AN: A very Happy Birthday for Saturday, April 9th goes out to Kristen Stewart and my little boy Shaun, who turns 7!

This week has been absolutely crazy - between a class trip to the zoo, taking the little guy to a Philadelphia Phillies game earlier today and making cupcakes for school. Not even touching on the insanity surrounding this weekend and the birthday party, lol.

My apologies to the handful of you guys who got your review replies a little late. I'll do my best to get them out quicker this week!

Chapter 9: Gotta Be Somebody

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'Cause nobody wants to be the last one there
'Cause everyone wants to feel like someone cares.
Someone to love with my life in their hands.
There's gotta be somebody for me like that.

'Cause nobody wants to do it on their own
And everyone wants to know they're not alone.
There's somebody else that feels the same somewhere
There's gotta be somebody for me out there.

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Gotta Be Somebody by Nickelback

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Jasper was the first one out of the house, shouting "Shotgun!" on his way out the door. Bella shot Alice a confused look, to which the smaller girl only shrugged in response. Mac laughed and threw his arms around Rosalie and Alice.

"That's fine, boy. I'd rather sit between the ladies anyway," he commented in a smooth voice, causing the girls to giggle.

"Wait a second," Bella muttered, "If Alice and Jasper are riding in the Jeep, where am I fitting?"

Rose bit her lip and smiled mischievously. "Oh, I figured that you could ride with Edward. Is that a problem?"

Bella cocked an eyebrow. "No, it's not a problem."

What are you up to, Rosalie? she wondered to herself.

"Okay, cool. Alice left her car there yesterday, so you can ride back with us on the way home. If you want." The Amazon smirked and jerked her head in the direction of Edward's truck.

Bella rolled her eyes at Rosalie's none-too-subtle hint, but couldn't help laughing with her friend.

"Fine, fine, we'll meet you at the Cullens'."

Edward was leaning against the front of his pickup, waiting for Bella to head over. He moved over to the passenger side and opened the door when she got there.

"Thanks," she replied quietly.

"Anytime."

They were on the road for a few minutes before Bella propped her arm on the door, turning her gaze to Edward. He glanced over at her quickly and then back to the road.

"What?" he asked nervously.

"I was just thinking about how I don't know that much about you, but you know my life story at this point."

He shook his head. "That's not true. You know plenty about me."

"Mostly things your sister's told me."

He grimaced. "Yeah, Lord only knows what kind of secrets she's spilled."

Bella laughed. "Not very many, I'm sure you'll be happy to hear."

"I've got to say I'm thrilled about that, actually."

He breathed in deeply through his nose. "Ok, what would you like to know?"

She grinned, thrilled that he was playing along. "Anything - everything."

"Well, then, let me start at the beginning. My name is Edward Anthony Cullen, twin brother to Mary Alice Cullen. We were born in Chicago, Illinois and lived there until we were ten. We moved to Seattle when my dad was offered a great job at a prestigious hospital. A few years later, my mother had a miscarriage and fell into depression, and we moved to Forks so our family could heal peacefully, away from the big city. Each of us fell in love with it, in our own way, and we've been here ever since."

"Did you always want to be a carpenter?"

He smiled wistfully and shook his head. "Nah, not really. I mean, I've always been good with my hands and I love to design and build things, but I actually wanted to follow in my father's footsteps and become a doctor. I was accidentally slotted into an Architecture class the last semester of my Sophomore year and I fell in love with it. Everything fell into place after that."

"Except for Angela," Bella murmured quietly, unaware that it slipped out until it was too late.

He pursed his lips and nodded jerkily. "I guess Allie filled you in about her, huh?" he muttered in an annoyed tone.

"A little bit, yeah. She said you loved her and she broke your heart when she couldn't mold you into who she wanted you to be."

The corner of his mouth twitched with the beginning of a smile. "Now, why can't I picture Alice explaining it so nicely?"

She bit her lip and tried to hold back her own smile. "Well, she may have been a little more passionate than that."

He snorted, laughing at the same time and making the strangest noise. He coughed to cover it up, but his cheeks pinkened and gave him away.

