AN: Sorry this took so long. This has been a chapter that no matter how hard I try, I'm not sure I'll ever feel 100% about it. But it is what it is.
I know I'm not around as much anymore. RL is kicking my ass. I am trying, though. I know how much time it takes to invest yourself in a story and I really, really appreciate it. Thank you.
Thank you so much to jayhawkbb and Debi for being so honest and for challenging me to always be better. Thank you to Lexie and Mel for pre-reading and for your support. I miss you guys. :o( All mistakes are mine.
Here we go. Are you ready? ;o)
Chapter 5: Four Years Ago: College year 1
"Ugh, you're so far away," I groaned.
"I'm not that far away."
I lifted my eyebrows in disbelief. Edward was in Hansee Hall; I was in McMahon.
"You're on the other side of campus!"
"Stop being so melodramatic. It's like a five minute walk."
Edward popped his stupid cinnamon gum." Only if you're limping."
I laughed unexpectedly. "Shut up. I don't limp that badly now. How come we couldn't get in the same hall?"
"Because you wanted a single and the only ones available to freshman were in McMahon."
"Stop being so logical."
Edward wrapped his arms around my shoulders just as both sets of parents pulled into the parking lot beside us.
"What's the matter?" my dad asked as he jumped out of his truck.
"Edward's being logical," I muttered.
My dad laughed. "As he does. Let's get you unloaded, and then we'll head over to Hansee. Sound good?"
"Come on, B." Edward leaned in. "The sooner we do this, the sooner we can go celebrate," he whispered.
"I'm going to give you a pass this time because it's the first night. But I'm holding on to these."
Edward and I stared at the guy in front of us, dressed in a suit, his bald head shining in the harsh lights of his office. We'd tried to get into a club using our brand spanking new fake IDs. They didn't work, primarily because the owner, Eleazar, happened to be standing at the door when we got there. And he knew Carlisle.
"Are you going to tell my dad?" Edward asked sheepishly.
"No." Eleazar shook his head. "But if I see you in my place again before your twenty-first birthday, I'm going to call him to come pick you up. I'm pretty sure that driving for four hours at one a.m. is not going to make him happy. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir," we mumbled.
"Good. Now get outta here."
We were marched out through snickering upperclassmen and kids with fakes who hadn't been caught.
"That sucked," Edward sighed. "What are we going to do now?"
"Let's go back to your room."
"What about yours?"
"Uh," I hesitated. I'd thought having a single would be awesome. And it was during the day. After dark was a different story. Every night, the girl next door to me had a guy over. I didn't know if it was the same guy or not, but they were always loud. Really. Freaking. Loud. Edward thought it was hysterical. Me, not so much. Edward's room was much more desirable. His roommate, Jasper, usually stayed at his girlfriend, Alice's, place. She was a sophomore and lived off-campus.
Edward laughed. "I'm kidding. My room. I just wanted to see your face."
"Jerk." I punched him in the shoulder, making him laugh harder.
"I have a surprise for you," he said when we got to his empty dorm room.
"What is it?"
He rummaged around in his duffle bag and pulled out a bottle of Jack Daniels. "Provisions."
"Yaaay!" I cheered. "You're my hero."
"I know." He tossed me a t-shirt and a pair of his boxers and we sat, watching a movie and drinking Jack and Coke until we fell asleep wrapped around each other in his bed.
When we woke up in the morning, no one scolded us for spending an unsupervised night together or for being hungover. No one looked twice at us for dragging our tired asses to the dining hall in dirty clothes and stinking of booze. I knew right then and there . . . college was going to be awesome.
The first few weeks of classes were more about getting used to the routine than anything else. The hardest part was getting up for my nine a.m. classes when I'd been out late the night before. I crashed in Edward's room a lot. I liked it there. And it smelled like him – which was comforting.
Jasper seemed nice and said he didn't care if I was there. He really didn't spend much time in their room. It was more like a stopping point for him throughout the day
What was new for both of us was the sheer number of really good-looking people there were on campus at any given time. Wherever there was an open space, there were shirtless guys playing Frisbee and girls laying out in bikinis, soaking up as much of the late summer sun as they could before fall took over.
I was guilty of staring, especially when I spotted this guy, Marcus Aims from my Psych class, playing football in nothing but a pair of cargo shorts. He was from California. His skin was tanned, his muscles taut. I'd admired him from afar since I'd first seen him, but so had every other girl around. I was pretty sure I didn't stand a chance. I tried to keep my ogling of the people around us discrete. Edward, however, did not. When I couldn't get his attention away from a girl with gigantic boobs wearing an itty bitty bikini top that barely covered her nipples, I reached over and grabbed his phone.
"What are you doing?" he asked, startling.
"Taking a picture," I said loudly. "It'll last longer."
"Shit, B. Knock it off," he grumbled, reaching for his phone.
