The Never Ever Happily Ever After Contest
Title:Can't Say No
Pen Name:
Characters: Bella and Edward
Word Count: 9,659
Rating: M
Category: AH/OOC/angst-drama
Summary: She's loved him for years, dropping everything whenever he calls. Unaware of her feelings, he selfishly relies upon the comfort her body provides. It can't continue, but despite the cost, she can't deny him. She can't say no.
Disclaimer 1: Warning… As the contest name suggests, this is a non-HEA story. If you are looking for fun and fluff, this is not the right place. A possible trigger in this story is mental health. The characterization of this Edward is based heavily on my own personal experiences—I have lived for more than fifteen years with a brother who is bipolar. Some of the things he says and does completely astound me, and his ability to reason has been severely affected by his disorder. That will be reflected here. Please know that I did not undertake this story lightly, nor did I write about this difficult topic without extensive personal, intimate knowledge.
Disclaimer 2: Twilight belongs to Stephenie Meyer. That said, this story is mine, in more ways than most of you can possibly ever know or understand. No copyright infringement is intended.

* * * * * Can't Say No * * * * *

Bella POV
My phone rattles against the glass of ice water, causing the liquid to vibrate and the ice cubes to wobble gently. The tinkling sound reaches straight into my chest, grabbing hold of my heart and squeezing painfully, causing it to stutter to a halt. When it starts back up, it races in a mixture of excited anticipation and anxious dread. I stare, fascinated by the rivulets of water that trail down the sides of the glass in response to the vibrations emanating from the small handset, but I make no move to answer it. I don't have to—the ring-tone lets me know who it is.
Edward.
I haven't talked to him in more than six months, and I desperately want to answer. Knowing he's on the other end of the line, I realize that I need to hear his voice like I need air to breathe. In fact, my lungs are beginning to burn painfully, and I belatedly realize that I haven't taken a breath since the phone started ringing. Unfortunately, now is not the time to take this particular call—for many reasons—so I clench my fists firmly in my lap and suck in a calming gulp of air in order to not reach for the phone.
"You gonna answer that?" Alice snips after the phone chimes for at least half a minute.
I can't really blame her for her irritated tone; this is the first time that we've seen each other in weeks. We used to get together more regularly, but life has interfered lately, what with jobs, family and other obligations. This is supposed to be our night to catch up, and one of our girl's-night-out rules is no phones when we get together.
"No," I reply, reaching out to silence the ringer. "It's not important. You, however, are. So… tell me all about him."
"Who?" Alice asks, a guilty glint in her eye.
I roll my eyes. "The guy you're seeing."
"How do you know—"
"Alice," I interrupt, sending her an indulgent—and knowing—look. "How long have we been friends? I can just… tell." I smile smugly. "Besides, I haven't seen you in over a month. Only a guy can keep us apart that long."
She sighs in resignation, but a radiant smile breaks upon her lips. Then she spills the dirt on the new guy that she's been seeing. His name is Jasper. By the time Alice finishes telling me how they met—at a café—and that she knew by the end of the first date that 'he's the one', my phone has rung two more times. When it rings for the fourth time in fifteen minutes, Alice rolls her eyes in irritation.
"You sure you don't want to answer that? Whoever it is seems pretty determined."
There's a question in her eyes, but it's a question that I have no desire to answer. At least not truthfully. I sigh. I'm a terrible liar, but I have no choice here. It's tough because Alice is my best friend. She has been since I was thirteen and her family moved to the tiny town of Forks. We've been inseparable ever since. I tell her everything.
Well… Everything except the fact that I've secretly been sleeping with her brother since I was sixteen.
I snatch the phone from the table with an irritated huff. Sliding my eyes to the offensive instrument—because there's no way in hell I can look her in the eyes and lie—I tell her that it's my mother, and that I'll call her back later. It's an untruth she buys easily, because my mother really is annoying and needy, and she does call me all the time; it's a fact which Alice, who was my roommate in college, is well aware.
With a nod of finality, I turn the phone to vibrate and slide it into my pocket. Out of sight, out of mind, right?
If only it was that easy…
To be honest, keeping the secret of me and Edward had been easy—at least at first. That's likely because there never really was a 'me and Edward'. That precedent was established following our first surprising encounter and the painfully awkward morning after, where he completely ignored me.

