AUTHOR'S NOTE:

Thanks go to my beta TheRainGirl! She got this back to me within a few hours! Go check out her completed story Inamorata and meet Peeper. He's a naughty young man that likes to watch his new neighbor strip to chick rock in her bedroom...

No copyright is on this baby because the law says I can't, and I don't want to. Fanfiction is written in fun for you to read for free.

Rated M: language, lemons, some angst


CHAPTER 12

STILL March 2006

Spring Break was winding down. Classes were starting back up in two days, so students were arriving on campus again with the long awaited excitement that this was the home stretch of the school year. I should have been doing the things that they were doing, like the homework I'd put off until the last minute, but instead, I was on a ferry boat staring out at the crisp blue waters of Puget Sound with my friends.

It had been five whole days since Bella had come back to Seattle after finding out about James, his secret girlfriend and even more secret baby on the way, yet the only thing keeping Bella from being a full-on zombie was she hadn't resorted to eating people. Oh, and she was still beautiful. No rotting human flesh to be found on that body of hers. Thank God.

None of us liked seeing her in such a state, but we didn't know how to help other than dragging her along wherever we were going in the hopes that she would start to liven up a little. If she would have smiled, we would have been happy. If she would have laughed, our work would have been done. But, sadly, she had done neither. So, we kept on.

"How long until we're there?" Alice asked.

Looking down at my watch, I did some mental calculating. "Once we unload at Bainbridge Island, we're looking at about a three hour drive with a stop or two scheduled in for you ladies. We'll probably get to the trail head at about noon after we get the equipment from my house. My guess is we'll have camp all set up no later than two."

"And where are we going exactly?" Rosalie questioned.

"Nowhere special," I smirked. "Just a little place out in the middle of the forest I used to hike to with my parents."

"This place is incredible, Edward," Alice whispered in awe, staring out into the darkness beyond the lighted ring of the fire. Night had fallen already, but I knew the view was still burned into her memory, as well as everybody else's. It was hard to forget the perfect circle of trees, the three hundred foot waterfall off the rock face in the distance and the flowers springing up in the grasses of the meadow. It should have been sad that this was all bathed in black now, but the twinkling of the stars above – something I could only see in the posters when I was in Seattle – made the night just as beautiful as the day.

"We need to do this every year," Jasper said, rotating his marshmallow in the campfire as I picked at my guitar. "None of us ever get out of the city unless we're going home, and then some of us go from one city to another. People forget how beautiful nature is."

Rosalie leaned over and rested her head on her brother's shoulder, squishing the top and bottom graham crackers and chocolate bars around the marshmallow to drag it off the stick for him. "This reminds me of when dad would take us camping as kids. It was never like this, but it was nice."

"We're not really kids anymore, are we?" Alice murmured, resting her head on Jasper's other shoulder, taking the s'more from his hand for a bite.

Emmett sighed heavily, his form of answering her question, and rested his head on my shoulder prompting me to shove him off with a laugh. "What's so wrong about not being a kid anymore?" I asked, truly not understanding why everyone was so sad about the passing of their younger days.

"School is harder," Emmett replied immediately with his pointer finger in the air.

"It's not as hard when you are taking classes that truly interest you, you big buffoon," Jasper teased.

Emmett scowled but eventually nodded in agreement. Though none of us really had much initial confidence in him in such a difficult major, I had to commend the guy for lasting an entire year. He didn't come out with awful grades, either, probably due to Rosalie's help on some level, but all of us had to admit that he walked away with a good understanding of science. When he ended up changing his major to sport and exercise science, we all supported him because it was logical and more tailored toward his lifestyle. Thanks to Rosalie's direction, he'd found his niche. She was perfect for him.

"You're sheltered from scary stuff when you are younger," she whispered. "Dad was always safe wherever he was. Mom never wavered in assuring us he was coming home. And there was never a chance that we would get called out of class one day. Funny how as you grow older you realize that it could have tipped the other way so easily. The reality kind of sucks."

"There's always a happily ever after. The prince doesn't cheat on the princess." Turning our heads, we found Bella wrapped in a blanket in her chair, staring blankly into the crackling fire. She didn't look any different than she had for the past five days, but we knew who had spoken, and that was more than she'd said since the night I held her on the floor. Despite how sad it was, it was something. A small step.

Clearing my throat to break our stares, I looked at each of my friends around the half circle. "Life gets harder when we're older because we can handle it now. We're wiser, and with that comes strength. Strength to make tough decisions. Strength to endure the hard. Strength to accept the truth. And strength to pick yourself back up when you're down. Be proud of what we're becoming."


Snap!

Shooting straight up in my sleeping bag, I rubbed my eyes and stared out of the mesh window of my tent toward the steaming pile of amber and gray ash looking for the source of the breaking branch. Was it an animal? A human? The giant from my dream?

"Edward?"

