A/N: *waves* HELLO EVERYONE!

There'll be a big spiel at the end of this, so I'll be brief up here.

1. It's great to be back.
2. THANK YOU all for sticking around and waiting for me. I love you all so much for that!
3. I'm back for good now (hooray!).

WitchyVampGirl was holding my hand along the LONG road to writing this chapter. I added, deleted, rearranged, and contemplated where to put stuff more than once. I had weeks where no thoughts would come to me because there was too much RL stress going on, but she kept at me and kept encouraging me to forge ahead. Thank you for all the kicks in the fanny, sweetie.

Chapter Song: Stars by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals

- N.

Characters belong to SM. The last few chapters of this belong to me. And to them. :)

Chapter 30 – Back Again

Edward's POV

By the time Monday came around I was ready to jump out of my skin.

I couldn't get Bella off my mind all weekend. I wanted to talk to her. I needed to hear her voice. I needed to hear her tell me that everything was okay; that we were okay. I needed to see her smile and to feel her lips beneath mine.

I also knew what Bella needed, and that was time and space to think things through. As difficult as it was, I managed to keep myself from contacting her. The old Edward wouldn't have done that. He would have said, "fuck it" and moved on to the next woman. The new Edward – the one I vowed to be when I left her house on Friday – would wait a hundred years if Bella asked.

"Knock, knock." I looked up to find Embry standing in the doorway.

"How long have you been there?"

He leaned against the doorframe and crossed his arms over his chest. "Only a minute. You looked too deep in thought for me to interrupt."

I frowned. "That's one way to put it. What brings you to this end of town?"

"You," Embry said, crossing the room and taking a seat across from me. "I have some news."

I arched an eyebrow. "Good or bad?"

"Good," Embry laughed. "I leave the bad news for Bella to bear." If only you knew, Embry.

"And that's why I pay her the big bucks. So, what's going on?"

"First, Millenials made the New York Times best-seller list last week." I felt my face light up at his words. "Second, the agency wants to sign you on for another book, with a tentative release date of October."

"Really? On what topic?"

"The first one was such a success that they'd like to see you do another financial-focused piece," he explained. "It doesn't necessarily have to be for the same demographic, although that does seem like a good niche for you."

I leaned back in my chair and glanced out the window. Embry's news should have thrilled me. It should have made me so excited that I couldn't stay seated. I was happy, but I didn't feel any of the excitement I ordinarily would.

"Talk to me, Edward. What's going on in that head of yours?"

I turned to face him and sighed. I was at the point where dumping my guts to anyone would make me feel better. Unfortunately Embry and I didn't have that kind of relationship, and I didn't want to mix business with my personal life anymore than I already had. "I'm sorry, I just have a lot on my mind. Summer is approaching and there are quite a few things going on."

"Well, there's about to be a whole lot more going on, my friend. Clear that head of yours and get it in the game."

"I will," I promised. I leaned forward and rested my elbows on the top of the desk. "What do we need to do to move on this?"

"I'll arrange a meeting with the publisher for next week," Embry explained.

"Anything I should do?"

He nodded. "Try and think of a few topics to write on. And any specific audiences you'd like to gear it towards."

"Got it." I stood and rounded the desk, slipping my hands in my pockets and looking down at my feet. Embry stood and clamped a hand down on my shoulder.

"You're not yourself today, Edward. I don't know what's eating you up, but I hope it gets easier to deal with."

"Me too. And thanks for everything, Embry. I truly am grateful. I'm just a bit preoccupied at the same time."

"You're welcome. I'll be in touch!" As soon as Embry was on the elevator, I slumped back down in my chair, rested my elbows on my knees, and dropped my head into my hands. I cringed when I looked down at my watch and saw that it was only eleven-thirty. It was then that I began to wish Bella would've given me a more specific time frame.

I sighed and sat up, turning my attention to my computer and the work that awaited me.

As much as I wished I had an answer then and there, I knew I had to be patient.

I had to hold on and I had to wait.


Bella's POV

I dialed Edward's number and hung up four different times before deciding I wasn't quite ready to talk to him. I hadn't smoked a cigarette since we were on the book tour, but my emotions were everywhere and it was the one thing I could think of that might help ease my stress.