~ C S N ~

It was very late, or very early depending on the viewpoint, and I was lying on the floor in my sleeping bag. I didn't know why I had woken up, and I was kind of mad because I'd been having a really good dream about Edward. Something tickled at the edge of consciousness, preventing me from drifting back into the dream-world from which I'd just been pulled. Finally, I heard it again, the sound that must have woken me: a scuffling, scraping sound filtered in through the partially-opened window.
Pushing myself upright, I padded to the window and looked out in order to take in the view of the Cullens' backyard. Edward was laying on one of the lounge chairs next to the pool, kicking a leg in agitation—which caused the shuffling noise—and smoking. His lips caressed the butt of the white paper stick, cheeks sucking in and chest rising gently with each draw. I was unable to look away; my eyes were drawn to the small column of smoke that drifted upward from his mouth every time he exhaled. When the cigarette was done, he dropped the butt to the ground and shoved his hands into his hair. It was obvious that he was distressed, shaking his head and talking to himself. He looked so… broken.
He was, in a sense, broken. Well… Broken up, at least. Lauren Mallory had ditched him in a very public manner in the hallway at school earlier in the afternoon, accusing him of messing around with someone else. Although he'd obviously been really pissed by her accusation, he hadn't made an effort to convince her otherwise.
Turning away from the window, I wandered back to my sleeping bag with the intent of going back to bed. But my feet kept moving of their own accord, carrying me past my pallet on the floor, past Alice who was sleeping soundly in her own bag, and out the door. Before I even realized where I was going, I had walked down the hallway, opened the sliding glass door and stepped out onto the patio.
He obviously heard the door.
"What the hell do you want?"
His voice was angry, short and clipped, and it stopped me short. My brain finally caught up with my feet. It was a good question.
What the hell was I doing out here?
Unable to answer his query, I stood rooted to the spot, not sure of what I should do next. I'd just decided to turn around and head back to the house, to pretend that I hadn't done this, when the sound of the chair scraping backward screeched out across the peaceful quiet of the evening. Before I could retreat, Edward pushed himself to his feet and turned around. He was sporting an angry frown, eyes pinched into an irritated scowl. When he spotted me, his expression shifted, a confused look displacing the grimace.
"Bella?"
When I didn't speak—all I could do was stare—the frown returned. A glare accompanied it.
"What the fuck are you doing out here?"
I just shook my head, my eyes wide. I didn't know why I was out here. It was as if he had called to me somehow, even though he had never seen me or uttered a single word. I'd just seen him, looking so upset, and… come.
He took a step in my direction, his movement slow and deliberate, almost predatory. There was no doubt in my mind that he was stalking me—his eyes were intent, never leaving my face, except once, to glance down my scantily-clad body. His nose flared as he took in my tank top and boy shorts, then lazily returned to meet my gaze.
"What are you doing out here, Bella?" he asked again, softer this time, in a low, soothing voice.
"I-I don't know," I whispered.
I was mortified by my shaking, stuttering voice, but I couldn't take my eyes off him. I couldn't stop watching him move toward me.
He smiled, but the expression wasn't calming. Instead my heart began thump-thumping in a mixture of excitement and fear; it was racing so hard and fast, I was afraid that it would pound its way right out of my chest. When Edward finally stopped in front of me, he reached out and laid his fingers against the collar of my shirt, where the fabric was shimmering wildly from the force of my throbbing heart. I sucked in a startled breath, which changed to a choking gasp when his fingers drifted down to rest on the swell of my breast.
"Yes, you do," he replied, dropping his hand further in order to palm my eager flesh.
Although shocked beyond belief, I couldn't control the moan that escaped. He smiled. Once again, the expression was anything but reassuring—it was knowing, telling, convincing, compelling.
"Don't you, Bella?" he prodded, raising his other hand to cup my other breast.
All I could do was nod.
And lean into his warm palms.
The feel of his hands on my chest was doing odd things to my body. I was all tingly and hot, despite the fact that the look in his eye as he watched his fingers chilled me to the bone. It wasn't loving or caring or even appreciative. Instead, Edward was looking at me in a way that made me feel objectified, dirty and… cheap. Even though my head knew that I should stop this, my body had other ideas and desires—it was as if it knew something that I didn't. The heat from his hands had traveled from my chest to pool between my legs, and sensation exploded in both areas when his fingers plucked roughly at my nipples. I moaned again.
Edward stepped closer, and even though we weren't touching anywhere other than where his hands rested on my chest, I could feel the heat emanating from his body in warm waves that caressed my chilly skin. Goosebumps popped up on my arms, although not from the coolness of the air. I was inundated, overwhelmed, by all the sensations bombarding me—the feel of his thumbs, which were now rubbing my peaked nipples, the shimmering awareness that trembled in the air between us, the feel of his hot, humid, and still-smoky breath as he exhaled against the sensitive skin beneath my ear. A breathy whimper escaped my lips.
The sound must have spurred him on, because suddenly, he was everywhere.
His arms surrounded me, his hands slipping down to grip the curve of my ass and yank me closer. His lips closed against my collarbone, and his teeth nipped at the same time as he sucked roughly; I knew that I'd have a bruise in the morning, but the thought of Edward marking me was exciting. While his lips attacked and tortured my neck, his fingers slipped beneath the fabric of my cotton shorts to tease tender skin.
Raising my hands, I clutched desperately at Edward's shoulders in an attempt to keep myself upright; the sensual assault he was waging left my legs boneless. The position brought our bodies into even closer alignment, and I gasped when his erection bumped against me, down there. He rotated his hips, rubbing against me again, at the same time he pushed his fingers into my panties and the wetness that had accumulated at the juncture of my thighs.
It was too much, yet at the same time, not enough. Another desperate moan slipped past my parted lips. Unable to hold myself upright any longer, my body slumped against him as his fingers found and explored my slick skin.
"Fuck," he rasped into my ear. His voice was low, rough with desire. It was accompanied by a low groan and a panting breath as the tip of one of his fingers pushed inside me. "You want me, don't you?"
I gasped when a second finger dipped in. I was fighting it—the sensations, the emotions, everything—and I knew that he could tell. It was just happening so quickly... Once again, my head was screaming at me to slow this down, but my body was responding in delicious ways to his persuasive ministrations, shivering with expectation and eagerness, begging for me to let him continue.
"Don't you, Bella?" he prodded in time with the strokes of his finger, his voice more demanding this time.
Ducking my forehead into his chest, I surrendered.
"Yes."
He disentangled himself from my limp, loose limbs and took a step back. I think I whimpered in disappointment, but before I could miss the warmth of his body or give a second thought to what I had just agreed to, he placed a palm on my lower back and ushered me through the door.
Only a few minutes had passed since I had slipped from Alice's room, but it felt like a lifetime... So much was different now. I'd walked down this hall and out that door alone, but I wasn't alone anymore. I was with Edward Cullen. It was something I'd dreamed of for the past three years.
My legs were shaky as we walked to his room; they were trembling so badly that I could barely stay upright. I couldn't decide if it was excitement, nerves, or fear. As we approached Alice's door my feet slowed, but the pressure of his hand kept me moving forward, and before I knew it, his bedroom door was closing silently behind me. Edward didn't give me the opportunity to second-guess this decision—he immediately resumed his sensual assault on my neck, chest and overly-sensitive skin between my legs.
Somehow—I have no clue how—I found myself on Edward's bed, his solid weight pressing me into the soft mattress while his hands and lips caressed my now-exposed skin. When his mouth closed over one of my nipples, my back arched off the bed and my hands flew to his head, where they tangled in his silky, auburn hair, holding his head tightly against my chest.
"Do you like that, Bella?" he asked with a grunt when I tugged at his hair.
I moaned in response, prompting him to suck the pebbled peak into his mouth and lave it with his tongue. His fingers tickled their way down my stomach and into the wetness at the juncture of my thighs. I moaned again.
"Fuck," he groaned around my nipple. "So wet… So ready for me."
He pulled back for a moment in order to reach into the drawer of his bed-side table, and then settled back on top of me. He shifted slightly, and suddenly I felt him. No… correction: I felt it. Right there. It was hot and hard, and when he flexed his hips, it slid easily against my slick skin and bumped against the spot that was throbbing in anticipation. I gasped at the sensation, automatically lifting my hips to grind against him. He must have taken the motion as an invitation, because without any additional prelude, he pulled back and thrust into me.
Despite the wetness that had prepared me for his possession, my body rejected his initial invasion. Not physically; I was surprised by how easily he slid in and how perfectly he fit. There wasn't pain per-se, but something about this just felt… wrong. Although I felt tight and full—I could feel him inside of me—I simultaneously felt absolutely empty, which was odd considering that Edward was pushing in an out of me in a slow, steady pace, grunting in pleasure and whispering things that should have been encouraging into my ear.
It was like I was watching from outside my own body… I could see my fingers digging into his shoulders, and I could feel the hair on his legs rasping against the sensitive skin of my inner thighs, but it was like it was happening to someone else. With each second that passed, with each of his self-satisfied thrusts, I felt less and less fulfilled. The delicious tingles that had warmed me earlier, when he had teased all of my sensitive spots with knowing fingers and lips, were long-gone now. He tensed and groaned into my neck less than thirty seconds later. As soon as it was over, he collapsed onto me. A moment later, he rolled over and got up to head to the bathroom. He never looked back.
"I'm gonna take a shower," he told me as he padded across the room. "You should probably head back to Alice's room. I wouldn't want her to wake up and find you gone."
The door clicked closed behind him, and suddenly I was alone and naked in Edward Cullen's room.
In Edward Cullen's bed.
Where I'd just been… fucked.
I'd had a crush on Edward for three years, ever since his family moved to Forks, and I had imagined this moment hundreds, if not thousands, of times. But this was not at all how I envisioned it happening. I had always imagined that I'd feel cherished and loved, or at least be having fun, if or when I had sex with Edward. Instead, I felt raw and exposed, used. Shivering in shock, I sat unmoving on the bed, my mind a complete blank. I struggled to make some sense of what had just happened… It had been so cold and unemotional. He hadn't kissed me, held me, or told me that he liked me or thought I was pretty. I didn't know what the hell to think.
Then the shower turned off, and all I could think about was finding my clothes and getting out of his room before he came out of the bathroom and found me sitting right where he'd left me.