"It's not going to spontaneously combust and leave her naked, if that's what you're waiting for."
"Fuck you," he laughed. "Why don't you wear shit like that?"
"Because A, we're in the middle of the UW campus, not the beach. It's seventy, not ninety. It's barely warm enough for a tank top. And B, my boobs aren't that big, so even if I wear something like that, I'm not gonna look like her."
"Your boobs are fine."
"Is that all you got out of that conversation?" I snarked.
"Yes," he answered. "All I heard was 'blah blah blah boobs, blah blah blah boobs."
I smacked him on the shoulder and stood up.
"No, don't leave," he pleaded, amused.
"Because I'm not done staring at her and I don't want to look like a perv out here all by myself." The grin plastered on his face told me he was fucking with me.
"I gotta go," I said, shaking my head. "But text me if her top does manage to fall off. I'd like to know what size implants to get."
He snorted as I walked away.
A few days later, fall arrived with a vengeance and a frigid rain storm. I packed up my bag after class, wrapped myself tightly inside my coat, and ran to the library to meet a group of girls I was working with on a project. We were just getting started when a text from Edward lit up my phone.
I didn't get a response. I shook my head and went back to the group, who were discussing options for the presentation aspect.
Ten minutes later, in the middle of a conversation, everything suddenly went quiet. I looked up to see all four other girls staring at something behind me. I turned my head and smiled. Edward was standing there, his hands in his pockets.
"Hi," he said, reverting into the sweet, shy boy I rarely saw anymore.
"Hi! What are you doing here?"
"I didn't realize you were busy." He rocked back on his heels.
"Yeah. We have a project due on Friday." I turned back around and laughed at the faces of my group mates. "Edward, this is Jeanne, Amanda, Carmen, and Jane. Girls, this is Edward.
"Hi," he said, turning on the charm. "If I'd known Bella was gonna have such beautiful classmates, I would have tried to get into some of her classes." I pursed my lips and rolled my eyes. He was so full of shit. The girls giggled. After a few minutes of flirting, I'd had enough.
"Do you need something?" I asked, laughing lightly.
"Call me when you're done." He lifted his hand to wave at the girls, and then winked at me before leaving.
"Is that your boyfriend?" Amanda asked.
"No," I answered, watching him go. "That's my best friend."
"Geez, he's gorgeous," Jeanne said, fanning herself.
"Is he an ex?"
I shook my head. "Nope."
"Is he gay?" Jane questioned. "He is, isn't he? Seems like only gay men are that hot these days."
"No!" I laughed. "He's straight."
"And you've never fucked him?" Carmen asked. Her bluntness took me off guard and I frowned.
I shifted in my seat, starting to get uncomfortable. "We just . . ." I bit my lip.
"You don't have to answer that," Amanda scoffed.
"It's okay." I shrugged. "Um, I wouldn't . . . because I'd be afraid it would mess things up."
Carmen snorted. "I bet it would so be worth it."
The conversation halted at that point and we focused back on our project. Maybe I should have known then what was coming, but I honestly didn't think too hard about it. It wasn't until Carmen started showing up at parties that Edward and I went to that I realized what was going on. She'd bump into and flirt with him. He'd flirt back.
"I was thinking about asking Carmen if she wanted to come to the Halloween party with us," he mentioned as he helped me put up orange fairy lights in my window.
I stopped what I was doing and looked at him. "Carmen? As in the girl in my Women's Lit class?"
"Yeah." He shrugged. "I've had coffee with her a few times."
"A few times? When?"
"Yeah. She's really nice."
I frowned. Nice wasn't exactly the word I'd use for her. She was one of those people who was good at convincing others she was nice, but if you looked into her eyes long enough, you could see right through her. She was shallow and superficial. Obviously, Edward wasn't looking in the right places. I opened up my mouth to tell him that, but it got stuck in my throat.
"Um . . . what am I supposed to say?" I asked instead.
"I don't know. You and I were going to go together. I didn't want to invite her without asking you first."
I tilted my head. Edward looked hopeful. I considered my answer carefully. A lot of people thought Rose was a gigantic bitch because of her unapologetically blunt personality. They got their first impressions and never even tried to look deeper. Maybe Carmen was the same. Maybe Edward saw a side to her that I didn't. The whole situation felt so much more awkward than it should have.
"Why is this weird? Yeah, sure. She can come. That's fine with me. Whatever."
"Are you sure?"
I nodded. "Yeah. It'll be fun." Edward was looking at me funny. I smiled at him. It wasn't necessarily a genuine smile; it was an uncomfortable smile, but it was still a smile. I finished putting up the lights, and then collapsed onto my bed. "How's that look?"