My mind didn't clear any as I walked to one of the city's many newspaper stands in search of a pack of Camels. I purchased a cup of coffee from a neighboring vendor and stood off to the side, lighting a cigarette and taking a long drag. I sighed and tipped my head back, closing my eyes and allowing a small smile to dance on my lips. "Why did I ever give these up?"

"Because they'll kill you." I blinked my eyes open and looked in the direction the voice came from. An elderly woman sat on a bus bench, scowling and waving her hand in the air to make my smoke dissipate quicker.

"Excuse me," I mumbled. I shoved the pack of smokes in my pocket and headed off in the direction of my apartment.

I didn't know why it was so hard to make some sort of decision about Edward. I loved him, he loved me, and that meant we should be able to forgive one another for the shitty things we did and move forward, right? It wasn't like he had cheated on me or ran off with one of my friends. He'd dome something stupid months ago, but put a stop to it before it got too far along.

Or so he says, a tiny voice in my head snarked out. I sighed and took another drag from the cigarette. My whole problem was centered on the fact that a part of me – the part that had been burned by men in the past – just didn't know if trusting him was a mistake or not.

I was about to take another drag from my cigarette when I crashed into someone. I stumbled backward, falling on my ass and dropping the glowing ember. "Shit!"

A hand shot out and I grabbed on, bringing myself to my feet and brushing my palms on the front of my pants. When I looked up to thank who had helped me, I was greeted with a pair of familiar green eyes.

"I'm so sorry, Bell. I said your name about five different times. I thought you heard me." Edward reached out and pulled a piece of a leaf from my hair. I felt my cheeks flush with embarrassment and shoved my hands in my pockets.

"It's my fault. I was daydreaming."

"And smoking," he said, kicking my cigarette butt with the toe of his shoe.

I shrugged. "Stress."

"I can relate."

I took a deep breath and looked up at him again. Sadness lingered behind his features. "What brings you to this side of town?"

"You," he answered, stuffing his own hands in his pockets. "I know you said you'd call me, but when it got to be seven and I still hadn't heard from you I started to get worried. I tried calling a few times, but you didn't answer, so I decided to come by instead."

"I'm sorry about that. I was going to call you when I got back from my cigarette run," I explained. I pulled the pack from my pocket and flipped the lid back, holding it out to him. "What one?"

He shook his head and pointed to his bicep. "I'm still on the patch."

I smiled. "Nice work." I lit another cigarette and pointed in the direction of my apartment. "Walk with me?"

He returned my smile and fell into step beside me. "How was your weekend?"

I shrugged. "I've had better ones, but I'm sure you can say the same. How are you?"

"I've been better, but you already knew that." He pulled his keys from his pocket and toyed with the ring nervously. "Have you put any thought into our situation?"

"I spent all weekend thinking about it, Edward. There wasn't a moment that passed when you weren't on my mind."

"I'll take that as a good thing?"

"I'm still confused, Edward." I came to a stop in front of my apartment building and sat down on the steps. "I'm confused, hurt, and mad. I have no idea what to make of anything. I got all of this crazy news tossed at me over the course of a two day period, and now I feel like I have to hurry up and process it all and make what's going to end up being a monumental decision right away."

He took a seat next to me and blew out a loud breath. "Bella, I'm so sorry. I know I said it already, but I'll keep saying it until you see how true it is. I miss you so much."

"I miss you too," I answered, honesty evident in my voice. "And you don't have to keep saying it, Edward. I know it's true."

"Does that mean I'm at least forgiven for all of this?"

I sighed. "I don't think forgiveness is the big issue here. I mean, it's obviously something I need to do if we're going to move forward, but right now I'm just not sure I can handle the forgetting portion of the equation."

"So you think you can forgive me but you aren't sure you can forget what I did?"

I nodded. "Does that make any sense?"

"Yes and no. I'm not trying to minimize the situation, but I don't entirely understand what there is to forget." I opened my mouth to reply, but Edward continued. "I know Jasper and I should never have made a bet like we did, but it was so long ago, and we didn't go through with it. Are you struggling with forgetting about the bet itself or our shitty behavior surrounding it?"

I looked down at my hands and picked at my nail polish. "I'm struggling with forgetting the fact that you hid it from me for all these months, Edward. And if you hid something like that, then what else might you hide from me?"