~ C S N ~

The first time I had sex should have been exciting and special and… well, something other than what it had been. I'd hoped that the morning after would bring some answers, but it only brought more doubt and confusion. As I stared at him, sitting at the kitchen counter and sipping coffee as if nothing had happened, I realized that to him, it was nothing. What's more, I was nothing. It didn't help that Lauren showed up a few minutes later, apologizing for her accusations and begging for his forgiveness. Edward immediately took her up to his room—the room where he'd had sex with me less than eight hours ago. When I headed back to Alice's room a little while later, I heard suspicious sexual-sounding noises coming from down the hall. As a result, I had no desire to admit to my best friend that her brother—whom I'd had a crush on for the past three years—had taken my virginity the night before.
Maybe if I pretended it didn't happen, I could forget it. Forget him.
I'd done well for a while, with the pretending that nothing had happened. I'd followed my usual routine, acted the same way as always. I'd never made any effort previously to talk to Edward, and that didn't change. In fact, I'd gone out of my way to avoid any situation where we might be forced to interact. And in the few cases where we did end up in the same room at the same time, he ignored me as thoroughly as I pretended to ignore him.
Then, right before he left for college that fall, he was waiting for me by my car one night when I left Newton's after my shift. He and Lauren had broken up again, this time for good. When he told me he needed me, I was powerless to say no.
My second time having sex happened in the cramped and steamy backseat of Edward's old Volvo. This time, it was a little better for me, but once again, there was no post-coital cuddling, no soft, loving kisses or promises of any kind; as soon as it was over, he pulled his pants back up and quickly climbed over the console into the front seat, leaving me alone to deal with the aftermath and seemingly in a hurry to get away from me. Yet, despite the now-familiar lack of affection, I liked knowing that he had turned to me for comfort when he was hurting. The simple fact that he chose me made me feel special. At the time, it had been more than enough.
It's a trend that has continued for almost ten years now. Whenever something bad happens—a break up, a fight with his friends or family—he calls me. Each and every time, I come running, eager to get whatever I can of him with no questions asked. I know it isn't love, but it is something. And while I know our relationship—if you can call it that—isn't a healthy arrangement, in many ways, I have more of Edward than anyone else. I am the one who gets to see him at his worst. I provide the shoulder he cries on when everything goes to shit. And it is my body that welcomes the sexual punishment he can't inflict on its intended target. I am strong for him, so that he can have his moments of weakness.
But those moments of weakness have come less and less often over the past few years, and though I've never given voice to it, I worry that a day will come when he won't need me any longer. That thought scares the shit out of me, because I have come to need Edward, to need his insecurities, and to need his need of me. He gives me purpose. Without him…
My phone buzzes in my pocket, jolting me out of my disturbing recollections. I feel… weird, unsettled. Nothing obvious has changed in the past five minutes—Alice is still talking about Jasper, and somehow I've managed to nod along at all the right places, so she has now clue that I've just taken a torturous trip down memory lane—but suddenly, the vibrations teasing at my upper thigh seem treacherous. I haven't even heard his voice yet, but obviously it isn't necessary; I've heard the ring-tone that signifies Edward is calling, and my body is responding in a Pavlovian manner. Only it's not my mouth that's watering…
Suddenly anxious, I need to know what happened this time to make him call.
When Alice reaches the conclusion of this part of her tale, and I've gushed sufficiently over her new love, I send out a feeler.
"So, Alice… talked to your brother lately?"