Our first Halloween night in Seattle was crazy. Jasper had invited Edward and me to Alice's place for a '70s themed party. I thought I was looking pretty good in a short, paisley dress and white knee boots, but then Carmen arrived. Suddenly, I felt very matronly. She wore a really sequined skirt that I'm pretty sure would show her coochie if she bent over and a crop top that tied right in front of her boobs. Edward's tongue nearly hit the floor when he opened the door. I tried to ignore the lump that was forming in my throat. She was definitely looking to get some.
"Aren't you going to be cold?" I asked.
She lifted up a long, fake, fur coat that was draped across her arm. "Nope. I always come prepared." She winked at Edward, who was still staring at her like she was from another planet. Double entendre much?
I instantly realized that this would not be like our normal nights out. Carmen hung on Edward all night. For the first time in our friendship, I felt like the third wheel. I know he didn't mean to make me feel like that, Carmen was just extremely persuasive. At least her hands and her tongue were. I spent most of the night talking to Jasper and Alice and a few of their friends.
"You guys aren't . . .?" Jasper glanced over to where Edward and Carmen were.
I shook my head. "Nope. We're just friends."
"Huh. I could have sworn you guys were together."
I laughed and slammed back a jello shot. "We get that a lot." I looked over at them. "Although probably won't so much anymore," I added under my breath.
Just after midnight, I was ready to go. I spotted Edward in the kitchen, sans Carmen, and walked towards him.
"I'm gonna head home," I said, yawning.
"Already?" He glanced at his watch. "It's early. You okay?"
"I'm fine. Just tired."
"Okay. Um, I'll walk you."
"No," I protested. "I'll be okay. It's not that far."
"There you are," Carmen slurred, stumbling into his arms. While he was busy dealing with her, I slipped away. Luckily, there were a couple of other girls heading in the same direction so I didn't have to walk alone. My phone buzzed in my pocket, but I ignored it. I made it back to my empty dorm room just in time to hear my neighbor reach her peak – the first one.
"Wonderful," I groaned. Crawling into bed, I covered my head with my pillow. It did little to mute the continuing sounds. Out of nowhere, an image of Edward and Carmen popped into my head. They were the ones making those noises, their bodies naked and sweaty. I shook my head, trying desperately to make it go away. Edward wouldn't sleep with her just yet. He was a virgin. He barely knew her. He wanted his first time to be with someone special.
I was nearly sobbing when everything finally quieted. If I'd let myself think about the reason behind my tears, I would have realized why it hurt so much. I would have seen the signs. But I didn't let myself think about it. I ignored it. I justified it with hormones and exhaustion. Yeah. That was it. No big deal.
The next morning, after a night full of crazy ass dreams involving wolves and vampires, I'd nearly forgotten about the images that had bothered me so much. After showering and getting dressed, I called Edward to see if he was up for coffee.
"Yeah, sure," he answered, sounding tired.
"You in your room?" I asked hesitantly.
"Good. I'll be there in about ten." I ended the call and bundled up, practically running to Edward's dorm. He met me in the lobby. I wrapped my arm through his and leaned into him as we walked towards the student center. He was oddly quiet.
"What's the matter with you?" I asked, bumping his shoulder playfully. "You're being weird."
"Uh. . ." The barista handed us our coffees and we found seats by the window.
"Everything okay?" I asked, sitting down.
"Really?" I hedged. "You sure?"
He nodded, but the look on his face did nothing to convince me. I sipped my coffee, waiting for him to say something.
"Last night was fun," I offered. "That was nice of Jasper and Alice to invite us."
"I had sex with Carmen," he said, almost under his breath.
I choked, spitting coffee out of my nose. It burned. "You did what?"
He looked at me anxiously. "Shit. I didn't mean to. . . We were pretty drunk . . . uh. . . it just happened."
My mouth went very dry. I knew it would happen eventually, but it was still like he'd just hit me in the head with a two-by-four. My legs started to shake beneath the table. My heart sped up. And, although I'd never admit it to anyone else, broke a little.
"Um, wow," I said, at a loss for any other words. After a few more minutes of awkward silence, I took another drink of my coffee. "Whatever happened to waiting for someone special?" It came out bitchier than I expected and I internally cringed when I saw his irritated expression.
"I never said she wasn't special," he bit.
I looked down at my fingernails. "I . . . okay. Sorry. I didn't realize." I tried to figure out what to say. I was his friend. What would Tyler say? Or Eric? "How was it?" I instantly wanted to slam my head against the table for asking such a stupid question. I really didn't want to know how it was.
"Not so good?"
"I didn't say that," he answered. "It was okay."
I took a deep breath through my nose, afraid that if I opened my mouth again, another stupid question would come out. I looked around, trying to find something to focus on until I could straighten my thoughts out. Eventually, though, I was too uncomfortable to sit there any longer. "I should probably get back. I have a bunch of studying to get done."
"Bella." Edward reached for my hand. I smiled, but pulled my hand away gently and stood up.