He looked up at the sky and ran his fingers through his hair. "What purpose would it serve for me to tell you about the bet when we'd already nixed it? I came to the conclusion that I made a bad choice, and I did what I felt was necessary to rectify it." He turned to face me with conviction in his eyes. "I knew what I felt for you and I didn't want the bet getting in the way. I'm sorry I didn't tell you about it, but by that point it was done and irrelevant."

I wanted to say something, but I found myself at a loss for words. I hadn't thought about things from this perspective, and it only added to my confusion.

"What do you need, Bella?"

I scrunched my brows together in confusion. "For what?"

"What do you need me to say or do to make you understand how I feel? What can I do to prove to you that I would never hide something from you or do anything to intentionally hurt you?"

I sighed. "I need more time, Edward."

He raised his eyebrows. "For what?"

"To think about things," I answered.

"Really?"

I nodded. "I get a new perspective on this every time I talk to you. I don't want to jump into some decision that I may end up regretting."

He nodded and clasped his hands together. "How long do you need?"

I shrugged. "I don't know. I'd rather not put a timeline on it."

Edward sighed. "So we'll stay in limbo until something gets figured out?"

"I guess." I glanced over at him and smiled. "It's better than breaking up until something gets figured out, right?"

He rolled his eyes. "I suppose."

I stood and fiddled with the lid on my pack of cigarettes. "I'll call you this week, okay?"

Edward stood as well, shoving his hands in his pockets. "I'll be back over here if I don't hear from you."

"You'll hear from me," I promised, looking up into his eyes. I reached my hand out and ran my fingertips down his cheek and over the thin coat of stubble that had collected on his jaw. He reached up and covered my hand with his, holding it in place and pressing his face into my palm.

"I'll see you soon," he whispered, pulling away and heading off down the street.

I blinked back the tears that had collected behind my eyelids and made my way inside. Tossing my keys and cigarettes on the kitchen table, I grabbed my laptop and headed for my bedroom. A minute later I was curled up in bed, looking at airline fares and wondering how long it would be before Alice and I got saddled with our next big project.

Getting out of the city was a must.

Now I just had to decide where to go.

-=- HC -=-

"Hello?" Charlie sounded half asleep and fully annoyed. I glanced at my alarm clock and winced. It was almost two in the morning, which meant it was nearing eleven back home.

"Hi, Dad," I said, trying to sound as cheerful as possible.

"Bell? What time is it? Is something wrong?"

"It's kind of late," I admitted. "Nothing is wrong, I just couldn't sleep. Is mom awake?"

"Let me check." I heard the TV in the background, and that made me smile. I could picture him drifting in and out of sleep in his La-Z-Boy, covered by one of the flannel blankets he had tucked away in the hall closet. "Here she is."

"Bella?" Renee sounded alarmed and I couldn't blame her. "Did something happen?"

"Everything is fine, mom," I explained, pushing back the covers and sitting up in my bed. "I couldn't sleep and wanted someone to talk to."

"Jesus, you scared the crap out of your dad and I." I heard her breathe out a sigh of relief. "Don't you have work to do in the morning?"

"I'm between projects right now, although Alice will probably find something to keep me busy with."

"How's Edward?" At the mention of his name, I felt like a small knife was jabbed into my heart.

"Well, um, Edward and I are taking a little break right now," I began.

"A break? Oh, Bella, what did you do?"

"What did I do? Thanks for the vote of confidence, mom," I spat out sarcastically.

"Sorry, sorry, I didn't meant for it to come out like that. What happened?"

I took a deep breath and launched into the story, sparing no details. Renee surprised me by keeping quiet, absorbing the information and waiting until I was done before saying anything.

"What do your friends think about all of this?" she finally asked.

"Well, Rose is ready to kill him and Alice is preaching forgiveness."

"Rose is ready to kill him?" Renee laughed. "That's entertaining coming from her."

"What do you mean? She's being a good friend-"

"Bella, stop." My mom took a deep breath before continuing. "A good friend wouldn't have ambushed you like that. A good friend would have let Edward come to you and share this information with you on his terms, not hers."

"You know Rose, mom. She's very protective, especially when it comes to Alice and me. I don't think she meant any harm by the way she did things."

"Oh, please, Bella." Renee clicked her tongue. "Rosalie has always been the most self-absorbed of your whole social circle. I don't think she was looking out for either one of you when she flapped her gums like that."