She has two older brothers, but there's no doubt to which one I'm referring. We've talked about Edward often enough for this to not be awkward or obvious. Yet, she still likes to razz me about the days when I had a massive crush on him.

"Gees, Bella. Do you stillhave a crush on him?"

My heart clenches, just like it does almost every time we talk of Edward. But I've learned to control it over the past ten years. I've had to. I can't allow Alice to learn the truth: my feelings for Edward are far more than just a crush. So, I play along, like I always do.

I smile. "A girl never forgets her first crush, Alice. You of all people should remember that," I say with a wink and a pointed cough—I'd listened to Alice go on and on for two years in high school about James Bennett, the first guy that she'dhad a crush on. She still talks about him with fond remembrance.

She laughs, just as I intended. Then the smile fades.

"Edward…" she sighs. "Oh, Bella… you know I love my brother, but he's such a freaking mess. I just wish he'd grow up, but I don't think he ever will. He just can't see beyond himself; it's always all about Edward. All he sees is how everyone and everything around him affects him. He never sees the other side, never realizes how his destructive behavior affects those around him. And he takes everything sopersonally… any suggestion is interpreted as a personal criticism. It's so tough dealing with his issues, like walking on eggshells."

She's not telling me anything she hasn't said a million times before. Nor is it anything that I haven't seen or experienced first-hand almost as many times. Edward has issues. According to Alice, he went through some sort of 'change' right after they moved to Forks, because looking back it was obvious how much his personality had altered. She's commented many times that he was softer, nicer, and happier as a young teen than he was once they moved to Forks. The constant cloud-cover and never-ending rain only made it worse. When he wasn't in school, he stayed up all night and slept all day, refusing to take responsibility for anything. He did okay in high school, but he'd failed out of college during sophomore year—he was diagnosed as bipolar shortly thereafter—and it had taken him several years to go back and try again.

He's doing better now—he has a job and a girlfriend—but he just can't see the world for what it really is. As Alice always says, 'there's the world, and there's the world according to Edward.' They are two completely different realities.