"Congratulations." I wasn't really mad and I didn't want him to think that I was. I just didn't know what else to say. I'd never considered how that moment would feel – I certainly didn't expect to have the reaction I did.
"I'll see you later."
I could hear him growling behind me and kept walking. We'd always just been Edward and Bella – best friends with a little extra sexual tension in our relationship. That's how everyone knew us. That's how we knew each other. I wasn't ready for that to change. I wasn't ready for him to be Edward without Bella. Or worse, Edward with someone else entirely
I didn't see him again for several days. I didn't want to know what he was doing. Or who. I skipped the Women's Lit class I shared with Carmen. I was afraid she'd seek me out to tell me the details. She was definitely the kind to kiss and tell. Luckily, our classmate Amanda lived in my dorm and I was able to copy her notes for class. As we were sitting in the dorm's laundry room waiting for our loads to dry, I spilled my guts to her. I told her about how Edward and I met and about our friendship over the years. I explained the underlying sexual vibe that had always been there. I tried to explain how I felt about him, but the words didn't seem to convey the emotion. Nothing I said seemed to make any sense.
"Why don't you guys just date?" she asked.
"Because he's my best friend." I answered softly.
"You've said that half a dozen times in the last hour. Who are you trying to convince?"
"No one. He is."
"Okay. So what? Isn't that supposed to be the best kind of romance?"
I shrugged and scraped my teeth over my bottom lip.
"I don't get it," Amanda sighed. "I've seen you guys together. What's the problem?"
"Okay, say we did decide to go out," I finally acquiesced. "Say we ended up having sex. We're nineteen years old. Statistics for the survival of a serious relationship at this age are not good. I don't think we could ever go back to being just friends if it didn't work out. Especially if he was my first."
"So make sure he's not your first." She laughed and bumped my shoulder when I glared at her. "I'm just kidding. You've thought entirely too much about this."
"Well, it's true. And I don't want to lose him just to satisfy my," I paused. "My theoretical curiosity about what it might feel like to have his . . ."
A throat cleared and we turned to see a guy emptying his laundry bag into a washer. Amanda's eyes widened and we both started giggling.
"Maybe someday, though, right?"
"No," I sighed. "Probably not."
"Isabella Marie Swan! If you don't open this door, I'm gonna fucking break it down. Stop avoiding me."
I pulled open the door to my room with force. "You're gonna what?" I snapped. He didn't wait for me to invite him into my room. He just pushed his way in. I stood my ground at the door.
"What the fuck?" he growled.
"Did you need something?"
"Stop being a smartass and shut the door."
I put my hands on my hips and stuck my lower lip out. Edward stormed towards me. I backed up against the wall and winced as he slammed the door.
"Cut that shit out! That's never worked with me and it's not going to now."
"Screw you!" I snapped.
"What's your fucking problem? I don't get it."
"I don't have a problem!" I shouted.
"Bullshit. I tell you I. . ." he lowered his voice. "I tell you I had sex with Carmen and you bolt like your ass is on fire. Then you don't talk to me for almost a week."
"I didn't do it on purpose," I lied. He stared at me. I shifted my weight under his scrutiny.
"Why won't you tell me what's wrong?" he begged. I couldn't look at him and not give in. "Talk to me. Why are you so mad at me?"
"Then why haven't you been answering my calls or texts?"
"I was busy. I had a test this morning."
"Carmen said you didn't go to class yesterday."
"You're having your girlfriend spy on me now?" I asked incredulously.
I watched his jaw lock and his eyes narrow. "You're mad at me because I slept with her."
I folded my arms across my chest in defiance. "I'm not."
"Why the hell would you even care, Bella? Are you jealous?"
He didn't believe me, but his angry gaze softened and he reached out for me.
"Don't," I whimpered.
"She knows you're my best friend, B."
"Of course she does. I told her that after I introduced you."
"I explained about us." He grabbed the fabric of my sweatshirt and yanked me towards him. "She said she didn't care."
"That's what she says now."
"Come on, Bella." He wrapped his arms around me and, finally, I gave in, burying my face into his chest. "I shouldn't have told you like that."
"I just. . . wanted to tell someone and you're the only one I trust."
I felt my eyes well up with tears. He was my best friend. He trusted me and I wasn't there for him.
"I didn't mean to run away," I mumbled. "I was just taken off guard. I mean, it really shouldn't have been that big of a surprise. She was obviously into you."
Edward laughed. "Yeah."
"Did you tell her you were a virgin?"
"No," he snorted.
"Because that's not something you tell a girl when you're getting ready to . . . whatever."
"You said you told her about us. What exactly did you say?"
"The truth," he answered, rubbing his hand up and down my back. "I told her you're my best friend and that I love you."
I smiled against his chest and squeezed him. "I'm sorry. I guess . . . maybe I am jealous. I'm not ready to lose you to somebody else."