She reached and touched his left hand, which rested on the steering wheel. "It's cool, we can change the subject."

His eyes met hers briefly and nodded. "Thanks."

"Sure, not a problem." She tapped her chin thoughtfully, thinking of another question. "What's your favorite color?"

He smirked. "Brown."

She cocked her head to the side slightly. "Brown? Who likes the color brown?"

The telltale signs of a blush crept up the apples of his cheeks once again. "Brown is a pretty color, it just depends on what you're looking at," he replied, staring intently at the road before him.

"Huh," she responded quietly.

They turned onto a long driveway and pulled up behind Emmett's jeep, in front of a beautiful three-story house with many large windows.

Edward swallowed thickly and turned to Bella, after shutting off the truck.

"Listen, I need to tell you something before we go in there."

She removed her seatbelt and leaned forward, her curiosity piqued. "What is it? Are your parents serial killers in their spare time?"

"If only," he scoffed, a scowl marring his handsome face. "My mom has this, thing... for, erm, embarrassing me."

"What do you mean?"

He cleared his throat. "She, um, she thinks my blush is cute and will go out of her way to make it happen."

Bella blinked and did a double take in his direction. "Wait, what?"

He smiled ruefully. "My mom thinks that I have an adorable blush and will undoubtedly find ways to embarrass me today, so she can show it off."

Bella's brow furrowed in amused confusion. "Okay, I'm failing to see the problem. I think your blush is cute, too."

He ran his hand through his hair shyly. "Just- I just don't want you to think any worse of me after we leave here today."

A wide smile spread across her face as a piece of her heart melted with his confession. She had a hard time believing that someone so sweet and adorable could actually exist.

"I promise, Edward. I won't think any less of you if your mom shows me cute, naked baby pictures."

She grinned, opening her door and hopping to the ground as he was left behind, staring at her incredulously. She began strolling slowly up to the front door, intentionally allowing him enough time to catch up with her.

"So, wait a minute," he called from behind her. "You think my blush is cute, too?"

She turned her head and laughed gaily. "What can I say? I'm a sucker for a shy guy."

By the time she reached the porch steps, he had caught up to her side.

"I'm not shy," he pouted, reaching out and opening the door for her.

They were barely in the door when a very pretty woman poked her head into the foyer. Her smile brightened and she shot over to them, wrapping her arms around Edward's waist.

"My baby!" she cried out. "I missed you."

He hugged her in return and rolled his eyes behind her back. "Mom, I just saw you earlier this morning for mass."

"Mass?" Bella asked, something inside of her warming at the sight of his obvious affection for his mother.

The older woman pulled back and eyed her, head to toe, smiling kindly.

"Yes, mass. His father works every Sunday morning at the clinic, so Edward goes to church with me." She gazed lovingly up at her son, before turning back to Bella and wrapping her in a hug of her own. "It's so good to finally meet you, Isabella. I'm Esme."

She'd never had an affectionate mother figure in her life, so Esme Cullen's maternal hug took her off-guard. She patted her back awkwardly.

"Thanks, it's nice to meet you, too. Please, call me Bella."

Esme hooked her arm through Bella's and lead her inside the house.

"Come, Bella. Let's join the others."

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A few hours later, after dinner had been devoured, Bella sat next to Esme on the cozy loveseat, flipping through a photo album.

"And here they were in their first Christmas pageant. Edward was the tallest, so he was the tree and Alice was the littlest, so she was an elf. Both of them cried and complained for a week about how unfair it was."

Alice rolled her eyes from her spot on Jasper's lap as her brother groaned, resting his head between his hands.

"Oh!" Esme cried when she flipped to a particular page. "This is my absolute favorite. Edward was looking at a book while sitting on the potty-"

Edward reached down swiftly and snatched the book from his mother's hands, his cheeks bright pink.

"Okay Mom, that's enough."

Esme huffed and crossed her arms in a pout. "You never let me have any fun."

"Why does your fun have to be at my expense?" he replied in exasperation.

His mother smirked and turned to Bella. "Doesn't he have the most adorable blush?"

