Hello again! We're back, and we've moved ahead in time a bit.

Thanks to writingbabe and RandomCran for their expert editing, insightful suggestions, and most of all, their wonderful friendship.

Very special thanks go to Jediqueen77, Esq., who is serving as my legal advisor for Boxing Out. She's incredibly helpful by sharing her experiences in law school with me. I don't know what I'd do without her…undoubtedly; I'd make a lot more mistakes. Thanks, Jedi!

We're near the end here. There are three chapters to go after this one.

The next year

In the middle of a hot summer before the school year started, Bella and Edward spent almost a week at a house on the Jersey Shore that his parents had rented. Esme and Carlisle came up with some legitimate-sounding excuse for leaving early, and Edward and Bella had the place to themselves for a few days.

Their time at the beach went spectacularly well thanks to perfect weather, beautiful, cool water; and lazy yet passionate lovemaking that lasted through the nights and as long as they wanted into the mornings. During their last night in the house, they began dinner with a sentimental toast to their relationship which was less than two years old but felt as it if had been going on for years. ("We're toddlers," Bella noted.)

Edward drank almost all of his wine while Bella cooked the last side dish. He tapped his finger against the glass, and then forced himself to stop before she noticed. He had something very important to ask her, and he didn't want his nerves to tip her off.

Bella deftly slid sautéed zucchini out of a frying pan and into a serving bowl. Edward had already started eating a hamburger, and he surreptitiously eyed the vegetable – not his favorite food, but she cooked it, so he'd eat it.

Yes, my love, I'll even eat zucchini for you.

"We should move in together," she said as she sat down at the table.

Edward nearly dropped his burger. "What? What did you just say?" With his eyebrows up so high, she could see pale streaks along his eyelids where the skin never tanned like the rest of him.

"I said, we should move in together." She chose a cheeseburger from the plate and glanced at her boyfriend, concern halting her appetite. "Do you…is it too soon?"

Edward burst out laughing. "No, baby, it isn't. Not for me. I'm just stunned because I was going to ask you the same thing. Tonight. Right here. And you beat me to it."

Relief coursed through Bella faster than the wine she'd just sipped. "You were? Really?

"Yeah, I was. It's like you read my mind." He narrowed his eyes and looked her over carefully. "You can't read my mind, can you?"

"No, although I was so nervous, I wished I could just this one time." She moved back to their original topic of discussion, impatient with the distraction. "What were you going to say to me?" she asked softly.

"I was going to list the reasons why we should live together."

"Tell me. Tell me what you think they are," she asked again, urgently wanting to know.

"We're great together. You're also pretty good with my cat. We care about each other. We like and hate almost the same things, except for a few vegetables here and there. If I have to wake every day, and I plan to do that for awhile, I'd just as soon do it with you next to me, hopefully naked. I have lots of reasons." He shrugged his shoulders but then dropped the pretense of joking, unable to keep it up.

Edward took the hand of his girlfriend and simply held it. " 'But the greatest of these," he quoted, "is love.' And by that I mean, the greatest reason to live with you is the reason I've had for months of wanting to be near you or with you all the time. I love you. I love you like I know I'll never love anyone else. I love you and it consumes me, but in a good way, because I want to give it all back to you. I think you feel the same about me." He said the last sentence emphatically, but his head was tilted as if there was an unspoken question there.

She let out a small cry, overcome with emotion and relief. "Oh, I do. I love you, Edward. You have a heart that's big and as kind as anyone could have. And now that it's mine, I'll take good care of it. I'll take good care of you, too, especially when you're in school."

Edward had received his acceptance to Rutgers School of Law early in the spring, and was preparing start late in August. "It'll make a huge difference having you with me. I'll have a lot of work to do, and knowing you'll be home with after a day of ball-busting professors and classmates who look like fifth graders to me…that's what'll keep me going." He lifted her hand and kissed her tenderly.

"So when should we do this?" Edward would have been happy if she'd moved in once they returned to New York, but he knew there were other considerations.

"I can tell Angela I'll be out by the end of August. I think she'll want Ben to move in. I kind of think they've been going in that direction too."

"You sure you don't mind leaving Angela? She's a great roommate."

"She is," Bella agreed, "but she's not you. I love her, but I don't love her. And I don't want to have sex with her."

"Don't be so quick to say that." Edward got a strange faraway look in his eyes, so Bella nudged him back to earth.