"Yes, but had she not flapped her gums, I never would have known about the bet. And I think it's pretty important that I know. Don't you?"

I could almost hear her shaking her head. "Has that knowledge helped you in any way?"

"Not really," I admitted.

"From what I understand, its done nothing but make you skeptical of a situation that up until recently was perfectly fine."

"You'd be skeptical too if-"

"You're right, I would be," Renee said, cutting me off. "All of the bad experiences I had in the past would come out and rear their ugly heads. And then I'd freak out and wonder if I was making the right decision – just like you're doing now. But, had Rose not made you privy to any of this, you'd still be preparing for your move to Edward's place like nothing happened. Right?"

I sighed. "Right."

"Don't you think the bulk of your anger might be misdirected?"

"I don't know what I think," I spat out. "I don't know what I want or what to believe or what direction I should go in. I'm so confused it's ridiculous."

"Well, what do you plan on doing to change that? Sitting around and overanalyzing things isn't going to help much."

I bit my lip nervously and glanced over at my laptop. "I want to come home."

"What? To Forks?"

"Yes, to Forks. There's a flight to Sea-Tac tomorrow morning, I could rent a car and drive the rest of the-"

"Isabella Marie Swan, don't you dare buy that airline ticket!" I stopped mid-sentence and closed my mouth. "You can talk to me, you can talk to Charlie, but you're not – let me repeat, not – running away from things."

I rolled my eyes. "I wouldn't be running away, I'd be taking a break."

"Call it what you want, but I won't have a part in it this time."

"What do you mean 'this time'?"

"Every time love goes south, I find you on our doorstep," Renee said. "Seth decided he wanted to go home to Wisconsin and you came back here for a month. Ben left for Chicago and you disappeared to Forks in the middle of the night. Edward hasn't even done anything and here you are trying to come home once more. The only difference is you called this time instead of showing up without warning."

"That's so unfair," I argued. "I was planning on returning to Forks before Seth and I ended things. And Ben gave me no warning, mom. I came home from work and all of his shit was gone!"

"And you were a lot younger then too, Bell. You're almost thirty now. You have friends and a support network in the city. You don't need to come back here to clear your mind. You need to stay in New York and deal with everything like an adult."

"So what are you saying? That I'm not welcome at home?"

"Don't be silly, Bella. You're always welcome at home; just not under this exact set of circumstances."

Tears sprang to my eyes once more. I brushed them away and slammed my laptop shut in frustration. "This is so stupid."

Renee chuckled. "Someday you'll thank me."

"Whatever," I mumbled. "I'm going to bed."

"I love you, Bella, and you know that. This is just one of those things you can't run away from."

"Love you too." I clicked the phone off and tossed it on top of the sheets. With a loud sigh I fell back against the pillows and closed my eyes.

Renee had a point, even though I hated to admit it.

Forks was out of the question and I had no backup plan in place.

It absolutely terrified me, but I knew I only had one option left:

I was going to have to face my challenges with Edward head on.


Mike's POV

Thump, thump, thump.

"Isabella Marie Swan, answer the door right this minute! I know you're in there!" I continued my incessant knocking and rolled my eyes. Deadbolts clicked and the neighbor next door poked her head in the hall.

"Some of us are trying to go to sleep here!" she barked out. I stopped knocking and reached into the plastic bag that hung from my arm.

"I'm staging an intervention," I explained, holding up a pint of Ben and Jerry's. "Boyfriend problems. Give me ten more minutes to get her to let me in? It's only eight-thirty."

The neighbor's expression softened. "Ten minutes shouldn't be a problem."

"Thanks," I said, turning my attention back to the task at hand. I raised my fist to knock again, but heard another deadbolt unlatching. This time it was the one I wanted to hear.

"What the hell are you doing?" Bella spat out, flinging the door open.

" Jesus, Swan, have you showered at all this week?" I pinched my nose shut and looked my friend up and down. Her hair was pulled back in a greasy bun and dirty pajamas hung off her. I stepped forward to go inside, but she pressed her palm flat against my chest and stopped me.

"Now isn't a good time."

"Really? Judging from the look – and smell – of things, now is the perfect time." I grabbed her hand and pushed it away, stepping around her and kicking my shoes off. When I got to the kitchen, I dropped the bag on the counter and crossed my arms over my chest. "Did you and Edward formally break up?"