"What'd he do this time?" I ask, curious to find out why he's blowing my phone up this evening.
She sidles up to the table, as if to gossip.
"So… you know Edward's been with his girlfriend off and on for two years now, right?"
I nod. Her name is Tanya. She's a nice girl, but has some issues of her own; she's a bit co-dependent and very insecure. I also suspect that she's also not completely aware of the extent of his issues; he hasn't been completely upfront with her. I've only seen him twice during the time that they've been together—both times coincided with temporary break-ups. During one of those breaks, he talked to me about how he considered her his soul-mate, but he just wasn't in love with her. I guess that didn't matter, because as soon as she called to apologize, he went right back to her, just like he did with Lauren in high school.
"Well," Alice continues, "she laid it on the line this time and gave him an ultimatum. Told him it was time to move forward in their relationship or move on. Demanded that they get married, and gave him a timeline in which it should happen."
I raise my eyebrow skeptically and snort in an attempt to cover my real response—my heart stumbles to a halt, then begins racing in terrified anticipation of her next words. Edward married?
"Really?" I ask, proud of the fact that my voice sounds so calm.
"Yup. They're twenty-eight, you know. She's ready to start a family." Alice pauses, shaking her head. "You know Edward, Bella. Can you see him with a family?"
Honestly? No, I can't. Edward is narcissistic and self-centered, and he does think only of himself and how everything affects him. Hell… I've got ten years-worth of experience to prove that point. But I also know he can't help it—his brain chemistry is fucked. He doesn't act that way on purpose, but it doesn't change what he is or how he thinks. Or how that selfish behavior affects everyone around him.
I shake my head. "Not really…"
"I know, right?" she readily agrees. "But what gets to me is why she would want that with him in the first place. I mean, she's been with Edward long enough to know by now that he's not marriage material. There's no way in hell that I would ever put up with half the shit he's dished out over the past few years."
I nod in agreement because I know it's what she expects. But I've been on the other side. I, too, have seen Edward at his worst, but I know why he's like that, and I've accepted his deficiencies. Besides, we've talked about some of his issues—not all of them, because he really doesn't like to discuss it (who really wants to talk about their own mental health issues?), but enough for me to get a good idea of what he deals with on a daily basis. He hates what the meds he takes do to him, how they make him sleepy and lethargic, unable to feel certain things; to be blunt, they fuck with his libido. Typically, when I see him, it's been when he's been off his meds for a few weeks, and he's horny as hell. But he needs them to function, and when he eventually starts taking them again, he's quick to leave me.
On the surface, I suspect it's because once the drugs kick in, he can't get it up anymore, and I know he's embarrassed. But at a deeper level, I think it's because I know. He tells me about the bad shit in his life—he needs someone to vent to, and I fit the bill—but then he hates the fact that I know about all his demons, and he wants distance.
It's a nasty cycle. I get Edward—the real Edward that very few people get the opportunity to see—for a few days, then he disappears again, for months at a time. Only when he reaches a breaking point do I hear from him again. And I come running, eager to get whatever part of himself he's willing to share.
Now that I think about it, this really isn't a healthy relationship. For either of us. Not only that, I suddenly see how unfair it is to me. I frown as I finally grasp the reality of the situation… He only calls me when he's in a bad place and needs some support. For some reason, I feel obligated to support him. I have for years. But when did support and sex become synonymous? Of course, I enable it by always being available to him, by always answering whenever he calls, and by always being willing and able.
"So… what happened?" I ask, dreading the answer.
"What do you think?" she asks with a snort. Before I can guess, she answers for me. "As you can imagine, he bolted. Showed up at Emmett's this afternoon, suitcase in hand."
I relax—I hadn't even realized I was sitting so tensely upright until my muscles unlock and I slump down into my chair—and take a deep, calming breath. My heart slows with the knowledge that Edward isn't getting married to someone else.
At least not yet.
Then reality—my reality, the real reality—sets in, and I suck in another startled breath. Someday he will get married, and all of this will have to come to an end. Or worse, it won't. With unexpected clarity, I realize that I am just as dependent upon him as he is on me. Whenever he calls, I do come running, dropping whatever I'm doing or whomever I'm with without a second thought. I need him, crave him. He's like my own, personal drug, and I can't resist him.
All of a sudden, I feel sick, nauseas. Comprehension sets in… For ten years, my life has revolved around Edward. It's not just an unhealthy situation; for me, it's destructive. My addiction to Edward has prevented me from having successful relationships of my own. Any relationship that somehow makes it past the initial stages of dating is quickly terminated as soon as Edward calls me, which he always does. I finally realize that I can't let it continue any longer. I have to put a halt to this.
The epiphany is shocking.
My shock must be evident, because Alice's concerned voice finally registers in my brain and pulls me back to the present.
"Bella? Are you okay?"
I just shake my head. Then I push my plate of half-eaten food away—I don't even remember what I ordered, and I have no recollection of eating it. Once Edward called, I could think of nothing else.
"What is it?" she asks, warily.
"I don't feel good, Alice."
It's the truth. My stomach is churning, and I feel as if I'm about to hurl. Pushing my chair back from the table, I lurch unsteadily to my feet.
"I'm gonna go to the bathroom," I mumble as I bolt toward the restroom.
Once I get there, I lock myself into a stall and collapse onto the porcelain commode. Luckily, I don't lose my dinner. Overwhelmed by all the information I've been given this evening, I do, however, lose the battle I've been waging with my emotions. Warm salt streaks down my cheeks and splashes onto the floor at my feet as I give into despair. I allow myself this one moment of weakness, then I straighten and brush the traitor tears away.
I need some time to consider everything that I've finally come to terms with here tonight, and I can't do that with Edward calling me every few minutes. I've never not answered a phone call from him before, and I have a feeling that he'll be just as distraught by our non-communication tonight as I am, but I need to take some time right now to decide what I need to do. For me. For the first time in ten years, I choose to put my needs, my self-preservation, over his. And to do that, I need space.
I reach into my pocket, pull out my phone and power it off before I can change my mind.
It hurts, more than I imagined it would. But at the same time, it feels empowering somehow, like I've finally regained control of my own life. With one final swipe at my eyes, I push myself upright, unlock the door and head toward the vanity area. I take a deep breath before I raise my eyes to the mirror, but the damage my wayward tears have caused is minimal—other than a slight reddening at the corners of my eyes, there's no real evidence of my emotional distress. A quick pat with a bit of cold water eliminates that problem. Satisfied with my appearance, I turn away and return to the table.
Alice, of course, is concerned. "You okay?" she asks.
Resuming my usual role, I smile and make an excuse.
"Something must not have sat right."
She doesn't buy it, I can tell. But she doesn't press the matter, either. Alice and I have been friends long enough for her to know when to push and when to let things be. Thankfully, she must instinctively realize that this is one of the latter moments, and when she returns to talking about her new love interest, I encourage her to talk away.
The rest of the evening passes quickly. Before I know it, it's going on midnight and time for us to leave. When I stand, I realize that I'm more than slightly intoxicated from the cocktails we imbibed after dinner—I'd tossed back a few martinis in an attempt to remain social and not think about Edward. The room is spinning slightly, and my legs refuse to hold me upright. With an obnoxiously loud giggle, my feet stumble and I bump into a table.
"Sorry," I slur to the people I've disturbed.
Alice rolls her eyes, but shoots me a concerned look.
"Give me your keys, Bella," Alice says.
"What?"
She sticks her hand out. "Your keys. Now."
"Why?"
She rolls her eyes again. "You know what they say, right? 'Friends don't let friends drive drunk.' There's no way in hell I'm letting you drive."
"I'm not that drunk," I protest.
She gives me the brow. "Really? Tell you what… See that line over there?" She points to where the carpet from the dining room meets the hardwood flooring in the bar. "You walk that line straight, and I won't argue with you anymore. Deal?"
"Sure," I agree, turning to walk to the place she has indicated. Of course, my feet somehow get tangled up, and I stumble into yet another table, disturbing yet another set of diners.
"Jesus," Alice mutters under her breath." Forget the line. You can't stand upright, Bella. You're not driving. I'll take you home."
She ushers me to the door and pushes me through. Before I know it, I'm ensconced in the passenger seat of her car.
"But what about my truck?"
"You can come back and get it in the morning."
"Okay," I relent. My relenting is a moot point, however, as we've just driven out of the parking lot. I watch as my truck gets smaller and smaller in the rear-view mirror.
With the windows open and the late-night air flowing freely through the front seat, I sober up a bit on the twenty-minute drive home. Alice and I sing along loudly to some bad 90's pop music, just like we used to back in high school. I don't remember who the hell sings this particular song, but it's something about loneliness and losing my mind when I'm not with someone. It's fitting actually, and quite reflective of my failed… whatever the fuck it is… with Edward. At least I'm laughing now.
I'm still laughing when Alice pulls up at my apartment a few moments later. Reaching over, I give her a hug, holding on a little longer than necessary.
