A/N: Epic fail, you guys. I know. I spoke way too soon. Are you still with me? If you're reading this, you must be. So thank you so much for being here! Life, you know? It interrupts the fun things.

Pinkaquaclouds and lyleslove are the bestest for putting up with me and my wordiness.

Also, it might not be a bad idea to go back and skim the last chapter...


Chapter 23: Clutch Me If You Can

The day Bella must leave campus for Thanksgiving break is a gloomy one at best.

The cold, rainy weather is a direct reflection of her somber mood, nature choosing to mourn her temporary loss of college life.

"Thanks for the ride, Em," Bella says, climbing out of the car. "And thanks for not killing us on the way."

"Oh, come on," Emmett protests. He opens the trunk and pulls out a small purple suitcase. "I was barely pushing 60!"

"In a tiny college town, you psycho!"

"Admit it. I just gave you the ride of your life." He smirks, setting the suitcase on its wheels with a flourish.

Bella rolls her eyes, trying not to laugh as she grabs the handle. "See you after Thanksgiving, okay?"

The lobby of Edward's apartment building is familiar to her now, as is the walk to the elevator. She must have taken it dozens of times over the past few months, enough times to safely do it with her eyes closed.

The elevator doors chime as they open on Edward's floor, and Bella steps out, resisting the urge to skip cheerily to his door. His apartment is at the end of the long hall, and she walks quickly, overcome with girlish excitement.

Her happy bubble bursts only seconds later, when another door opens and unleashes Irina.

Both girls freeze in their tracks and stare at each other in surprise.

Bella instantly feels sick to her stomach at the sight of Irina, and she feels herself blanch. After weeks of perfect avoidance, the inevitable was bound to happen. Bella can't believe she forgot that Irina lives on the same floor as Edward. Nevertheless, she's not ready for this.

Irina's face is blank as she eyes Bella from head to toe, a seemingly bored look on her face. But when she meets her gaze, her eyes are flashing with hostility.

Bella sucks in a deep breath and looks away, clenching her jaw. Edward told her that she shouldn't let Irina intimidate her, and she mentally repeats his words like a mantra.

Thankful for the wide hallway, Bella steps to the side and walks past Irina, half expecting to be tripped or grabbed. When Irina doesn't say a word and doesn't move, the relief Bella feels is sweet… but painfully brief.


Irina's voice sounds like ice, sending an unpleasant jolt through Bella. She turns slowly and warily, preparing herself to stare down the barrel of a gun.

Irina has her arms folded over her chest, but she is projecting discomfort rather than hostility.

"Do you have a minute?" she asks reluctantly. The words are forced, as though she must push them through a verbal barrier of hatred.

Bella looks away uncomfortably. "I actually have a flight to catch, so…"

"I'll be quick," Irina adds hastily, but there is an air of annoyance in her tone.

Bella is in no mood to hear anything Irina has to say, but she finds herself realizing that it's probablybest to get this conversation over with.

Bella shoves her hands into the pocket of her sweatshirt and waits. She hopes her expression looks expectant and not like she's about to cough up the contents of her stomach.

Irina blows out a puff of air and opens and closes her mouth twice before actually speaking.

"Look," she says matter-of-factly. "I don't hate you, if that's what you're thinking." Bella's look of disbelief makes her continue hastily, "I don't. I hate what you did to him."

Immediately, Bella's stomach sinks and she doesn't feel mentally or emotionally ready for this conversation. Nevertheless, a flare of anger shoots through her.

"I get it," Bella says sharply. "I get that you care about him, and I get that you don't want to see him get hurt again, but please. Please don't act like you know the whole story, and don't act like you know what we went through."

She is a ticking time bomb, all of her feelings towards Irina pushing words out of her mouth with enough passion and hurt to heat the space between them.

Irina looks surprised. "I'm not doing any of that."

"You are," Bella argues. "It's so blatantly obvious. The dirty looks you give me, the way you keep trying to get him to change his mind-"

"I'm making sure he knows what he's doing," Irina says defensively. "It's my job as one of his best friends, especially considering that I'm the one who fixed him."

Bella flinches. "He didn't need fixing. He was hurt, but he wasn't broken."

"Really?" Irina says, raising a brow. "Because 'broken' is the word he used."

The words sting, but Bella tries not to let them faze her.

"All I need to know," Irina says, "is that you're not going to hurt him again. That's all."

Bella opens her mouth to say she won't, but something stops her.

How does she know? How does she really, truly know that something won't happen that would cause either of them to be hurt again? How does she know they'll last forever?