"You won't," he insisted. "Nothing's gonna change."
I took a deep breath. "Good. As long as she makes you happy. But if she hurts you, I'm gonna kick her ass," I chuckled.
"Absolutely." I pulled back and looked up at him.
Everything's going to change.
As much as Edward tried to convince me that our friendship wouldn't suffer, it was inevitable. Carmen was with him all the time. She was the one sitting on his lap and drinking beer at parties. She was the one holding his hand as we waited in line to see Dave Matthews. She was the one he walked home with at the end of night.
I tried not to be jealous – not to be bitter, but it was harder than I'd expected. Edward had been mine for so long and now . . . he wasn't. It felt weird. It felt lonely. I stayed too late at his dorm room one night and Carmen showed up, acting like I was the other woman. She wasn't obvious about it at first, but when Edward went out to go to the bathroom, she stormed around touching his things, making nasty comments about me that cut to the bone. Then, when he returned, she stripped nearly naked, flaunting her perfect curves before slipping into one of his t-shirts.
I attempted to bring it up to Edward on a couple of occasions, but I didn't want to be the whiny, pathetic friend bitching about how his girlfriend was mean to me. The fact was, she wasn't mean to him. She was all sweetness and light; and she gave him what I couldn't. I just needed to deal with the emotions and get over it.
Rose and I talked daily, but she was too far away. It wasn't the same. I didn't really want to tell her what was happening. I started spending time with other people. Amanda introduced me to some of her friends from her hometown of Tacoma. They were funny and crazy. They took my mind off of the fact that I was losing my best friend – mostly.
Needless to say, I was immensely relieved when Christmas break came for a lot of reasons.
"Hey!" Edward said when I answered his call after my last class of the semester.
"So . . . what's the plan for going home?"
"Are you going home to Forks?"
The line was quiet for a second. "Yeah," he finally answered. "Why wouldn't I?"
"I don't know. I thought maybe . . . Nevermind. Um, Rose is coming in on Thursday, so I'm staying here to pick her up. Then we're heading home."
"Okay. That sounds good. I can drive us. That way we only have to take one car."
"Oh. Sure. Great." He didn't say anything else, but he didn't hang up either. "How's Carmen?"
"Good. She's leaving tomorrow morning."
"Her parents live in Anchorage, right?"
"Huh. Okay. Well, I guess, um. Amanda and I are going Christmas shopping tomorrow, so do you want to just pick me up on Thursday? Rose's plane gets in at eleven. Then we can just head home."
I sighed. Is this what we'd been reduced to? We couldn't even have a conversation anymore?
"Okay. I'll be ready. See ya."
I hit end call on my phone and laid down on my bed.
On Thursday, Edward was at my door at ten. We loaded my bags into his truck and then drove to the airport. Once again, what little conversation there was, was forced. I was actually kind of mad. He'd promised this wouldn't happen. But it did. And he didn't seem to be trying to fix it.
"Whattuuuuup, bitches?" Rose yelled, running towards us at the luggage carousel. She threw her arms around my neck and hugged me. I grunted loudly. When she pulled away she tilted her head. "Damn, girl. When did you get so skinny? Are you sick?"
"Thanks," I grumbled. "I missed you, too."
She turned towards Edward and pulled him into a huge hug. "You make an honest woman outta her yet, loverboy?" she teased. Edward didn't laugh. He looked down at his feet. "Oh, shit. What happened?"
"What are you talking about?" I asked, forcing a chuckle. "Jesus, we're fine." I threaded my arm through hers and led her over to the carousel.
"We're talking about this later," she whispered.
"Tell me that all that awkwardness at the airport between the two of you means that you finally did the deed," Rose begged when we got to my place four hours later.
"Yaaaay," she cheered before realizing what I'd said. "Wait. What do you mean? You mean he . . . but not you? What?"
I laughed, but there was an ache in my heart. "Edward has a girlfriend."
"Like a real one? Ohhhh, is it that Carmen girl you told me about?"
I nodded. "Yeah."
"They're serious? I talked to him like last week and he didn't mention a single fucking thing about her. And why wouldn't you tell me it was more?"
"I don't know, Ro," I whined. "It wasn't something I wanted to talk about. Besides, it's none of my business."
"Everything Edward does is your business. You two are attached at the hip. If I'd ever had a doubt you two would end up married with a dozen kids I would have been offended that you love him more than you love me."
I gaped at my friend.
"So that's why you've been so mopey?"
"I'm not mopey!" I protested, knowing that, in fact, I'd been extremely mopey. Rose raised her eyebrows. "And I don't love him more than you. It's just . . . different."
She smirked. "You seem to be the only one who doesn't see that."