"Thanks, Alice. I needed this tonight."
In more ways than she realizes.
She smiles. "Anytime, babe!"
After one last hug, I tumble awkwardly out of the car, still a little tipsy. I wave as Alice drives away. Once she turns the corner and is out of sight, I dig into my pocket and retrieve my phone. With a sigh, I hit the power button. When the screen lights up, I groan.
10 missed calls.
Shit. He won't be happy.
Then again, maybe it's time for him to realize that I'm not just his beck and call girl.
Fuck.
Who the hell am I kidding? I am his back and call girl. I have been for ten years now, and we both know it.
After talking to Alice, I know why he's been calling. It's the same as always—something went to shit in his personal life, and he wants the comfort that I'm always willing to provide. For ten years, I have loved being strong for him and being the person he's turned to for support. But deep down, I've always longed for more. Of course, he's never seen that. He's ever wanted to. No… He turns to me in order to make himself feel better. The fact that he never reciprocates has never bothered me before, but tonight, talking about Edward and marriage, it suddenly hits home.
I've always longed for… him. And not only that… I've wished for a future with him.
Tonight, after ten years of hopeless wishing, I have finally come to understand that will never come to be. Unexpected pain floods through me, making it hard to breathe. My heart clenches painfully as I take a mental step back and take a long, hard look at my true role in his life. It hurts to admit, but honestly? I'm a doormat. I take what he dishes out and never voice any complaints or concerns. I have for years.
My jaw clenches in a mixture of determination and regret.
It's time for that to change.
I clear out the call log in my phone and shove it back in my pocket without returning his calls. Turning away from the street, I force my feet to begin moving. I've only taken two steps when my phone buzzes in my pocket, Edward's ring-tone tinkling out into the night. My feet stumble to a halt, and I fight against the urge to scream in frustration. Instinct is so hard to ignore… For ten years, I've answered his every call. But tonight, I've finally realized that I want to be more than just his go-to girl. I'm tired of being the one he rebounds with, only to move on once again when he's in a 'better place'.
This… arrangement… isn't healthy. It isn't working. Not for me. Not anymore.
Denying my every instinct—denying my heart—I ignore the incessant buzzing of my phone and instead begin climbing the steps to my top-floor apartment.
By the time I reach the top of the stairs, I'm panting for breath. My entire body aches with the desire to talk to him, to hear his voice one last time, and it physically hurts to not answer the phone. But I know that I can't give into that desire; I've finally reached my breaking point. Clenching at the hand rail, I hold myself upright while I suck in a few calming breaths. When I've regained my composure, I turn towards my front door.
I immediately get tossed right back into the maelstrom I thought I had avoided.
For a moment, I wonder if I'm still drunk or if my mind is playing a cruel trick, because a mirage has appeared in front of me. I squeeze my eyes shut and shake my head briefly in an attempt to dispel the hallucination I've obviously conjured, because there's no way in hell that he is here. But when I open them again, Edward, clothes rumpled and hair a mess from where he his hands have obviously abused it, is still sitting by my apartment door. He hasn't seen me yet—he's glaring at his phone, which he's just thrown against the wall—and for a moment, all I can do is stare.
A mad rush of emotion surges through me… disbelief, excitement, relief, confusion, and finally despair. It's ironic really… Why? Why now? Why, on the night that I finally found my backbone, did Edward have to come here? He's never set a foot in my apartment before, despite my numerous invitations. He's always had me meet him on neutral ground or on his turf. But here he is, at my apartment—the only thing I have left that hasn't been tainted by him. Closing my eyes to the pain that just seeing him causes, I laugh humorlessly. Hell, he's already invaded my mind and body, my heart and soul. Why not my home, too?
I curse softly under my breath.
"Shit."
Although I whispered, he must have heard me; when I finally open my eyes again, he's lurched to his feet and is glaring at me.
"Where the hell have you been?" he demands. "Why haven't you answered my calls? I needed you tonight, Bella…"
His voice cracks, betraying his obviously frayed emotions. His eyes are ablaze, although I can't determine in the poor lighting if it's panic or mania causing them to burn so brightly. Instinctively, I take a step toward him, with the intent to comfort him as I usually do. Then I reach deep down inside, grab my backbone—which is currently residing at the ground by my feet—and yank it upright. My feet come to an abrupt halt and I suck in another calming breath.
"It's Friday night, Edward," I state, my voice devoid of all the emotion that is coursing through me. "I was out."
For a moment, he looks taken aback by my coolly blasé response. Then his eyes narrow.
"Out?"
I don't respond verbally, just narrow my eyes in return.
"Wait… Were you on a date?"
I'm surprised by the surprise in his voice. Then the anger sets in. What? I can't have a life of my own? Just because I always come running whenever he's called in the past doesn't mean that I have nothing. Not wanting to admit to him that I was just out with Alice, not yet at least, I shrug.
"What does it matter what I was doing or who I was doing it with? It's none of your business."
His nose flares and his fists clench. For a moment, I want to believe that his response is due to jealousy, and my heart jumps in anticipation. But then he reminds me that this is never about me, only him.
"Of course it matters, Bella. I needed you tonight. You could have just answered and told me you were busy. But you didn't answer, and I've been calling all night…"
Self-righteous anger radiates off him in waves that bowl me over. I'm astounded by his outburst. He actually believes that he's in the right here, that I should have dropped everything to talk to him when he wanted me to. Suddenly, it's too much. All of my Edward-induced disappointment from the past ten years bursts forth.
"You needed me?" I ask scathingly. Then I shake my head and laugh. It isn't a pretty sound. "You needed me? What about what I want or need, Edward? Have you ever, once, stopped to think about that? No, you never do… It's only about you—what you want, what you need. And it's always on your schedule, usually when something's gone wrong. You never call me just to talk or to see how I am. You only call when you 'need' me. "
He shifts awkwardly on his feet and shoves his hands into his hair. "That's not true," he mumbles.
"It's not?" I ask pointedly. "It's been six months since I talked to you, Edward. And we didn't do much talking that night, if I recall correctly. No, you called me, and as soon as I showed up at your hotel, you fucked me against the wall. Then you took me to bed and fucked me there, too. We didn't talk."
He flinches at my blunt recount of our last night together.
"And when I woke up the next morning, you were on the phone with Tanya, who was begging you to come back. Which you did, by the way."
He flinches again, and he has the decency to look chagrined. Then he drops his chin to his chest and sighs. His voice is quiet, resigned, when he speaks again.
"Were you? With someone else tonight?"
If I was surprised by his angry outburst earlier, I'm equally shocked by the brokenness in his voice now. He looks… scared. Worried that I might have found someone else, possibly? For a moment, I'm encouraged by his response, and before I can stop myself, I admit the truth.
"No," I mumble.
His head snaps up.
"No?" he asks, the contrite tone suddenly gone. The accusatory glare is back. "Then why didn't you answer?"
This time, I sigh.
"I was with Alice, Edward."
That answer is enough to shut him up. For ten years, I've been his dirty little secret, an illicit mistress that he keeps hidden away from his family and friends. And in turn, he was mine—the secret obsession that I kept locked away in my heart. It was understood that neither of us would ever mention our… arrangement… to anyone, especially his sister. No one would understand. Especially after all this time. It was imperative that I keep his secret, that I keep him—well, at least him and me—a secret.
He visibly relaxes, which in turn causes my guard to rise. I was right to worry. Before I know what's happened, his arms are around me pulling me close. I'm surrounded by his body, his scent… him. He's everywhere, and like a strung-out addict who's being offered a hit of the highest quality goods, I can't resist. I don't have the strength. My arms slip around his waist and hold him in return. We rock gently back and forth for a few moments, taking refuge in one another
"Fuck, Bella," he eventually whispers against my neck.
"I know."
I squeeze my eyes shut and suck in a shaky breath. I do know. That mumbled curse is the closest thing to an apology that I'll get. But it's not an apology for his actions. I don't even know what he's apologizing for, and I doubt that he does either; he just knows that I need to hear it.
His hands clench me tighter, his head now buried in my neck.
"I just need you," he almost-sobs. "So fucking badly. You're the only one who gets it, gets me…"
His brokenness, his admission, is my undoing. Despite my previous determined decision, I can't deny this. I can't deny him. Or my own need to be with him, at least this one last time.
"I know," I reply softy, my own voice cracking in surrender.
Once I've given in, we waste no time entering my apartment. Even though he's never been here before, I don't take the time to give him the tour; we had straight to the bedroom, just like always. Only this time, it's different. I don't know if he can somehow tell that this will be the last time that we'll be together like this, but for the first time, it feels as if he is making love to me rather than fucking me.
His hands are impatient but gentle as they remove my clothes. They caress and tease, and shivers of sensation rush across my skin in the wake of this touch. His mouth is insistent, yet somehow soft on mine, and I gasp at the sensation of his lips ghosting across my lips and cheeks. This—intimacy—is something that I've never experienced with him. It makes everything feel… more.
Just more.