She cut her gaze over to him just as he hung his head. "You're definitely right, Esme. He's Mr. Adorable."

Edward caught her eye and glared playfully at her, mouthing the words, 'You're gonna get it.'

She winked in challenge, before turning her full attention back to Esme, who'd watched their interaction with fascination, unbeknownst to them. She'd never seen her son so alive and playful with a woman in her presence. Even when dating Angela, he'd always been tense and on edge. It was quite different to see him just be himself. She was going to enjoy watching this relationship unfold.

"Fine," Esme sighed. "Since I can't torture my son anymore and I didn't even get a chance to whip out Mr. Snugglebunny, I guess we'll have to settle for dessert."

Bella's eyes shot to Edward's shocked face, his blush prominent once again. "Mom," he hissed, "what the hell?"

Esme leaned forward and patted his hand gently. "It's, how do you say it, son? It's all good." She stood and disappeared into the kitchen, with a snickering Alice and Jasper behind her, leaving the two of them all alone.

Edward groaned and plopped on the couch next to Bella, banging his head against the back cushion. "Could this night get any worse?"

Bella turned sideways and leaned her elbow on the back of the couch. "So, where is this Mr. Snugglebunny? Is he soft? Cute? Cuddly?"

He lolled his head to one side and narrowed his eyes at her. "You're walking a thin line here, Swan."

She reached out and trailed a fingertip across his cheek bone. "I like to live dangerously, Cullen."

Her heart began to race furiously as she noticed his nostrils flare and his eyes darken. He licked his bottom lip, his eyes focused on her as he reached out to play with a strand of her hair.

"You know, Bella, I-"

Somewhere, a door opened loudly and they jerked apart, their bodies having unconsciously shifted closer to each other.

"Eddie!" Emmett called out in a high pitched voice, before dropping onto his lap. "Mama Ez won't let us touch the pie until you two grace us with your presence."

Edward shoved him off, unceremoniously dumping him on the floor. Emmett held onto his stomach, guffawing loudly. Edward sighed and turned to Bella.

"Was he always like this?"

She bit her lip and nodded. "Worse, actually."

"You have my sympathies, Princess."

He stood and offered her his hand, helping her up. As he led them to kitchen, she couldn't help but notice that he kept her hand tucked warmly inside his own.

"Hey, wait! Where are you guys going?" Emmett yelled from his spot on the carpet. "You're just going to leave me here? Ain't that a bitch."

"Like you said earlier, Shaggy," Bella called back in response, "pie waits for no man."

"Mother Fudger," Emmett cussed, struggling to his feet and causing a fit of laughter to erupt from the couple entering the kitchen, still hand in hand.

Six pairs of eyes watched them carefully, conveying a wide variety of emotions.

"What?" both of them asked at the same time. They looked at each in surprise and then succumbed to more laughter, before calming down and sitting at the table for dessert. Wrapped up in each other and in their own conversation, they paid no mind to their captive audience.

When it was time to leave, Bella opted to ride back with her family and not take Edward out of his way. Plus, she needed some space away from him to calm her erratic heartbeat. She feared that she might do something rash if she subjected herself to more close contact with him - something along the lines of kissing him until they were both breathless. It was a fine idea, in and of itself, but the end results might be disastrous to both their friendship and her relationship with Alice.

She knew that her future was uncertain and while Allie had been out of line with her warnings, she was also completely justified in her concern. Edward deserved better than that. He deserved devotion and a stable future. The first she could give him, but the second was out the window, considering her career. She waved and gave him a reassuring smile, her heart aching at his disappointed expression as they drove away from the Cullen's home.

Rosalie rested her head on Bella's shoulder and snuggled against her. "You know, Bell, you could've ridden home with Edward. No one would've minded."

Bella faced forward, contemplating a response to her comment, when Mac met her eyes in the rearview mirror. He rolled his eyes in jest from his spot in the passenger seat and shook his head.

"Maybe she didn't want to ride with him, Rosie. They've been spending a lot of time together lately, maybe some space was needed."

She shot her godfather a grateful look, which he responded to with a wink.

Rosalie snorted. "Not want to? Seriously, Mac Daddy, you could cut the sexual tension around those two with a knife."