The truth is that she doesn't. She has no way of knowing.

But one thing that she does know, down to her very core, is that she loves him.

She loves him harder than she ever thought it was possible to love someone, and she'd do anything to show him that.

"There will be moments," Bella says, "where we will fight and say things we don't mean and get mad at each other. There will be moments that are really tough. But we love each other, Irina, and you need to understand that our relationship is none of your business. I hope you understand that."

The silent moment stretches on, and Irina stares at her for a long moment. Eventually, her shoulders drop in resignation. "That's a lot like what Edward told me."

"That's because we feel the same way about this," Bella says, crossing her arms. "You need to respect that."

Irina opens her mouth to speak, but is interrupted by the sound of a door opening.

Bella turns to see Edward stepping curiously into the hallway. He freezes when he sees the two girls, his eyes flitting between them with concern.

"I thought I heard your voice," he says to Bella, although his slightly narrowed eyes are on Irina. She stares back impassively.

The moment Bella sees Edward, her entire body relaxes and she momentarily forgets Irina's presence. His arrival erases every worry and anxiety from her mind and fills her with an incomparable sense of safety and security.

It's easy to smile at him, and he looks away from Irina to smile back.

"I was just about to knock," Bella says.

"What stopped you?" he replies, and he glances at Irina again. There is something accusatory in his gaze.

Irina rolls her eyes. "Don't give me that look. I didn't leave a scratch."

Edward scowls, and Bella cuts in, "We just had a chat. That's all."

She takes his hand, feeling oddly empowered doing so in front of Irina. His shoulders relax at her touch.

Holding his hand only makes her feel stronger, and much easier to say what she says next.

"I hope we understand each other, Irina. This was the only time I'm ever going to have this conversation with you."

With that, Bella pulls Edward into the apartment and shuts the door. She sags against it, feeling drained of energy.

"That went well," she says sardonically.

The worried crease between Edward's brows doesn't disappear, and he continues to search her face in concern.

"I'm okay," Bella assures him, wrapping her arms around his torso. "We were civil. I told her to back off, and I think she gets it."


Bella looks up at him, chin on his chest, and watches his eyes narrow in suspicion. "That was too easy."

"Let's not talk about her now. My flight leaves-" Bella pulls away and groans when she sees the clock in the kitchen. "Way too soon. Damn it, Irina."

"I'm sorry I couldn't pick you up this morning," Edward says regretfully. He runs a hand through his wet hair. "My alarm couldn't pervade the depth of my dreams." His eyes suddenly shine with new emotion, the bright green reminding her of sunshine filtering through a canopy of leaves.

"I dreamt of you," he says, smirking slightly. He needs a haircut, Bella thinks distractedly, pushing locks off damp hair off his forehead.

"What did you dream?" she asks. "Was I doing something stupid?"

Edward shakes his head, still smirking, and shrugs. "I wouldn't classify it as stupid. Uninhibited, perhaps." He eyes her for a moment. "When does your flight leave?" he asks urgently. "Six?"

Bella barely finishes nodding before Edward sticks his fingers into her belt loops, walking backwards and pulling her with him.

"Where are you taking me?" Bella asks with a laugh.

"Bedroom," Edward says nonchalantly. "I'm curious as to whether or not I can transform this dream into reality."

His words make Bella's stomach flip flop with nervous excitement. Being this way with him always does, always manages to push just the right buttons.

Edward kisses her when they reach his door. "I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I miss you already."

Bella smiles sadly. "It's only for a weekend. It'll fly by. I promise."

Edward smiles, pulling her by the belt loops again. "Bella Swan: forever the optimist to my realist."

"Someone's gotta keep a balan- hey!" Bella laughs as Edward tosses her onto the bed. He grins and straddles her, one hand by her head and the other on her hip.

"What was that you were saying?" Edward teases. "Someone's got to keep a balance? You seem to be severely lacking in that area."

Bella rolls her eyes, smiling to hide how much his confidence turns her on. Edward reaches down and kisses her neck, and it takes everything in her to push him away.

"We don't have time," she says sadly. She winds her fingers in his soft hair, still slightly damp, and breathes in his clean scent.

Edward glances at the digital clock on his nightstand. "Let's see," he says. "Your flight leaves at six, right? That means we have approximately twenty minutes to make out, ten to make ourselves presentable and get down to the car, an hour and fifteen minutes to drive to the airport, all with time to spare for airport obligations and goodbye kisses."

Bella raises a brow in skepticism. "Sometimes I wonder if you're actually able to calculate this stuff, or if you just make it up as you go along."