"No," she answered, shaking her head.

"Then what the hell is going on in here?"

"Oh, shut up Mike. It's not that bad, you're being dramatic." She crossed the room and rounded up empty Chinese take out contains and some soda cans. "Perhaps this will serve as a lesson for why you should call before showing up at my door."

"I never call, and you always maintain your hygiene. Now, you go get yourself cleaned up and I'll get this kitchen straightened out." When she didn't move, I leaned over and smacked her butt. "Scoot! This shouldn't take all night."

As Bella slumped off down the hall, I got busy collecting trash and wiping down surfaces. When Renee had phoned me two days earlier, I didn't think the situation was as bad as she made it sound. Of course I wasn't on the receiving end of her call from Bella either, but I knew she and Edward were just taking a break, which to me didn't warrant any drastic measures. Apparently Bella didn't feel that way, however. Now there I was, ready to do some serious crisis management and knock some sense into my stubborn friend before she made a mistake she'd likely come to forget.

"Happy now?" Bella reentered the kitchen with wet hair, clean clothes, and a makeup-free face. I smiled and tossed the rag I held into the sink.

"I wasn't unhappy, darling, just concerned. And this," I said, pointing at her, "is much better than what greeted me when you opened the door."

She cracked a smile and I knew I was forgiven for my unexpected drop in. "I haven't left the house all week."

"Obviously. Although I can't say I understand why. You still have a relationship; you're just on a time out from it."

"Maybe," she mumbled, crossing her arms over her chest and frowning. "We're still figuring that out."

I arched and eyebrow. "You mean you're still figuring that out?"

She looked away and nodded. "He's ready to fix things and move forward. I'm not sure it'll be that easy."

"Swan, nothing about relationships is supposed to be easy." I handed her the bag with the ice cream. "Meet me in the living room. I'll bring the spoons."

"Chunky Monkey or Phish Food?" she asked after we both were seated on the couch.

"Phish Food," I answered, catching the pint when she tossed it at me. I waited until we were a few spoonfuls in before asking any more questions. "So, what's the story behind this uncertainty?"

"I never do a good job of explaining this," she warned.

"Then it's a good thing I've got time tonight."

She sighed. "I want to believe Edward wouldn't do anything to hurt me going forward. But the fact that he already did something that had the potential to break me to pieces isn't helping me find trust."

"That's legitimate," I said. "Of course the fact that he called things off and is still with you also says a lot about whether or not he should be trusted."

"Everyone I've talked to said that. Well, everyone except Rose."

"Don't even get me started on Rose! Has she talked to you at all since last week?" Bella shook her head. "We had a nice, long talk about her completely inappropriate way of handling this situation. She owes you about fifteen different apologies."

"I think she was just trying to look out for me."

"I think you know Rosalie Smith better than that. She was looking out for herself, as always, and you ended up caught in the crossfire."

"How does exposing Edward and Jasper translate into Rose looking out for herself?"

I rolled my eyes. "She's been jealous of Edward since day one."

"Why on Earth would she be jealous of Edward?"

"He won you over, B. Your time intermingled with his, you went on that book tour, now you're moving in together; your girlfriends took the back burner and I don't think Rose could deal with that."

Bella frowned. "They didn't take the back burner though. I mean I didn't try to put anyone there intentionally."

"Sweetie, I didn't mean that in a bad way. It's part of the natural progression of relationships and maturing. Relationships eventually take precedence in life, especially when they're as serious as yours."

"I don't get it." She set her ice cream on the coffee table and stretched her legs out in front of her, resting her feet in my lap. "Rose is with Emmett, and they're happy. She spends the majority of her time with him. How is that any different than what's happening with Edward and me?"

I shrugged. "I think it's human nature. We want to have our cake and eat it too; friends at our beck and call and boyfriend waiting when we get home."

"Well, regardless of what Rosalie's intentions were, the fact still remains that Edward had no intention of doing anything but leading me on when we first started working together."

I sat in silence for a minute, trying to think of how to say the words that were floating around in my head. I knew deep down inside Bella didn't want to let Edward go. And truth be told, I didn't want her to let him go either. I'd never seen my friend as happy as he made her. No matter how their relationship began, this seemed like such a silly reason for it to end.

"Are you in love?"

"Excuse me?"