"Perv. Anyway, there are some financial advantages to it as well," she said.

Edward nodded. "I've thought of that. It would help to have us live together as long as I'm not working. But I don't want you thinking that's the reason for me to do it. I want you." He kissed her hand and turned it over, tracing patterns on her palm like he'd done a long time ago in a Mexican restaurant in Greenwich Village. "Believe me, I'd marry you now if I could and start it off like I should. But I won't do that until I'm on better financial footing.

"So don't consider this a marriage proposal, only because when the time comes, I'm going to do that right. I'll ask you in the way you deserve. For now, just know that I want us to be together."

Bella teared up again at Edward's words, the promise of a future taking shape before her as solidly as the plans they were making now. It was already a hope fulfilled. She couldn't wait.

"I'm going to have little enough spare time as it is, being in law school. I want you there with me. I want to know you'll always come home to me. I want you there even when I'm studying and I can't talk to you." He was speaking faster now, his Brooklyn accent coming out thicker; a sure sign that he was nervous– not about her, but about school.

"Ssshhh," she said. "I know. I want to be with you. I want so much to help you through school, any way I can. You'll do it – I've never seen anyone smarter, or more determined," she added, "but you can count on me for whatever you need."

"Come here," he said, pulling her out of her chair and on to his lap. "I'm being selfish, baby, make no mistake. It's not going to be easy."

Bella smiled. "No, it won't. But it'll be worth it. "

She and Edward toasted their decision and took to their bed, enjoying each other instead of dessert. It was a late night that lasted into the morning even though they had to clear out of the rental by 10 a.m. Bella thought it was worth every yawn.

Then autumn arrived, bringing with it scarlet and amber leaves, Edward's first semester, and an incredibly shrinking kitchen table.

About 80 percent of the surface was always covered with law school stuff, even during meals. At the moment, notebooks, textbooks, photocopies, the occasional non-fiction, law-related paperback; and the remains of a long-departed meal were spread over the table. Bella had to push aside one small mountain to set down the plates for dinner.

She'd returned to Brooklyn late from work tonight, and Edward was studying in the kitchen. Or reading...he could have been reading. Maybe he was doing research. Whatever the particular activity, it was related to one or more of his classes. He never did anything else, or so it seemed to Bella. She did her best to remain stoic, but it was hard not to grind her teeth when she walked into the apartment and saw clothes left in every room, more stacks of papers and books, empty coffee cups and soda bottles, and all kinds of food debris.

He often sat at the same place at the table, in front of the laptop, with the same tired frown he'd had for countless days and nights. She wished he'd take a breather every now and then. Even sleep was a luxury that he could only afford for 3 or 4 hours, if that. Enjoyment of anything else except food, coffee and an occasional beer was shunned like the Celtics.

On his first day of school, he kissed Bella goodbye and said he'd see her at Christmas. She had no idea at the time that he wasn't kidding.

Tonight, she hung up her coat and dumped her purse and tote bag on the living room couch. She kicked off her heels and slid into a more comfortable pair of fleece slippers. With a deep breath, she braced herself and brought the bag of groceries into the kitchen.

"Hi," she said cheerfully.

Edward was typing at lightning speed on his laptop. He finished a sentence or two, then looked up. "Hi," he said, without changing expression.

Bella kissed the top of his head - the kind of thing which had always prompted a smile before, but Edward barely acknowledged it this time. His hair had grown out quickly since he was no longer on the police force. Gone was the buzz cut; the coppery strands were now a few inches long, and they stuck out or flopped over his head haphazardly. She ran her fingers through them as she glanced at the screen.

Article Three, and especially, its initial words, created a federal judicial system. "The judicial power of the United States shall be vested..."

Bella made a face that Edward couldn't see and turned away. She removed the items from the grocery bag and set most of them out on the counter. Edward was always happy enough to leave the meal planning to her, but lately, he was far more apathetic about it.

He seemed content to also leave other things to Bella and her own devices. She thought back to the romantic time they'd had at the beach, when they decided she should move into his place. The desire to be with Edward, to share all their moments outside of work and school, had been enormous. It rose like a beautifully colored hot air balloon but then deflated too soon, with an abrupt return to earth.

"Imagine," he'd said to her in the beach house bedroom, driving her over the edge to yet another orgasm, "imagine that we can do this any time we want."

Except they couldn't. Law school had to be the biggest cock blocker ever.