When he finally settles above me and pushes into me, I feel something I've never previously felt with Edward—connected. It's what I've wanted for years, but only here at the end does it seem to be within my reach. My back arches, and my body clenches around him as he moves slowly, filling me completely. I clutch desperately at his shoulders and back, needing him closer, and I gasp a sobbing breath when he reaches down to pull my leg up around his waist. The new angle allows an even deeper penetration, each possessive thrust reaching all the way inside to brand me as his. I come in a sudden rush of sensation and emotion that catches me off guard. My body trembles with satisfied satiation, but my heart feels as if it has fallen into a deep void of nothingness.
Edward collapses on top of me, and my hands automatically slide around him to hold him close. Tears slide silently down my face, soaking my hair and pooling on my pillow. I choke down the sobs that have risen in my chest, desperately holding onto this moment with him for as long as possible. But too soon, he pulls back and sees the salty streaks that have stained my cheeks.
"Bella?"
Suddenly, it's here, the moment I've been dreading all evening. Fuck. This is the moment I've been dreading for ten years. Although it's the last thing I want to do, I know that I have to do it. My heart can't take any more of this. I wiggle out from underneath him.
"This has to stop, Edward," I state as resolutely as possible.
"What?"
It hurts like hell to do it, but I roll away from his warmth. My heart cracks a little more. Pushing myself upright, I get out of the bed, leaving the warm comfort of world we've created. Grabbing my robe from the end of the bed, I belt it tightly as if to protect myself, then turn to look at Edward, who's still sprawled on my bed and glowing in post-coital bliss.
"We can't keep doing this. Not anymore."
He looks confused. "Why the hell not? I need you, Bella, just as much now as ever. Besides, we've been doing this for years. You've never complained before. What's different now?"
I look at him sadly. He just doesn't get it.
"It's not healthy, Edward."
"What do you mean?"
I'm beginning to get frustrated, and I'm sure that comes through in my tone. "It's not fair, Edward. Not to me."
"What?"
He sounds shocked.
"I told you earlier—it's all about you, Edward. It always has been. I shouldn't have let this go on as long as I did…"
"What the fuck are you talking about, Bella?"
I huff in exasperation. He still doesn't fucking get it. And now, he's getting annoyed with my attempts to explain this without actually explaining it. Suddenly it dawns on me that I have to tell him everything. He won't understand unless I do. Straightening my spine, I look him straight in the eye, letting everything I've ever felt for him show.
"Every time you call, I drop everything! I can't say 'no' to you. I don't have the strength to resist. No, that's not right. I don't want to resist. I need this, I need you, just as much as you claimed to need me earlier."
He's looking at me warily, refusing to meet my gaze, eyes shifting rapidly between my face and his hands, which are now twisting the sheet absently. It's different from the cool detachment I'm used to; this isn't disinterest. He visibly flinches at my next words.
"But it's not enough," I continue solemnly. "It's never been enough."
Despite this fact, I realize now that I can't willingly give him, or it, up. I'm not that strong. So, I take a deep breath, look him straight in the eye, and say the only thing I can think of to possibly break this destructive cycle. The only thing that I know, without a doubt, will push him away.
"I love you, Edward."
He scrambles rapidly to the edge of the bed and surges to his feet, horror in his eyes. The accusation in his expression tears viciously at my heart and soul. Before he can say a word, I doggedly push forward.
"I have for years, and I can't believe you've never realized it. Hell… Maybe at some level you have, and you've chosen to ignore it so that we can—" I pause and wave my hands between the two of us, indicating whatever the hell it is that we've been doing for the past ten years.
"Why do you think that no matter what I'm doing, no matter who I'm with, I come running whenever you call?" I ask bitterly. "It's not just the sex, although that's usually pretty good—and it's definitely gotten better since that first time, when you took my virginity, by the way."
I've never admitted that before—to anyone, least of all, him. He flinches again and his face pales, as if in denial, although I suspect at some level he knew. He had to. His eyes slide away from mine, but he says nothing, so I drive another nail into the coffin of our now-dead 'relationship'.
"It's you, Edward. It's always been you. Only you. For the past ten years, sex with you—usually after a rough patch in your life—is all you've offered, so I've grasped it with both hands, more than willing to support you in any way possible and take what I can get. But I want more. I've always wanted more. I hoped that with enough time, you might come to want more, too…"
I allow my sentence to trail off, hoping to induce a response—any response—from him. But instead, he begins yanking his clothes on haphazardly. As soon as he is dressed, he leaves without saying a word.
The door closes on a quiet snick, and the tears that I've been holding back for more than ten years begin to fall. I don't even know what I'm crying for, only that I know things will never be the same.
No… that's not right.
The real problem is that things will always be same.
I've known it for years. I've let him use me at his will and have been a willing recipient of his transient attention. I can't even call it affection, because I have never been anything more than just a fuck to him. It hurts to admit, but I've known it deep down for years—since that very first night. I'm the person he calls when he has a bad day at work, when his relationships end, or when he's gone too long without getting laid. I'm the ever-present comfort that never asks for anything in return, the one who gives and gives and gives, so that he can take.
And take.
And take.
He'll never want me the way that I want him, the way that I have always wanted him.
I can only hope that my words, my admission, my feelings—my love—will be a deterrent. That it will keep him from ever calling me again.
My love for him is my only defense, because Edward doesn't want love, especially not from me. Love is complicated and messy. Love is compromise and commitment and open communication. Love demands a response of equal intensity and requires that the participants be engaged, involved. Love is… togetherness.
Edward is too selfish to actively participate in that sort of relationship.
Yet, if he calls again, I know that I'll drop everything for him. Just like always.
After ten years of giving a little bit of myself to him every day, I know that I won't resist. There's no reason to; there's nothing of me left for me. I'm nothing more than an empty shell.
Edward already has it all.
Despite that fact, I can't say "no".

