. He was with me, but he wasn't.

He didn't need me like he had said.

He needed her. He was with her.

That's why he had said "never."

But even she didn't know where Edward was. No one did, according to Ben.

Wherever he was, he wouldn't call me. He hated the sound of my voice. He blocked me. The first person he would call would probably be Jane.

He will call her because he's alive. He'll come back.

Hot tears stung my eyes. My phone became blurry again, and my blanket became damp. It stuck to my cheek as I fought for sleep.

I wasn't full. I would never be full again.


A/N:

Thank you all for sticking with this. It really means a lot to me.

Bye :(