"Shut up," I groaned. She smiled at me and pushed a strand of hair behind my ear. Sometimes having Rose around was like having a big sister. Even though we were the same age, there was something about her that felt protective.
"I seriously always thought you two would pop each other's cherries. I mean, that's been in the cards for like the last three years. What happened?"
"Nothing happened. It's not like we could spend the rest of our lives as virgins." I stood up and walked over to my dresser, fiddling with the sun necklace around my neck and pretending there was something I was looking for.
"I'm sorry," she said softly. "I don't mean to make jokes. Do you want to talk about it?"
I shook my head.
"Is she at least cool?"
I shrugged. "I don't know her very well."
Rose laughed humorlessly. "She's a total bitch, isn't she?"
I shrugged. "She's . . . possessive. I'm trying to give her the benefit of the doubt because Edward seems to like her. He says she understands that we're really close, but I don't think she's okay with it. I think she's waiting for her chance to rip him out of my life." I sniffled and shook my head. "I'm probably overreacting. I just miss him."
Rose stuck out her lower lip in a sympathy pout. "Do I need to cut-a-bitch?"
"No," I snorted. "But thanks for offering." I flopped down beside her. "Let's gossip before your mom figures out we're home. How's school?"
"It suuuuuucks," she groaned. "I'm transferring."
"When?" I couldn't hide the excitement in my voice.
"Can you do that?"
"I put in the application in October, so yeah."
"Um, talk about not telling people things!" I scoffed.
"I wanted to make sure it was a done deal. I got the reply a few weeks ago and I wanted it to be a surprise."
I pursed my lips together. "Is California really that bad?"
"No, not Cali. My dad and his wicked witch."
"What's happening now?" I'd known that Rose's dad had a new girlfriend. She'd told me that before we'd even left for school, but all she'd told me since then was that she didn't like the woman.
"She wants a fucking baby!"
"Are you kidding?"
"No. She wanted to get all bondy with me and shared that piece of info. I told her she was too fucking selfish to have a kid and she got pissy and tattled on me. I got a huge lecture. I just can't stand her. My dad's a fucking idiot if he knocks her up."
"Whatever. I'm done with him. I'm coming hoooooome," she sang. I laughed.
We talked for another forty-five minutes before Rose's mom started blowing up her phone. She hugged me, told me everything would be okay now that she was back, and went home.
After a few days, and with the help of Ro being Ro, the wall that had developed between Edward and me started to crumble. It started with a smile as we watched our friend rebuff Tyler's desperate advances at the diner. Then it progressed to a laugh – or ten minutes of laughing – when Rose, annoyed at my anal overseeing of Christmas cookie making, blew a puff of flour at me, covering my face. Eventually, we managed to make it back to normal. Almost. The fact was that Edward and I had a new normal. We didn't talk about absolutely everything. We didn't do things like we used to. Putting our arms around each other was okay, kissing and grinding on each other was not. Unspoken rules – a line we couldn't cross.
A few times, we started to lapse into our easy, boundary-pushing relationship again. But Edward wasn't the type of guy to take any sort of commitment lightly, and I wasn't the kind of girl who played with what wasn't mine . . . anymore. That, and Carmen texted him about four thousand times a day. When she wasn't texting him, she was calling.
"Do you need a moment with your phone?" Rose asked snottily Christmas Eve afternoon as we were hanging out at Edward's house.
"She must really miss you. Or she doesn't trust you."
I elbowed Rose in the ribs.
"I'm just sayin'."
Edward flipped her off and glanced at me. I shrugged. I had nothing nice to say about Carmen, so I decided not to say anything at all.
When the semester started again in mid-January, Edward, Rose and I made our way to Seattle. Rose was able to snag a room in one of the quads at Stevens Court after someone dropped out. Edward and I offered to help her move in.
We weren't back in Seattle for five minutes before Carmen was texting Edward non-stop to go see her.
"Again? Really? Your chick has you on a short leash, doesn't she?" Rose quipped.
"No!" Edward snapped. "Fuck you."
"I'm just playing with you. Geez. You two are so sensitive these days."
Edward's phone started ringing. He rolled his eyes when Rose snickered.
"Do you need to go?" I asked. Edward looked at his phone again, texted something quickly and shoved his phone into his pocket.
"No. Let's go get Rose moved in."
I hadn't realized just how much I'd missed Rose's snarky ass. She was always good for a laugh. No one ever knew what to make of the gorgeous girl with the filthy mouth who could prove with one sentence that she was smarter than them all.
Edward attempted to hang out with us again, but it was always so awkward. I wasn't just overreacting when it came to Carmen. Rose coming around put her even more on edge. The problem was that she was an angel when Edward was around and I had no idea how to even approach the subject that she wasn't what she appeared.