"Rose!" Bella chastised.

"What?" she replied, nonchalantly shrugging. "We can all see it."

"Babe," Emmett said from the driver's seat, grimacing, "that's my little sis. Please don't mention her and sex, okay?"

"Emmett!" Bella squeaked. She huffed in exasperation and threw her head back against the seat lightly.

"Sorry," Rosalie whispered, squeezing Bella's hand.

"It's okay," she replied quietly. "There's nothing going on between me and Edward," she spoke loud enough for the men to hear as well.

"Really?" Emmett asked, cocking an eyebrow. "'Cause it doesn't really look that way sometimes."

"We're just friends, okay?"

"Sure, if you say so, Scrappy," Em replied sarcastically.

Mac shifted in his seat and turned his head to meet Bella's gaze. "Why?"

Her brown scrunched in confusion. "Why what?"

"Why are you just friends? What's wrong with being more?"

She smiled ruefully and shook her head. "Long story short? My life is complicated and he deserves better."

Mac cocked an eyebrow. "And you're the best person to make that choice for him?"

She chewed on her lip thoughtfully. "Yeah, I guess. I just- I don't think I could put him through the chaos and heartache that might happen if I'm found out. The paps would chew him up and spit him out."

"Bella," Mac spoke, in a gentle, yet firm voice. "All I'm hearing is what you think. It's kind of selfish to make a decision like that without both parties knowing all of the facts, don't you think? If you care about him, be upfront and honest. Life's too short not to take chances, baby."

She leaned back and closed her eyes, unwilling to meet Mac's any longer. The sadness and concern that filled them broke her heart. While she understood all too well what he was saying, it felt selfish to even think about putting Edward in a position that might cause him heartbreak.

All too soon, she and Mac were dropped off and entering the quiet house. As she turned to head upstairs, Mac cleared his throat.

"Do you want to have a cup of tea with me before you head to bed, sweetie?"

With her back still towards him, she swallowed and shook head. "No, thanks, I'm beat," she replied quietly.

"Bella, please don't be upset with me. It's just heartbreaking to see you so torn."

She sighed and turned around. "I'm not upset with you, Mac. I know you're only looking out for me. I'm upset with the situation in general."

She walked over and wrapped her arms around his torso. "I love you and I appreciate what you said, but this is something that I need to work out for myself."

He kissed the top of her head and hugged her tightly. "I know, but as a parent, it's hard to sit back and watch your kids struggle. You may not be my biological daughter, but it's always been your role in my heart."

Tears stung her eyes and her heart warmed with his words. Even though he could never replace Charlie in her heart, Mac had always been a close second. "Thank you, Mac."

After a few moments, she pulled back and smiled up at him warmly. "Is that offer for tea still on the table?"

Grinning, he nodded. "Sure is, let's put the water on."

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Bella absentmindedly dried the same steel shaker for the third time, when Jasper finally had enough.

"Bella-Bee," he called over to her, causing her to snap out of her vacant stare.

She smiled over at him. "Yeah, Whit?"

"I think that shaker is bone dry by now, darlin'."

She looked down at her hands in surprise and set the container in its place on the shelf with the others.

He moved closer to her and leaned back against the bar. "What's going on inside that pretty head of yours, girl?"

She sighed and gripped the towel in her hands. "I just-"

"Hey guys, can you throw me a bottle of water? It's hot as hell in there."

Both turned their heads and caught a glimpse of Edward, sweaty and dirty. He gripped the hem of his t-shirt and pulled it up to wipe his forehead, exposing a set of rock-hard abs. Her pulse started to hammer and a flame of desire flashed through her belly. She had to bite her lip to keep from saying something she might regret. Jasper reached into the cooler and tossed it over to the carpenter, smirking at Bella's sudden inability to move.

"How's the insulation coming, Ed?" Whit asked, leaning back once again and offering Bella a better view of the source of her frazzled nerves.

He rolled his eyes in annoyance and frowned. "Fucking Jeffries. A quarter of the drywall they sent us has mold on it. I'm about to head out to pick up some Sawzall blades, so I figure I'll swing by there and rip him a new asshole."