Edward pretends to look offended. "Are you questioning the level of my intelligence?"

"Me?" Bella touches a hand to her heart in mock surprise. "Why, I'd never!"

Edward narrows his eyes and leans in, his face so close to hers that her eyes cross. She sticks her tongue out, making a goofy face.

"Eighteen minutes remain," Edward says in an ominous tone. "Our lips must reunite immediately."

That's the only cue Bella needs to reach up and press her mouth against his. Their kisses are soft but passionate, the gentleness of lovers savoring every last moment.

Suddenly, the reality of their impending separation hits her. Bella can't imagine being away from this for three days, can't imagine not tasting and feeling him for that long.

"I don't want to leave," she says, the words coming out in whimpers against the assault of his mouth.

"Then don't."

"I have to."

Edward is the one reassuring her now, "Three days. Seventy two hours, more or less. You'll survive. Not sure I can say the same for myself…"

"I'm going to have withdrawals."

"Don't worry about that now," he whispers against her collarbone. "I'm here now."

He's here.

He's here, and he's everywhere.

Bella gets lost to the feel of him against her, how the fabric of his clothes rubs against hers in the most teasing manner.

Suddenly, with her impending departure looming over her, Bella is consumed with desperation.

She crashes her lips against his with a force painful enough to make him wince as their teeth collide. Ignoring the throbbing in her lips and gums, she grabs two fistfuls of his hair, pulling him impossibly closer.

Her mouth ravages his with an incomparable violence that just barely expresses how much she needs him. Leaving him, leaving this, becomes an unfathomable thought, a thought so excruciating that tears prick at her eyes.

Edward pulls away from her, gasping, and stares down at her. His lower lip is swollen and his eyes are pools of the most enticing mixture of lust and worry.

"You okay? Why are you crying?"

"I'm not."

The second she says it, she feels wetness crawl down her temple.

"Goddamnit," Bella says, shoving the heels of her palms into her eyes. "Something is wrong with me."

Edward pulls her hands away and leans his forehead against hers. "Stop thinking about it."

Stop thinking about it stop thinking about it stop thinking about it stop thinking about it…

Pushing the thoughts aside at the same time she pushes herself up, Bella suddenly finds herself straddling Edward.

Maybe if she sits on him, he can't get away.

This is a new position with an interesting vantage point, Bella realizes. Being on top of him is exciting in different ways, but she doesn't have the time or patience to give it much thought.

Now, she's just going to savor every minute she has left with him.

Leaning down, with her hair working as a curtain around their faces, Bella kisses him as slowly and as deeply as she can. Edward's tongue pushes against hers, tentatively at first, but growing in urgency by the second.

His body is firm underneath her, and she squeezes his hips with both her legs, so tightly that she can feel his hipbones pressing against her. He reaches up and cups the back of her neck, kissing her with equal fervor, their breaths coming out in short gasps.

Edward's fumbling fingers find their way to the waistband of her jeans, and he hooks them inside, anchoring her closer to him. The way his fingers push into her abdomen makes her instinctively squirm for friction, and Edward groans.

"Fuck," he gasps, and Bella pulls away for airs. "You can't… just move like that. I mean, you can, by all means, but… you shouldn't. Fuck."

Hearing him swear makes Bella squirm again, and Edward's second groan makes her blush embarrassedly.

"I'm sorry!" she says, sitting up straighter. "I didn't realize..."

Edward shakes his head, face flushed, and reaches up to curl his hand around the back of her neck again. "Come here," he murmurs. "I only have you for so long. Let me savor it."

Bella is on her back again, her stomach exposed to Edward's mouth. He leaves a wet trail along her navel, but it feels warm rather than cold.

One finger is hooked in the waistband of her jeans again, except this time his hook has captured the top of her panties as well.

That finger, that lone finger against her bare abdomen, is all she can think about.

"Edward," she whispers. He looks up, lips swollen, hair disheveled, and she can't help but think she'd do anything with this boy. "I want you to do it."

Edward's brows furrow for a moment, and to prevent further confusion, Bella reaches down and unbuttons her jeans.

Edward looks down at where his finger is and licks his lips, looking up at her again.

"I'm not sure what you're asking," he says quietly, and the mixture of excitement and fear in his eyes is breathtakingly beautiful.

Bella bites her lip and unzips her jeans all the way, before taking his hand and clumsily trying to slip it under her jeans.