"What a fucking bitch," Rose bit, watching Edward sulk away. He'd met us for lunch in the student center. He'd just gotten comfortable and unwrapped his burger when he received a phone call from his girlfriend requesting his assistance for something or other. He frowned, took in a deep breath and let it out slowly before packing everything up and apologizing. "No pussy is worth that." Rose grumbled. "You need to get some balls and tell him how she treats you."
"Yeah. That's not gonna happen."
"You want me to do it?"
"No," I responded, taking a bite of my sandwich.
"Ugh," she scoffed. "Seriously. Tell him to dump the cow. All you'd have to do is bat your eyes like dis," she said, imitating Sebastian from The Little Mermaid. "And then you gotta pucker up your lips, like dis."
I laughed and shook my head.
"I'm not asking him to break up with her. And you can't either."
Her eyebrow arched in question.
"Because he's happy. I want him to be happy." I took a huge gulp of Coke. "You should want him to be happy too."
"I do." She blew a heavy breath out. "But did he look happy to you?"
Over the next few weeks I spent almost all my time with Rose and Amanda. Rose's quad had more space and it was a popular hangout. My friend attracted a lot of male attention, but she wasn't the only one. Marcus, the guy from my Psych class that I'd had a crush on all year, started showing up on a regular basis. He was even cuter and funnier than I'd realized and I found myself extremely attracted to him. I remembered a part of myself that I'd apparently left behind when Edward and I started spending most of our time together. My inner flirt re-emerged. And there were a lot of guys to flirt with. We danced, we drank, we smoked a little bit of pot. It felt good to let go.
Edward joined us every now and then, but he was always accompanied by his girlfriend. I didn't bother talking to her anymore. I didn't even really talk to Edward. It wasn't worth the obvious show Carmen put on to make sure I knew he was hers. I had to hold Rose back from ripping out her throat on more than one occasion. She begged me to let her tell Edward what Carmen was like when he wasn't looking, but I was afraid that he wouldn't believe her – that he'd think I'd put her up to it; that I was jealous. I was afraid it would be the last straw and I'd lose him completely.
One night in late March, everyone was celebrating the beginning of Spring Break. Amanda and I had spent most of the night talking to and laughing with the guy she liked.
"Go!" I urged when he mentioned he was getting tired and asked if she wanted to go for a walk. "Get laid. Have fun," I whispered in her ear. She giggled and stood up.
"Are you sure?"
"Yep," I nodded. She took his hand and followed him out. Edward was sitting in the chair across from me. We hadn't spoken much, but I could tell from the look on his face that he wanted to talk to me. He opened his mouth, only to close it again when Carmen planted herself on his lap, straddling him. I tried not to watch as she started grinding against him.
"Come on, baby," she purred. "Let's go back to my room."
He leaned away from her and glanced at me, but she gripped his chin, forcing his attention back onto her and pressing her mouth against his. He stood up and grabbed her hand, pulling her towards the door. I'm not sure if it was their exuberant PDA or the fact that I was tired of being the only virgin in the room, but I came to the conclusion that I was ready to do more than just make out with a guy. I wanted to know what it felt like to need someone in such a carnal way. I wanted to know what it felt like to have someone so deep inside of me that it felt like we were one person. I wanted passion and adventure. I wanted all the things women get in those steamy romance novels.
"Hey, Bella," Marcus said, flopping down beside me. "You're a popular girl tonight. I thought I'd never get you alone." He winked and smiled.
"Well," I smirked. "You did. What are you going to do with me now?"
Marcus lowered his head and chuckled. "Ahhhh, so many ways I'd love to answer that."
For the next three hours, we talked and drank. When he kissed me, I didn't push him away. When his hand slipped under my shirt, I welcomed it. It was exactly what I'd been aching for. So when he asked me to take him back to my dorm room, I pushed away all the fear I had of taking that step, and lead the way.
I stared at the clock. Just after midnight. Was it too late? My phone was in my hand, his number on the screen. All I had to do was hit call. So I did.
"Hey," Edward answered, clearing his throat. "What's up? You okay?"
"What's the matter?"
I couldn't really talk. Even my breath was shaking.
"Bella?" he called. I heard a voice in the background. Carmen.
"Nevermind," I squeaked. "I. . . I'm sorry. I d. . .didn't realize you were busy."
"I'm not. Hold on."
Edward covered the phone, muffling both his and Carmen's voices. It didn't matter. Hers was raised, and I didn't need to know what she was saying to know she was really pissed off. A minute later, he uncovered the phone and I heard a loud slam.
"Shit," he sighed. "I'm coming over."
I didn't even get a chance to tell him not to, and in all honesty, I needed him. I curled my feet underneath me and waited.
He didn't bother knocking – just like old times. His arms were around me, cradling me against him. I burst into tears. For a while, he just let me cry, but eventually, he wanted to know why I'd turned into a blubbery mess.
"Bella, baby, what's the matter?"