Sex had fallen way down on Edward's list of priorities. Bella had been through graduate school so she had some idea of what he was going through. But law school was even more intense; he had more courses in a semester than she did, and the pressure from his professors and the entire law school environment was enormous. Every minute of every day was committed to class, homework, research or some other assignments.

All the words that they'd spoken when they agreed to live together still held true, of course. But everything they'd talked about when school was theoretical was now their life. Reality had not just surpassed expectation; it had crashed into it and mowed it down like one of those signs you'd see on a lawn during election season.

Bella was shell-shocked and trying to adjust, but this was something she had to do without her soul mate. It was the exact kind of frustration she'd talk out with Edward, who would inevitably help her find her way through it. Of course, she couldn't do that when he was the source of what was bothering her was the defendant in her imaginary lawsuit. I'd charge negligence.

Again, she tried to avoid thinking of another two and a half years of this. Maybe the next year won't be as bad…and maybe the Mets will win the World Series.

Bella cut up pieces of chicken breast and dredged them through flour mixed with garlic powder, then tossed them one by one into a frying pan. She sautéed garlic and onions in another pan, then added pureed tomatoes and basil to the mixture. Yet another pot held boiling water for pasta, their go-to dinner when they couldn't figure out, or afford, anything else.

She dumped half a box of penne pasta in the water, and then returned her attention to the chicken, turning the pieces of meat so they browned evenly. The makeshift tomato sauce bubbled merrily. While everything cooked, she stacked up papers and books that lay in the middle of the table to clear space for dinner.

Edward read and typed, read and typed.

"Is broccoli okay?" she asked.

He frowned.

"Edward?" she said, a little louder.

"Sure," he answered absently. He combed through a small pile near his laptop, going through it several times before throwing his hands up in annoyance.

Finally, he'd come out of the fog, but he was still focused on something she couldn't see. He looked around frantically until his gaze settled on a book that Bella had relocated to an empty chair. With a huff, he reached over and pulled it off the pile.

"Don't move my stuff," he snapped.

She turned around, the chef's knife in her hand waving through the air. With great effort, she bit back her own anger and frustration. "I had to make room to eat."

"Well…just…don't do that unless you check with me. You moved my Bluebook, and I can't lose that. I need it next to me all the time," he said, his tone still clipped and angry.

Bella pressed her lips together and violently chopped the broccoli. She dumped the florets in a steamer, all the while thinking of the things she wanted to say, and needed to say, but feeling certain this wasn't the time for it. Instead, she took a deep inhale of air – a cleansing breath – and reminded herself that Edward wasn't himself right now.

Whoever he was, she hoped that guy was getting good grades.

When the food was ready, Bella gently tapped on the back of the laptop screen of Edward. "Hey. Why don't you set that aside for a bit and eat dinner with me?"

Edward inhaled and rubbed his eyes, then shut the laptop. He yawned, huge and loud. "That sounds good."

She set an empty plate in front of him, and then put down the platter with the chicken and pasta and a bowl of steamed broccoli. "When was the last time you ate?"

Edward shrugged. "Umm…I think around noon. No, wait…I had some chips a few hours ago."

Bella shook her head. "That's not good. You've been living on junk food and coffee for weeks."

He smiled ruefully. "I think they're part of the curriculum." She pushed the platter of chicken toward him and he stabbed a few pieces with his fork to move them to his plate.

Silence settled so thoroughly in the kitchen that the only noises were their forks on their plates and Mookie's occasional meowing. The cat never failed to miss an opportunity to beg. Edward ignored him, too.

I wonder if Mookie feels as lonesome as I do. He often sat on her lap, and usually crawled into bed with her while Edward remained awake to study.

She thought about her day at work, reviewing tasks she'd finished and considering everything that waited for her tomorrow. Rosalie had stopped by to chat during her lunch hour. Bella realized that aside from her own secretary, Rose could be the one human she communicated with the most at this point. Her mind wandered to the train ride home, where she'd seen a young couple wrapped around each other at the back of the car. Normally, she'd just smile indulgently, but tonight she had to look away. It sharpened the loneliness and made her feel all the worse because she had a lover but he had vanished in almost every way that mattered.

"Hey," Edward said.

"Huh?"

"Where'd you go?" He smiled, a beautiful sight that brought her right back to where they were.

"I was just thinking about my day." She pushed the last of her pasta around on her plate.

He reached for her hand. "I'm sorry I snapped at you."