End Note: Bipolar disorders affect between 2-5% of the human population. Chances are someone you know is affected by one of the many manifestations of this disease. While the Edward character in this story is based roughly on my brother—the back story, some of the things he said and some of the ways that he acted are actually things that my brother has done in the past—I have another family member (uncle) and two close friends from high school who have also been affected by this condition. While symptoms and severity of effects vary widely from person to person, the one common denominator that I have observed in all of these four individuals is an innate selfishness. It's not intentional, not a way they choose purposefully to act, but none of the four can put others first—it's all about them and how what everyone else does affects them, never the other way around; they just aren't able to see how their actions negatively affect those around them. I really wanted to capture that aspect of the disorder in this story—unable to look beyond himself, Edward is completely unaware of Bella's true feelings and how his actions/demands of her have negatively impacted her life.
In this story, I would totally be Alice. I love my brother completely and accept him for who he is. But he's my brother, my family, my blood, and I will love him no matter what he does. For those who don't know him well, my brother is fun-loving, social, and a very dynamic personality. But once you get to know him—really know him—the truth is revealed. And just like Bella was the go-to person for Edward in this story, my brother definitely has someone upon who he relies (only in his case, it's not a romantic interest), and that person deals with a lot of his mercurial mood-swings and selfish behavior. I obviously have no experience with the romantic aspect of his life, but I've often wondered what the girls he dates see in him once they get past that initial first impression. I really wanted to explore that in this story, look at the 'other side of the story', to see how someone in a relationship might be negatively affected by that innate self-centeredness.
Thank you for reading.