She hears Edward's sharp intake of breath before he shifts suddenly, pulling himself up so that he's leaning on an elbow beside her. His hand remains right on the edge of where she wants it, and she lifts her hips, wanting more.

"A word of warning," he says in a raspy voice. "I'm not entirely sure what I'm doing."

"That's okay."

Anxiety causes Edward's smile to be short-lived, but with his eyes never leaving her face, his hand slowly slips into the space between her panties and her jeans.

Bella closes her eyes at the teasing sensation of his hand against her sex, and even though he's only touching her through her panties, she feels them start to wet. How she can react that way when he's barely touched her is a mystery to her.

"Do it, please, just do it," she whispers, eyes still closed.

Edward's fingers stroke her softly through the cotton of her panties, and she can feel his hand trembling. Every time his fingers pass over her clit, she inhales sharply through her noise (nose?) and wonders how the lightest touch can feel so torturously good.

Edward's fingers travel from her clit to where her behind rests on the bed, and she lifts her legs, bending her knees to offer him more space.

She can't hold still for more than three seconds before she lifts her hips again, wanting more.

Always more.

"Does that feel good?" Edward asks, and his voice is a whisper against her cheek.

"Mmmhmm." Bella nods, swallowing. "Go under?"

Edward pauses for a moment. "Open your eyes."

Bella opens them and blinks in the light. She almost gasps at what she sees in his eyes.

Red-hot, blazing lust, warmth, and so much love that the sight of it steals the breath from her lungs…

Edward searches her gaze for confirmation, and Bella nearly combusts with the anticipation. Her heart pounds with adrenaline and it's the only thing she hears until Edward finally slips his hand under her panties and presses it right against her wetness.

Bella jumps and gasps in surprise, the feel of his skin touching such a sensitive part of hers igniting her like a live wire.

She bites her lip, breathing shakily, and squirms a little bit. The added pressure on her wet skin makes her suppress a moan, and Edward swallows audibly.

Slowly, he moves his fingers up and down her slit, torturously slow, and she gets wetter by the second. In her head, years of conditioning tells her that this is wrong, but she doesn't understand how something so wrong could feel so perfect.

Her clit, only used to her rougher, more urgent touches, begins to ache and burn with the sensitivity. She feels it swell, every nerve snapping to attention.

"More," she whispers, and Edward's finger begins to stroke faster, up and down.

"Wait." Bella reaches down and gently nudges his hand away, showing him how she does it. She places two fingers on her clit and rubs in steady circles. "Like that."

Edward licks his lips and nods determinedly, forever the eager student. He mirrors Bella's movements and she finally lets out a little moan, a sound so sweet that Edward closes his eyes.

Without stopping his ministrations, he places his forehead against her shoulder. Bella reaches up and gets another hold of his hair, her breathing picking up.

"God, I've wanted to touch you for so long," Edward whispers hoarsely. The statement makes Bella gasp in pleasure and roll her hips towards his hand. This simple act alone feels so depraved, and yet it only fuels the fire burning through her.

Once she begins to feel the steady buildup in her abdomen, the delicious tightening of her muscles, she holds her breath and clutches Edward's hair so tightly that he groans.

All the tension in Bella's body is released as she buries her face in Edward's neck and lets out one choked up, shaking, desperate moan of pleasure. Trembling and panting and convulsing, Bella lets her head fall back as she bathes in the after affects of the orgasm, of Edward, of everything that just happened.

Edward says something, mumbles it really, but she's too far gone to know what he says. It sounded like "stunning", but it could have been "sunny" or "stutter."

Or "slutty".

And just like that- shame.

Shame, cold and humiliating, poisons the adrenaline running through her veins. She looks down at Edward's fingers, at her soiled panties and her bare skin, wet and sticky, and feels her face heating.

"Don't," Edward's voice is firm, but his expression is gentle. He strokes the hair off her forehead and kisses her nose. "This was perfect. Please don't regret it. Don't regret how I made you feel. Thank you." Bella smiles, tears stinging her eyes, and says nothing. Words never seem like enough, so she hopes he can see her love for him in her nearly pained expression.

"Besides," Edward asks, eyes glinting playfully. "You're even more beautiful when your brain switches off."

Bella wipes her nose on her sleeve and stares at him in confusion. Lately, that's the only cue Edward needs to explain himself.

"During a woman's orgasm, activity in several parts of the brain drops dramatically. Especially areas that involve alertness and anxiety, like the amygdala or hippocampus. It's why your mind goes blank in that moment."

"What about men?" Bella asks, and her gaze drops to the bulge at the front of his jeans. She reaches down, hand still trembling slightly, and rubs the back of her knuckles against it.