"I know you're stressed, Edward." She couldn't bring herself to say, It's okay, because it wasn't. She waited to see where he was going with this.

"Yeah. I shouldn't take it out on you, though."

Bella nodded in emphatic agreement.

"I didn't mean it. I'm just beat. I'll try to remember it's not your fault." Edward smiled again, though it was more tired than before. "Do you want to do anything this weekend?"

"Don't you have to study?"

"Yeah, but I could take a break for a few hours." He shrugged. "We could maybe go to my parents', or even out to dinner."

Bella exhaled loudly. "Thing is, I figured you'd be busy so I made plans with Rose and Alice."

Edward nodded casually, but Bella caught the downward cast of his eyes. "Yeah, okay. "

"I could cancel."

"No, no, don't do that. We'll find another time."

"Can we go on Sunday?"

"I have a study group on Sunday. I have to meet them at the school library."

"Oh." She rubbed her forehead. "Look, really, I can go out another weekend. You're always studying-"

"Yeah, that's why I figured I'd take a break for a few hours on Saturday. Spend it with you." It came out harsh, so Edward hastily followed up. "Don't worry about it. I don't want you turning into one of those women who only sees her friends when her guy isn't around," he said with another slight smile.

Then I'd practically be living with Rose or Alice instead of you. Again, Bella bit the words back. She knew he was trying.

She didn't want to add to his burden right now, but she also didn't want to be something on his checklist, somewhere between meeting with a professor and reading another court decision. Bella began gathering the dishes from the table so she could wash them. "We'll find another time to do it. Do you want me to make a pot of coffee for you again tonight?"

On Saturday, she left late in the morning to take a subway to Carroll Gardens, where she planned to meet Rose and Alice at a small café. For once, Edward was still asleep. She'd tossed and turned alone in bed, dislodging Mookie again and again, until she felt Edward slide under the covers around 4 a.m. She didn't have the heart to wake him when she got up around 9. Whatever he had to do, he'd do it better with extra sleep.

"Hey Bella!" Alice's pretty face broke out into a big smile as she waved from the middle of the room. There was a mix of tables and chairs, most of them set up to accommodate no more than a few people, so Rose had pushed two of them together. The tiny café smelled of late breakfast entrees and early lunch sandwiches. The grill was already working overtime.

"How are you, sweetie?" Rose masked her concern behind her usual lovely smile. Whenever she and Bella talked lately, Bella's remarks about Edward were all the same: how busy he was, and how he was tackling law school full force. Rose could see that Bella was feeling replaced in his life, and it was an unexpected and unwelcome sensation.

"I'm good. I'm glad to see the both of you!" Bella nearly drowned in the relief of being among friends who were animated, happy, and seemingly aware that she was another living, breathing human being.

The last time Bella had seen Alice was months ago, right before Edward started school. The guys played basketball while Alice, Rose and Bella walked around Greenwich Village and stopped at several pubs. By the time the pick-up games were done, Bella and Alice were slightly drunk. Rose, who had the fortitude of a tank, steered them all back to the Fourth Street Courts. Since Bella's apartment was the largest living space any of them had, the whole group wandered over there after the game. Angela was away for the weekend so they cooked a huge, not entirely by-the-cookbook Indian dinner. The entire day was full of laughs and completely free of stress. Bella couldn't remember a fun time since then. It was as if the joy clock stopped right after that dinner.

"How's it going?" Alice asked. Her eyebrows were drawn together in sympathy, which was a sure sign that Bella was walking around with a frown. Bella shrugged her shoulders.

"Edward's consumed with school." She scowled and looked through the front window of the shop. "Or is it consumed by school? Which is right?"

Rose, who had been studying the menu, shook her head. "Anyone can tell you've been living with a student. Does he think about anything else?"

"Not much," Bella said. The waiter came to their table, and Bella ordered a Bellini as well as a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich on a bagel. She was craving alcohol and grease.

Alice ordered an egg white omelet. She looked sympathetically at Bella. "Jasper was in graduate school at night when we met. That lasted for a couple of years. He was working during the day. I felt like I never saw him." She rubbed Bella's shoulder, trying to be comforting.

"And when you did, it was like he wasn't even with you?"

"Pretty much."

"What did you do?" Bella picked at a basket of warm bread the waiter had left on the table.