"Are you in love with him? Real love, I mean, none of that puppy dog high school bullshit you hear about."

She nodded. "Of course I am. I wouldn't have agreed to move in with him and share a life together if I wasn't."

"All worries aside, do you want to end things?"

"No," she answered after a minute. "I feel like they've hardly begun in the first place."

"Then there's your answer." I stood and collected the empty ice cream cartons. "You can work on building trust, Bella. You can iron out your expectations; you can make it clear that behavior like that won't be tolerated in the future. You can work through this. But if you end things now, I'm afraid you won't have another chance."

A dozen emotions flickered over her face. In the end, understanding was the one that remained. "I hope he hasn't given up on me yet."

"Edward doesn't give up that easy," I said with a wink, heading off toward the kitchen. Bella was close behind me.

"Should I call him?"

I shook my head. "I think this is more of an in-person type of conversation.

"Maybe I should wait until tomorrow," she said, glancing at the clock. "I'm not sure what time he works in the morning."

I shrugged. "It's already been almost a week since you initially told him you needed a break, right?" Bella nodded once more. "I don't think another twenty-four hours is going to hurt things then."

She stood on her toes and kissed my cheek. "Thank you, Mike."

"Aw, Swan, there's no need to thank me. I didn't say anything that you weren't aware of already."

"No, but you challenge me when I need it. And point out the craziness in my thinking."

"As much as I'd love to take credit for this moment, I know there was more than one person challenging you. And pointing out your craziness. I'm just glad my efforts were enough to push you over the edge and back into the sane zone."

She laughed. "I wouldn't say I'm completely sane, but moving in that direction. I'm not sure what I'd do without you and Renee."

"And I you." I pulled her against me in a big bear hug. "Get some rest, Swan. And for gods sakes, don't get all greasy before you go and make up with your boyfriend."

"Get out, Newton."

"Love you, Swan." I slipped my shoes on and blew her a kiss.

Once I was in the hall, I gave a fist pump and smiled.

I had done my part with both Bella and Rosalie.

Now I just hoped everything would go smoothly from there.


Edward's POV

"Fill it up." I pushed the empty lowball across the bar and watched as the man behind filled it with amber colored liquid. I tossed some cash at him and lifted the glass to my lips. The more I drank the easier it went down. Within seconds I had drained the contents, leaving a small pile of ice that rattled when I dropped the glass on the bar.

"Jesus, Cullen. Are you trying to break some record I don't know about?" He reached behind him for the Jack, but I held my hand up to stop him.

"I need a breather," I muttered, wiping my lips on the back of my hand and popping the first two buttons on my shirt. I hadn't been to this bar since before I started spending time with Bella, and when I took a look around I knew why. Scantily clad women lurked in every corner. And I knew it wouldn't be long before one or more of them approached me.

"Where's that sexy little pop tart you traded my bar in for?"

I scoffed and pushed my glass forward again with shaky fingers. "I need a refill if this is where the conversation is headed."

He chuckled and filled the glass once more. "Are you still with her?"

I shrugged. "That's yet to be determined," I admitted. The look of confusion on his face coupled with my drunken stupor provided enough encouragement for me to continue. "I did some stupid shit before we were 'official' and it came back to bite me in the ass. Now she needs time and space to see if things will work or not."

"Time and space, huh? That's a classic excuse my friend. Step one on the road to relationship doom."

"Thanks for the confidence," I spat out, rolling my eyes and taking a big sip of whiskey. "She needed more time to think. It's been almost four days and I haven't heard anything. How much time do I give her?"

"Fuck that, man." He grabbed a rag and started wiping down the mahogany. "Too much time means she gets too much control. I say if you don't hear from her tomorrow you walk away."

"Really?" I shook my head and rubbed my temples in an effort to clear the haze that clouded my mind. "That thought never crossed my mind."

"Leaving?"

"No, taking the reigns and giving her an ultimatum." It's about time someone talked some sense into you. The old Edward was piping up in the back of my mind.

"Hell yeah, dude. It's one thing to compromise, but lying down and becoming her doormat is an entirely different deal. You aren't a pussy, Cullen; or at least you weren't before you got paired up."

"He's not a pussy," Jasper said, dropping down on the stool next to me. "He's in a committed relationship with a woman he loves. There's a difference."