Edward inhales sharply. "Brain activity doesn't drop as much. Then again, male orgasms don't last as long."

Bella is filled with the resolve to please him like he pleased her- she wants to learn.

Too shy to meet his gaze, she touches him through his jeans again. Just her fingers, barely stroking the enticing bulge.

"Show me," she says, but it sounds like a question.

Edward looks down at where her hand is and sighs before looking at the time. A pained expression crosses his face and he wrinkles his nose. "Maybe another time."

Bella lifts her head and looks at the clock, shrieking in horror. "Shit! My flight!"

"We'll make it, we'll make it," Edward assures her as they hustle to their feet.

Bella frowns as she shoves her shoes on. "I'm sorry I'm always doing that to you." Her eyes are on his bulge, and Edward shrugs.

"Is it terrible for me to say that I'm almost used to it?"

"Not helping," Bella mumbles. "This is, what, the third time?"

Edward laughs. "That you know of."

Saying goodbye to Edward at the airport isn't the hardest part.

The hardest part isn't being on the plane, away from him, with the knowledge that she's going to be all the way across the country from him in a matter of hours.

The hardest part isn't when the plane is in the air, when she looks out the window and sees the earth passing below her, signifying the separation.

The hardest part of all is when Bella lands in gloomy Forks, the place where it all began and the place she ran from.

Her spirit is only lifted when she sees her father, waiting outside the terminal with a tender smile on his face.

"Hi, Dad," she says, hugging him tightly. "You look so much better."

"Time heals all wounds, huh?" he says, smiling and taking her suitcase. He appraises her from head to foot, nodding in approval. "You do too, kiddo. I was half expecting to see you starved."

Bella laughs as they walk out to Charlie's car. "Are you kidding? I'm pretty sure I gained the Freshman Fifteen."

Climbing into the car, Bella remembers to inform Edward of her safe landing.

Just landed. Headed home. Miss you xo –B

I miss you, too. Try not to go insane over the next few days, okay? –E

Haha. Not likely. When are you leaving for Chicago? –B

Soon. I'll be thinking of you. –E


Bella starts slightly and looks up, chagrined. "Sorry. What did you say?"

Charlie frowns at her. "I asked how your flight was."

"Oh, it was good," Bella says. "It felt longer than it was." She doesn't mention it was because Edward wasn't next to her.

In fact, she doesn't know if it would be a good idea to mention Edward at all. Over the past few months, she never paid much thought to what her parents would think about their relationship.

It doesn't help that his reputation started out as being less than favorable, especially after Bella confessed about their friendship, crying in the backseat of their car. Their idea of him may not have changed over time.

But she can't hide it, not forever.

Just as long as possible.

She mentally reminds herself to talk to Edward about it as soon as the opportunity arises.

As they drive down the familiar streets of Forks, Bella is filled with a heavy melancholy. These streets have too many memories, and not very happy ones.

She shakes her head and takes a deep breath, telling herself to keep the past in the past. She's not very likely to see anyone she doesn't want to see, and the only person who mattered is finally hers.

As they pull into the driveway of their little home, Bella's eyes don't land on her own house.

They land on the brown and white house on the right, the cold home with the darkened windows.

For the first time in a long time, she wonders about Alice.

Renee rises from the porch swing as soon as they pull into the driveway, smiling when she sees Bella.

"Hi, honey," Renee says, pulling her into a tight hug. "I missed you so much. Doesn't it feel good to be home?"

Bella smiles and turns to take her suitcase from her dad so that her mother wouldn't be able to read her face.

"Sure does," she lies. "I'm not used to how quiet it is here anymore, though."

"Yes, well, it's not exactly a bustling university," Renee says, smiling.

Bella sighs with exhaustion, collapsing onto the couch. Her pocket buzzes with a new text, probably from Edward, but she resists the impulse to look at it.

"God, I'm freaking tired," she says, stifling a yawn. "We're not doing anything today, are we? I need a nap." She closes her eyes and leans her head back into the soft leather of the couch, sighing again.

When she opens her eyes, her parents are giving her a peculiar look.

"What?" she asks, frowning.

Renee and Charlie exchange a glance before simultaneously brushing her off with shrugs and dismissive gestures. Disturbed, Bella stands up and grabs her suitcase, eager to lug it upstairs.

Bella feels different when she steps into her old bedroom. Even though it's only been a few months since she was last in here, she feels like it's been ages.

She's a changed person, a new person, and the room suddenly feels foreign.