"Rode it out. There was nothing else I could do. It meant a lot to Jasper, and to be honest, to our future, too. He'd get a better job with better pay once it was all over. I knew that, I just had to keep reminding myself."

To the right, a young couple sat with a baby who was just learning to talk. The man, who Bella assumed was the father, had a toy with a bell in it that he kept ringing for the little boy, who laughed in delight. Bella watched the unique joy shared between them, the secret communication that came easily when a child was so young, and she longed for the day she would have that for herself. And with Edward. She wished she could leapfrog over the now and go directly to the future.

"Edward's doing this for you," Alice added pointedly.

Bella stopped sipping the Bellini and looked at Alice in surprise. "No, he isn't. He wants this for himself. He decided he didn't want to be a policeman anymore."

"Oh, he wanted out of law enforcement, sure." Alice waved her hand. "But he's also thinking of your future – as in, the one you two will have together."

Alice was right, and for some reason that irritated Bella more than anything. "I realize that, Alice. It's just a little hard to take right now, you know? Considering I'm already getting stressed over the whole situation and it's his first semester," she snapped.

Her friend held her hands up in a "backing off now" gesture. "Okay, okay."

Bella slumped against the back of the chair. She drank half the Bellini before speaking. "I'm sorry. You're right. You're absolutely right. I just feel like a shit because I promised Edward I'd be supportive, and now I resent him for it."

Alice shrugged. "That's normal. It's hard to know exactly how a few years of hard-core school are going to go until you're in the middle of it."

"What am I going to do?"

Her friend gestured to Bella's Bellini with her own drink. "Have a few more of those."

"Why are you hiding out so much?" Rose cut in. "We hardly see you, and I know what you're not doing with your live-in."

"Don't even get me started on that," Bella groaned. "I go right home from work. I read or clean on weekends. Talk to Edward's family, or mine. Play with the cat. You know. Stellar stuff."

"You're not staying at home with Edward because you feel like you have to, are you?" Rose asked the question in a tone that always let you know she'd guessed the answer.

"No, I really don't. I don't know. I guess I don't feel like I'm very good company."

"Look, Edward might be tied to the books but you're not. He's not the type to begrudge you a good time if he has to study."

"I know that," Bella murmured. "I guess I feel like I want to offer some kind of support, even if we don't talk as much or he barely knows I'm there." She sighed. "I don't even think about it, to tell you the truth. I just…stay home."

"You're in a rut," Rose advised. "But that's changing as of today."

Bella squinted at her friends and then leveled her pointing finger at them. "Did he put you up to this?"

"No," Rose answered firmly. "I see you practically every day at work. For a good long time, you were sad. Then you were so happy I thought I'd never have to worry about you again. Now you're practically back to where you were."

"I'm sorry, Rose-"

"Don't apologize," her friend admonished her. "Just remember it's okay to live while Edward's slaving away. Doesn't make you a bad girlfriend. And it doesn't mean you have to ignore him. If you do half of everything you're doing now, you're still a damn good girlfriend. You can't help him study, so you just as well live your life."

The more Bella pondered Rose's advice, the more she realized her friend was right. She was acting like a hermit, almost as much as she had before meeting Edward; and she needed to shake loose from it before she started to resent him for that, too. She wondered why hibernating had become her default setting. It could have been loyalty to Edward, who was tethered to his books; or it could have been that she'd never lived with a boyfriend before and in some naïve way assumed they were supposed to do everything together, which in this situation meant staying home a lot.

She texted him to let him know she'd decided to spend the day with Rose and Alice, and that there were some leftovers in the refrigerator for dinner. Bella made no mention of what time she would be home.

The three of them took a train into Manhattan and wandered through famous retail neighborhoods on Madison and Fifth avenues. Bella felt lighter, laughing and walking with her friends, peering into windows or stepping into shops where they had no intention of spending money. Their trip to Barney's flagship store on Madison Avenue was like a comedy show. Rose and Alice insisted they try on anything that caught their eye, although between the three of them, they'd barely be able to afford to buy socks.

Alice found some outrageous outfits for Bella, who couldn't stop giggling at the high-fashion concepts that were draping her body. She handed Bella a tie-dyed maxi dress with thin straps that came down to a "v" across the front of the dress, which was unlined. The halter design made her breasts point in different directions. The price tag said $3,200.

"Shit, Alice! I could've bought one of these on the boardwalk at the Jersey Shore for like $25," Bella yelled.