"Thank you," I mumbled. Jasper took my glass and slid it down the bar.

"What the hell are you doing here?"

"Drowning my sorrows."

"So I see. What I don't understand is why you're drinking them away?"

"Because I'm tired of sitting at home thinking about how fucked up everything is."

"Then call me or Emmett or your dad and get out of the house."

"Did you tell my parents?" I looked over at him in shock. Jasper shook his head quickly, dispelling my fears.

"No, I didn't say anything. That's up to you and Bella to share."

"Sorry, I don't know why I assumed that." I reached for my drink, but Jasper pushed it further away.

"I think you've had quite enough tonight," he said, looking at me with a sad expression. "When was the last time you talked to Bella?"

"Monday."

"What happened?"

I shrugged. "She told me she needed more time to think about things. Essentially she's forgiven me, she knows she loves me, but she doesn't know if she can forget what I've done."

"We didn't exactly do anything though. Well, we did, but we made it stop before it snowballed out of control."

"I know," I said. "I tried to explain that, but it's no use. We're on her timeline and I have to accept that."

Jasper chuckled. "I could kill Rosalie right now."

"That makes two of us." I fiddled with my napkin and stared down at the bar. "How are things with Alice?"

"Well, she's less pissed than she was last week. I think she's mostly sad for Bella."

I sighed. "How did we get into this mess?"

"Alcohol." Jasper glanced at his watch. "You ready to go? This place doesn't really fit you anymore."

I nodded. "How did you know I was here?"

"Embry."

"Ah, yes. I did mention my evening plans to him."

"I'll grab a cab while you pay?"

"I already paid, but I need to break the seal before we go."

Jasper laughed. "I'll see you outside."

I was on my way to the restroom when an attractive blonde approached me.

"What's a guy like you doing here alone?" she asked, stepping in front of me and resting her hand on my forearm. Blonde hair fell over tan shoulders, large breasts protruded from the top of her dress, and curvy hips gave way to a perfectly shaped, round ass. She had every physical attribute I loved, but her presence made me feel absolutely nothing.

"Going home," I said, trying to step around her. She stepped the same direction, however, and placed her hand flat against my chest.

"Mind if I join you?"

I cleared my throat and pushed her hand away. "I think I'll pass."

"Aw, c'mon baby. We could have so much fun together."

The old Edward would have taken the bait and been in the car with her already. Being with Bella had changed me though, and this woman's efforts seemed rather pathetic. "No thanks," I said, shaking my head. I turned and headed for the door before she could respond.

My head – and heart – were heavy as I climbed into the back of the taxi with Jasper.

I missed Bella. I missed her more than I'd ever missed someone before, including Jessica.

I wanted everything to be okay. I was willing to do anything to make things okay again.

I just wanted to find a way to get Bella back.

-=- HC -=-

At five the next night there was a knock on my door. I was nursing the tail end of my whiskey hangover and didn't feel like being social.

"Hang on," I called when the knocking didn't stop. I paused the movie I'd been watching and padded to the foyer. "What do you…" I lost my train of through when I swung the door open and saw Bella standing there.

Her eyes widened. "Do you always answer the door in your boxers?"

I chuckled. "Only when I'm hung-over and too lazy to get dressed."

"Hung-over on a Thursday? That's not normal for you. Special occasion?"

"An unsuccessful attempt to drown my sorrows," I explained. I stepped to the side and gestured behind me. "Do you want to come in?"

"Yes," she answered, walking around me and kicking off her shoes. "Even though it's only been a week I've missed this place."

"I've missed seeing you in this place," I admitted. I crossed the room and gathered up an empty pizza box.

"So…" She took a seat on the couch and crossed her legs at the knees.

"Sorry for the mess," I said, rushing to fill the uncomfortable silence. "I haven't felt much like cleaning."

"I didn't even notice," she said, meeting my eyes.

"So what's going on? I wasn't sure if I was going to hear from you."

"I'm sorry about that," she said. "I shouldn't have stretched this out as long as I did."

"It's okay, you don't owe me any apologies. You needed to take as much time as necessary to sort through things."

"Thank you for being so understanding, Edward."

"It's the least I could do given the circumstances." I rounded the coffee table and pointed to the cushion next to her. "Can I sit here?"