I lifted my head and looked at him. Snot dripped from my nose and my eyes hurt from rubbing them so much.
Edward glanced around and finally took in the scene. Wrinkled sheets, the condom wrapper on the nightstand, me draped in nothing but his old Forks High School Football t-shirt. His face paled.
"Oh, fuck! Did you . . .? He looked back at me. I nodded. He suddenly looked like he was going to be sick. "With who?" he rasped.
"I'm such a slut," I whimpered.
"No you're not. Jesus."
"Yes, I am. Oh, God," I sobbed. "We did it and then he just . . . he just. . ."
"He just what?"
"Left? You . . . and then he just left?"
"That Motherfucker. Did he say anything?"
"Thank you," I whispered. Edward looked confused.
"That's what he said. 'Thank you.'"
"Are you fucking kidding me?" he growled. I shook my head. "Hold up. Who was it?"
"It doesn't matter."
"Goddammit, Bella. Who the fuck was it?" When I still didn't answer, he lifted my chin, forcing me to look at him. "Tell me who it was."
Knowing he wasn't going to give up until I told him, I gave in. "Marcus."
Edward squinted. "That douchebag who's been hanging around at Rose's?"
"How the fuck did that happen?"
"I don't know," I cried. "We've been talking a lot. I thought we were friends. I thought he wanted to be more. He said he did. We were in the quad and Amanda left, you left. I was lonely. I just wanted . . . He started kissing me. We ended up back here. Don't be mad." It all came out in one long, sobbing mess.
"I'm not mad. Shit, B, I'm not mad at you. I'm gonna fuck him up, though," he added under his breath.
"No, no, no, no," I begged, grabbing his shirt collar. "Don't. Edward, don't. I just want to forget about it. Please?"
His eyes darkened and narrowed. "Was it consensual?" he asked tightly.
"You wanted to, right? I mean, he didn't . . ."
"No! I mean, yeah. I wanted to," I answered. Edward let out a long, heavy sigh and hugged me tighter. "I didn't mean to bug you."
"Do you have to get back to Carmen?" I asked, sniffling. "She's probably really pissed."
"No. She was already pissed off," he said, shaking his head. "I was ending it." He laid back onto my mattress, taking me with him.
"Oh, my God. I'm so sorry."
"Don't be. I don't want to be with her. She was starting to drive me crazy."
I lifted my head to look at him. He offered me a slight smile.
"I snotted all over your favorite shirt," I sniffled again. Edward laughed.
"That's okay. I can wash it." He put pressure on the back of my head, so that I laid down on him again.
"Edward," I mumbled.
"Are you gonna stay with me?"
"Do you want me to?"
"Only if you want to."
He chuckled. "Yes, Bella. I'm gonna stay all night."
My lips curled up into a smile and I nuzzled his chest.
"We both screwed up," he whispered. "It shouldn't have been like that."
"Yeah," I agreed, yawning. "That really sucked."
I felt the silent laughter vibrate through him. We were quiet after that. There wasn't anything else to be said. I cried a little more here and there. Edward ran his hands over my arms and through my hair, brushing it away from my face and trying to comfort me. When his movements slowed and his breaths got heavy, I lifted my head to look at him. His eyes were closed, his lashes fluttering.
"I missed you," I said quietly. I let myself relax into him – and then I fell asleep.
"Ding dong, the witch is dead," Rose sang a couple days later as Edward and I approached her, his arm slug over my shoulder.
"Rose," I scolded, frowning.
"Sorry, loverboy, but that nasty ho was about to get my smack down for the way she treated my girl here." Edward looked down at me and frowned
"Shut. Up!" I grumbled. Edward's fingertips slid against my shoulder. "Don't listen to her."
"I never do." He laughed, but I could tell by the way he held me that he felt bad. I'd finally admitted to him the things Carmen had said and done to me while they were dating. He'd had no idea. She was constantly telling him that she like me. She played him like a fiddle.
"You know I love you, right?" Rose said, bumping him from the other side. "I wouldn't give you such a hard time if I didn't."
Edward slung his other arm around Rose's shoulder. "And you know I wouldn't tell you to fuck off if I didn't love you back."
Rose snorted. "I'm glad you're back where you belong, honey. What the fuck happened to Marcus' face?" she gasped as we walked into the student center. Across the room, Marcus was sitting with a friend. His face was a mess. Black eye, busted lip. I hadn't had a chance to tell Rose yet what had happened that night. I looked up at Edward. He refused to make eye contact, telling me exactly what I needed to know. Marcus glanced over at us, and then quickly looked away before grabbing his stuff and disappearing.
"You shouldn't have done that," I whispered.
"I don't know what you're talking about," he answered. "I didn't do anything."
"Sure, you didn't."
"And if I did, he deserved it and more."
I leaned into him and then pulled away. "I love you."
He smiled and winked at me. "I know you do."