"Shhhh," Alice said, looking around. The sales assistants here weren't known for their tolerance. "But it wouldn't have this cache, would it?"

Bella was about to make a cash joke but stopped herself. "Hey, it's getting late. Let's get some dinner and then head home."

By the time she returned to the apartment, it was nearly 8 o'clock. She hadn't heard from Edward after she texted him, which didn't surprise her. He probably did school work from the moment he got up in the morning.

She slid the key into the lock and swung the door open, and was greeted by a much cleaner living room than the one she remembered from earlier today. There was still plenty of paper, but it had been arranged in neat stacks on the bookshelves and coffee table. The hoodies and jackets were gone from the furniture; and several pair of shoes which had been left on the floor for weeks had disappeared.

Bella was shocked but pleased. She'd been picking up a lot of everything lately, most of it Edward's, only to see it all reappear within a day or two. Everything seemed put away now; the bed was made and she could see the entire floor surface in the bedroom, which had also been covered in clothes. Edward had developed a habit of kicking everything off and leaving it where it fell as he crashed into bed.

The kitchen light spilled out into the hallway in a triangle-shaped wedge against the wall. Bella walked into the kitchen and her eyes immediately scanned the room for Edward. She was momentarily distracted by the table, which was clean except for a couple of books and his laptop, which was closed.

He was at the sink, washing something she couldn't see, so his back was to her. With the water running, he probably didn't hear her, either.

"Hey," she called out.

Edward turned around quickly. "Hey, you're home." He wiped his hands on a dish towel. "Did you have a good time?"

"Really nice." She pulled out a chair and sat down, suddenly feeling very tired after walking around two boroughs of New York City. "Alice and Rose say hi. They were asking about you."

"Yeah, I can picture how that conversation went." He was smiling, his face more relaxed than she'd seen it in weeks, but his eyes watched her tentatively.

"It wasn't as bad as you might think."

"That's good. I imagine you'd have a lot to talk about."

"We did," she acknowledged, "but mostly we did a lot of girl stuff. I haven't done that in a long time. It was fun."

"That's good, sweetheart." Edward pulled out a chair and placed it close to her before sitting down. "I just finished cleaning up from my dinner when you walked in. It's still early. Let's go for a walk." His hands hung loosely off the arms of the chair, his fingers intertwined. He peered at her intently, a look as full and weighty as the apology he was trying to convey.

"Are you sure you can?" It was a reflexive answer, one she no longer even thought about before speaking.

"Yes. I did a lot of work earlier today. I can spare a few hours." He unlaced his fingers and took her hand. "I miss you. A lot."

"I miss you too."

"Then let's go."

Edward took her coat off the coat rack in the hallway and held it out so she could slip her arms into it. He grabbed his ancient leather jacket and put it on before opening the door.

They stepped out into a perfect, crisp fall night. Bella shivered with pure pleasure. Months ago, a walk wouldn't have been a big deal. Now, it was a gift, and it reminded her that she still held an important place in Edward's head and heart.

Ahead of them, a small group of kids hollered to each other as they rolled along on skateboards. Streetlights flooded the sidewalk and road with welcome illumination. Edward silently took her hand and held it, his own warm and relaxed.

"So what did the three of you do today?"

"We had a late breakfast, then we went into Manhattan and did a lot of shopping."

"Yeah? Did you get anything?"

"No, just food," she said, laughing. "We went to a lot of expensive stores and tried on a ton of clothes and shoes, but it was all for fun."

"You have good restraint," he said. She could hear the smile in his voice.

"Yeah, well, Alice picked out everything, and she has some weird taste. She knows fashion, but that doesn't mean it's anything I'd wear. I mean, we spent a ton of time in Barney's. It's not like I can buy anything there anyway."

"Someday," he said, then repeated more softly, "someday, you will."

Surprised, she didn't reply at first. "That's not what's important to me, Edward."

"Oh, I know. I know that real well." He put his arm around her and squeezed. "I think, sometimes, I'd like to know you can. You don't have to. If you'd rather go to Target, that's good. But if you want to go to Barney's, then you should be able to buy clothes there, too."

"There are a few stores between Barney's and Target," she teased.

"Whatever you want," he said, still quiet.

They were silent as they neared the corner, and Edward turned them to the right.

"Bella, I'm sorry I've been so selfish lately." He walked at a slow but steady pace and looked at his shoes.