"Of course," she said, moving her purse to the floor. I took a seat and rested my hands in my lap. "So, I'm sure you know I came by to talk." I nodded and she continued. "I've had plenty of time to think about things, which you also know."

"Can I say something?" I blurted out.

Bella shook her head. "Please let me finish first. When Rose and Alice first told me about the bet, I was completely blindsided. Everything was going so good between us; we'd had an amazing run on the book tour and were preparing to move in together. When the girls left that night I felt like someone had pulled the rug out from under me and crashed my lovely world.

"I've been burned before in the past by men, Edward. Well, by one man in particular, and that was Ben. I believed that Ben loved me, and perhaps he did. But it shattered me when he left, and even more so when I found out he'd been planning it for months before it happened. I made myself a promise after that relationship ended that I wouldn't let just anyone in my heart again. I erected a wall, coined it impenetrable, and moved forward. Then I met you…

"I had no idea who you were that first night until Alice and Rosalie educated me. I was well aware of your reputation, and I didn't think there was much you could do that would make me even consider trusting you. Of course you somehow managed to break down that wall I built, and before I knew it I was in love, you were in my heart, and for the first time since Ben I was actually considering settling down and intertwining my life with someone.

"When I found out about the bet, my mind went straight back to Ben's departure. All I could think about was how I'd invested so much of myself in that relationship, and given my trust, only to find out he'd been betraying me for months. I know that you and Jasper ended the bet before we got serious – I've known that since Rose told me and you and I first talked – but I couldn't help but think that maybe I'd made a mistake by giving you my trust. I couldn't help but wonder if every 'I love you' was a lie, or every action a part of some carefully constructed scheme that would result in my being broken hearted once more.

"Making a bet was a shitty thing to do, Edward. I would never, ever do that to someone, no matter what the intentions were. Part of me still thinks that breaking up might be the best way to make you realize how serious something like that has the potential to be. But a bigger part of me – a part that Mike and my mom helped me discover – knows that you aren't the same Edward you were when you made that bet. And even though it might take a bit of time before I fully trust you again, I still want to be with you."

Everything I'd wanted to say when she first came in no longer mattered. My mind was now moving in one direction. "Does this mean…?"

"I love you, Edward." Her voice cracked with emotion. "I love you and I want to make this work."

My shoulders slumped with relief and it felt like a huge weight had slipped off of them. "I love you too, Bella. I love you so much." I leaned forward and wrapped my arms around her, pulling her close to me and pressing my lips against the top of her head. She ran her hands up my chest and linked her fingers behind my neck. I leaned back and looked down at her. Tears glistened in her eyes and a smile lit her face. I dropped my head down and brushed my lips against hers.

For the first time in a week it felt like things were starting to go right.

For the first time in a week I felt like I was truly home.

If I had things my way, I would never let Bella go again.


A/N: I'm a HEA kinda gal. Did I ever tell anyone that?

For those who would like to have heard more from Edward at the end there, rest assure you'll hear more in the next chapter. This one was already getting too long and I had to cut it off somewhere. He's not totally of the hook (and neither is Rosalie for that matter). And for those who wish that Bella would have put his nuts through a cheese grater, I'm sorry. I believe in forgiveness, and in my world, people don't give up on love that easily.

I have a few things. First, my senior paper is done, presented, and I passed. I still have my portfolio, but that's a lot less intimidating and hopefully less time consuming, so cheers! I'm also only interning eight hours a week in July as opposed to 20+ hours, so hooray again! More time to write!

Second, I got a new job. I start on July 8. The hours are WAY more appropriate than what I have now, which also means ... More time to write! And finish this story! And get cracking on the original fiction that I will be publishing this fall. :)

Third, I'll be at the TwiFic Meetup this coming week in Chicago, so if any of you are going there, send me a shout here or on Facebook or Twitter and we'll meet up. I'm so very excited to have a chance to put a face to the names I've come to know and love on here, and of course to spend time with some of my favorite writers and readers in the fandom. Also, WitchyVampGirl and I have a rather big announcement to make, and those who are at the meetup will be the first to hear it. So that's pretty freaking exciting too.

THANK YOU SO FUCKING MUCH FOR STICKING AROUND AND BEING HERE! Even though it took me FOREVER to get this chapter written. It means the world to me that anyone is sticking around. I hope you enjoy the rest of this story.

So much love for you all... I'll see you soon. :)

xo