A soft whisper, almost too low for me to hear so surely too low for anyone else to hear, came from the other side of my tent flap, and I leaned forward to unzip it. It was almost completely dark out, the moon and stars having been erased by a thick cloud cover that had rolled in since we went to bed, but I could still make out a small shape crouched down on the ground on her knees.

"Bella?" I croaked. The fatigue of only a few hours sleep was still set deep in my throat.

"Can I sleep in your tent?" she whispered.

My eyes were just as tired as the rest of me, but they were adjusting to the almost-zero light. I could see she was curled into herself, like she was scared half to death, a stance that matched the shake in her voice. "What happened? What's wrong?"

"I thought I heard something," she answered.

I'd been camping in the forests almost my entire life. My parents had taken me out not only to spend time as a family but to also teach me how to survive if I ever got lost in the woods. It sounded impossible that I would ever be in that situation, but with wilderness surrounding you at every turn in the area, they wanted to be safe. Because of their extensive preparations, I knew the sounds of the forest, so I knew by the stillness surrounding us there was nothing out there.

"It was probably the wind. Looks like rain may be blowing in from the coast. I promise it's nothing to be afraid of." I watched her for a long pause as the words sunk in, but I couldn't ignore how she hadn't relaxed even the slightest bit at my assurances. What had her so frightened? "Nothing is out there, Bella. I promise you. Don't be scared."

She nodded her head minutely so that I knew she'd heard me, but as she went to stand, her eyes caught the light of the dying fire and I noticed the shimmer of her unshed tears for the first time. And that's when I realized it wasn't a noise that had her at my tent. Reaching up and extending my hand, acting on that same protective instinct that always surprised me, I curled my fingers around her wrist and held her still.

"Don't go," I said, like the wind had been knocked out of me.

I knew why I said it, but I didn't really know why I said it. She was my friend, and I was the only one she found comfort in, but what was I wanting by saying those two words? I know you're scared, so stay with me and let me protect you tonight? I know your heart is broken, so stay with me and let me protect you for as long as you want me to? I was so confused. Nothing made sense, and nothing seemed right, but even if there was some imaginary boundary line that I was stepping over, I could not find it in me to care about the line or the ramifications of ignoring it and the questions that came. Not when I was kneeling below her. Not when my heart was racing like it was. Not when she had come to me.

Tugging on her wrist, I slowly and carefully pulled her down into the tent until she was lying next to me surrounded by the sleeping bag and my arms. Though warm to my touch, she was shaking, and though timid and scared, she pressed herself along every inch of my torso and legs. The whole thing was overwhelming to my senses. Her scent, her heat, her body. They all triggered the deeply hidden emotions and feelings I had inside, but it was nothing compared to what her crying did to me.

"You knew all along, didn't you?" she sniffled.

I knew what she meant. There was no need to make her say the words out loud when they would only hurt her more. "Deep down I knew he was with someone else, yes."

"What happened to you and me being honest with each other, Edward?"

Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath and released it gradually, trying to search for the right words and reasons. There were so many things I could say, but despite every desire I had for Bella, it ultimately all came down to one. "How was I supposed to hurt my best friend by telling her the man that she loves... doesn't love her back?"

Her head lifted at my answer, her beautiful eyes rising as well to meet mine. Thick silence filled the tent as she stared at me, her eyelids heavy and her eyelashes lazily batting with creeping sleep, and I couldn't help but stare right back into the questioning innocence.

"I'm your best friend?" she asked.

"You are," I breathed, and she responded with a sigh that sent a burst of air through my parted lips, letting me get a hint of the sweet taste of her mouth for the first time.

"You're my best friend, too, Edward."

A strand of hair fell from out behind her ear and dropped into the moisture under her eye as I stroked her cheek with the back of my fingers, and I nodded. "I know I am."

Minutes passed after that with no more talk, just an understanding, and when her eyes eventually closed and her body sank into mine in sleep, I knew we'd finally gained complete trust. She was comfortable with me. She knew she could relax when I was there. She felt something that told her I was someone she needed in her life.

And then I was the terrified one.

I wasn't terrified by how everything seemed so different or by the changes that happened, that was for sure. Though I wished it was less painful for her, the outcome was what I had wanted for so long. So what was there for me to be terrified of?

I was terrified of five simple words... five simple words spoken by my own lips in response to four simple words spoken by hers in her dream.

"Love you, best friend."

.

.

.

.

.

"I love you, too, Bella."

I was terrified because nothing had ever felt so right.


AUTHOR'S END NOTE:

I'm sorry (again) for taking so long. Hopefully this update was nice for you. RL for me has been turned upside down, and I'm trying to get back on my feet. Sadly, finding the energy to write has been rare. Please forgive me. Some of you know what's going on, and I want to thank you all for being there and helping me stand strong when I can't do it on my own. I just need to get back into the groove of doing the things that I love (like writing) because that's what brings me joy. Thank you all for reading and reviewing. I truly appreciate it.

Follow me on Twitter under the name parismyloveff for not only a good time but random teasers.