"Edward, you're in law school. We knew this would-"

"No," he interrupted her. "Let me say this. I know we talked about it. I know we expected something like this, but I honestly never thought I'd turn into a dick. That wasn't part of the deal, as far as I'm concerned."

"I don't think you're a dick," she protested.

"But I do. I don't like myself right now, but I'm not sure what I can do about it. I'm stuck in this law school vortex, and not only is it turning me into a studying drone, it's making me ignore the most important person in my life."

"I'm not sure there's much you can do about it. You can't not study."

"I know," he replied, and that tone of impatience was back in his voice. Bella thought he might be half a block away from snapping at her. "Believe me, if I could figure out another way to do it, I would. You know, like download all the books and papers directly into my brain. But I can't. And it's been a long time since I've been a student, so it's like I have to work twice as hard to get the hang of it."

Bella slowed her pace until she stopped in front of some row homes. "So what are you saying, then? Do you want to stay with it?"

"Oh yeah, I'm getting the degree. It was the right idea; it's just not exactly as smooth as I thought it would be. I mean, I knew it would be work, but…shit." He stubbed the toe of his sneaker into the sidewalk over and over before tilting his head to face her. "What I'm saying is, I'm sorry. For now, and for everything to come. I know it's not easy."

Finally, it all clicked. Bella wished she'd seen it sooner; it would have made it easier on both of them. He'd been carrying around his own worries about their situation, in addition to school. Hearing of his regret lightened her own stress and worry, and not for the first time, Bella realized that Edward had known what was going on inside her, even if he didn't say anything until this moment.

She grasped his arms below the elbow, then worked her way up until her hands were wrapped around his shoulders, kneading the soft leather of the old jacket. Before she spoke, she thought hard about what she wanted to say.

"I think we might face a lot of tough spots in our life together. We should get used to it. The big thing is to talk about it like this," she said. "Because I feel better already just hearing what you have to say about it, and that you miss the freedom you had before, and all the time we were able to spend with each other."

"Yeah, I think so, too. And I realized you might be waiting for me to say it." His expression loosened into something Bella recognized as pre-law Edward, before he'd started school: happy, relaxed, and expectant in the way of someone who liked his life and had mostly good things happen during the course of it.

Bella now grabbed the lapels of his jacket and pulled him closer, pouring all her love and relief into a fierce kiss. His lips were warm as they met hers; the tip of his nose was cold as it brushed her cheek, and she giggled. The normalcy of it – of being with Edward with no schedule or agenda, just the two of them talking - made her feel elated.

He put his arm around her and pulled her close, then kissed the top of her head. "I couldn't do it without you. I really mean that. I know I don't always say it or show it, but knowing you're coming home every night to me, and then seeing you walk through the door…and you hardly take any time for yourself. You're the one doing the dinner, you make sure I have everything I need that I forget to ask for. Even clean underwear." He stopped, and this time it was Edward who put his hands around Bella's shoulders. "It's so uneven right now between me and you, but I swear I'll make it up to you. I will."

"Okay. I'll remember that," she teased him.

"Good, because at the end of the semester, I'll have exams to deal with."

"Oh God. How can it get any worse for you?"

"Like this: my grade in just about every class is based completely on how I do on the final."

"That's insane."

"It is, but them's the rules." He looked up at the sky, maybe imagining the stars that he couldn't see from the sidewalk of a dense city. They were up there, though; you just had to believe in their existence even if you couldn't see them. "It's why I'm working so hard. I'm trying to make it all stick so it'll be easier – maybe – at exam time."

"It'll pay off, Edward. It has to."

"I figure at least by then, I'll have a better handle on how to make this work. I just hope you don't lose faith by then." He stared at her intently with a look that said he wasn't kidding.

"I won't. All I need from you is a promise that I can ask you for some time now and then, and you'll give it to me."

"I will," he said solemnly. "In fact, I think I can give you some now."

She caught his meaning. It had been on her mind, too.

"Yeah, we've talked enough. Let's go home," she said.

Our home, they thought.

!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!

I'm very sorry I wasn't able to respond to all reviews this time. I really hate when that happens. Please know I read and appreciate all your thoughts and comments.

A Bluebook, I'm told, is a law student's Bible. It's a style guide that provides the uniform system of legal citations for most courts in the United States. When Edward, or any other law student, needed to know anything (such as the correct font for legal documents, or when italics should be used) he'd find it in the Bluebook.

Thank you for reading! See you next time.