Bella swallowed thickly as her eyes traveled up the length of his body, starting at his boots and ending with his bobbing Adam's apple as he chugged the bottle of water in one shot. She turned her gaze and looked away, before he could possibly catch her looking. The past few days had been hard on her, as she tried to distance herself from him and their new friendship. After her conversation with Mac, she'd walked away with a bit more clarity, but a renewed determination to protect Edward from being hurt when she left. Because she knew without a doubt that not going back would never be an option for her.

She'd made excuses why she didn't show up for their usual morning routine and she knew he was starting to get frustrated, but she didn't see any other alternatives.

Jasper cleared his throat and she looked up, immediately drawn into Edward's stare.

"I'm just gonna, erm, go in the back for something," Jasper mumbled, trying to keep a smile off of his face, disappearing quickly.

She bit her upper lip gently as his intense look took hold of her heart.

"Can I ask you something?" he asked, his voice thick with emotion.

She nodded slowly, not trusting herself to speak.

"What did I do wrong?" his eyes shifted and a veil of sadness fell over them.

"What?" she replied in surprise. "What are you talking about? You haven't done anything wrong."

He slid his hands into his pockets and rocked back on his heels. "You've been ignoring me since you left my parents' on Sunday night. What else am I supposed to think?"

She sighed and averted her eyes. "I'm so sorry, Edward. You've really done nothing wrong, though. My head is just all messed up."

He snorted. "So what are you saying? 'It's not you, it's me'?"

"I know it's a shitty excuse, but it's true. I- I care about you. A lot. But my life is utter chaos right now and I don't think that being close to me is good for you. I don't want you to get hurt."

He cocked an eyebrow as understanding washed over him, bringing forth an angry glint to his eyes. "So what, you just decided that what I felt didn't matter? I'm not strong enough to handle the stress?"

Her eyes widened and she finally saw just what Mac had been trying to make her understand the other night. By trying to avoid hurting him, she'd still hurt him in the process.

"No, that's not what I meant at all." Her eyes pleaded for him to understand.

"Well Bella, that's pretty much what it sounds like to me. I think you're underestimating my strength." He stepped closer, his eyes refusing to leave hers as he spoke. "I'm not like the men you've dated in L.A. I'm a good man, a simple man. I'm close to my family and my twin sister is one of my best friends. I have good morals and strong faith."

She smiled sadly. "I know, Edward. All of that is what makes you perfect. It's just, my chest physically aches when I think about you getting hurt. I don't think I could live with myself if I were the cause."

"Why don't you let me make that choice?" he implored.

When she didn't respond right away, he sighed in disappointment. "Look, I've got to go. Just take some time to think about this. If you don't show up at the house tomorrow, I'll know my answer."

"Edward, please-"

He held up a hand for her to stop mid-sentence. "No, I don't want to hear it right now. I want you to think long and hard about what I mean to you. If you find that it's not enough, I'll quietly let you go. I'm tired of games, so please be sure about what you want."

He shot her a crooked smile and made his way out of the bar. She felt her bottom lip quiver and tears fill up her eyes.

Did he really think that she was playing games with him?

Could she honestly let go of their friendship or whatever else it could possibly develop into?

Questions swirled through her head and she stifled a sob, her heart aching with confusion. She felt Jasper's warm hand rub her shoulder.

"It'll be fine, Bella-Bee," he murmured in a comforting tone.

She shook her head and two symmetrical tears dripped down her cheeks. "I don't see how, Whit. I fucked everything up, which should be nothing new to me."

"Hey now," he chastised her. "Stop being so hard on yourself. In fact, I have the answer to all of your problems."

She sniffled and looked up at him with a hopeful, yet wary expression. "Yeah? What's that?"

"You'll see after the bar closes tonight. Trust me, it'll be worth it."

"I hope so, I don't think it could get any worse."

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AN: Chapter song: Gotta Be Somebody by Nickelback

All of the music on the blog is up-to-date and available to listen to on the Mixpod!

Big thanks to Busymommy & LaMomo for Beta'ing this sucker! =)