Bella places her suitcase on the bed and slowly walks over to the window seat, pulling the curtain aside. The blinds on the window across from hers are up, and she sees part of a crib.

That house, that cheery yellow house, is no longer familiar to her. Not when the inhabitants are strangers, and most definitely not when the person living across from her is a baby girl and not an awkward teenage boy.

Bella is overcome with a rush of nostalgia, and her mind flashes back to window-notes and tree aerobics, tossed jellybeans and waves behind windowpanes.

She would give anything to relive those moments, except she'd do them right the second time. She'd see him for what he was, see their friendship for the potential it truly had.

Heart aching with the thought of Edward, Bella texts him with renewed fervor.

So, I'm standing at my window seat and trying not to cry like a baby. Do I win the world record for the most 'I miss you's sent via text message? –B


Renee's voice makes Bella whirl around, and her mother grins from her spot against the doorjamb.

"Oh, yeah," Bella says, smiling at her phone. She quickly pockets it, hoping her expression doesn't give anything away.

"You look different," Renee observes. "You've filled out."

Bella squirms uncomfortably under her mother's gaze and laughs awkwardly. "Are you calling me fat?"

"No, silly," Renee says in a chiding tone. "You just look… not how you used to." Her gaze becomes piercing and Bella becomes paranoid. She fidgets with her phone, wondering if what she did with Edward is evident on her face.

Does she look older now, more womanly? Or maybe her slight shame and guilt is clear in her expression. Maybe she looks like she's hiding something.

"I missed you around here," Renee says softly. "I was so anxious the first few weeks. You didn't call enough." She frowns scoldingly and then pauses, as though waiting for an explanation.

"I know," Bella says regretfully, sitting on the edge of her bed. "It just got really busy the second I arrived. Settling in, starting classes, making friends… it was overwhelming."

"You made good friends, I hope?"

Bella nods, smiling. "Really good friends." And a boyfriend.

"Tell me about them," Renee suddenly says, sitting next to her daughter. "You barely mentioned them when you remembered to call."

"Oh," Bella says, taken aback by her mother's sudden interest. "Um, well, there's Charlotte, my roommate. I've mentioned her before. She's very excitable. Fun. Artistic, of course. There's Rosalie. She's really sweet. Very athletic. Gorgeous." Bella hesitates. "Then there's Jacob and Emmett and Peter…" She says the names quickly, not knowing how her mother, as uptight as she is, would react to her having male friends.

Edward's name gets stuck in her throat.

Bella's phone buzzes, but she ignores it.

Renee purses her lips. "Huh. Are they… nice boys?" Her smile is strained and Bella sighs.

"Yes, mom, they're awesome. If you have something to say, you can say it."

"It's just hard," Renee replies immediately. "Having you so far from home, not knowing if you're safe or if the people you spend time with are good influences, or if you're eating right and sleeping enough… I know you're an adult, and I know you are perfectly capable of making your own decisions, but I still see my little girl when I look at you. I still want some say in the things you do." Renee shakes her head. "Charlie says I'm being unreasonable, and I know that, but… I'm not used to it, you know? I just pray you'll make the right choices."

"I'll be fine," Bella reassures as her phone buzzes again.

"Who is that?" Renee asks. "That thing's been going off since you got here."

Bella's stomach flips and she shrugs as casually as possible. "I'm being missed, that's all." She feigns a dramatic yawn and Renee stands up.

"Well, I'll let you nap," she says. "But I want you to help me prepare some things for tomorrow's dinner, okay?"

Bella nods in compliance and lets out a relieved breath when she's left alone.

She knows she won't be able to hide Edward for long.

Bella pulls into the parking lot of Thriftway, and stares at the grocery store through the windshield, not looking forward to having to go inside.

Upon waking up from her nap, she'd bustled into the kitchen in time to hear Renee complaining about forgetting to buy a few things for Thanksgiving dinner. Frazzled, she handed Bella the car keys and ushered her out the door.

Silently praying that she won't run into anyone she knows, Bella takes a deep breath and resolves to be in and out as fast as possible.

The aisles of the grocery store are still familiar to Bella, familiar enough for her to expect to zip through the aisles and finish by seconds. However, it appears as though half of Forks has decided to wait until the eve of Thanksgiving to buy their ingredients.

Pushing through crowds of people and trying not to make eye contact with anyone, Bella hastily searches for a jar of poultry seasoning. Craning her neck around other women to find the brand her mother told her to get, she snatches up the right one and hurries out of the congested aisle.

Juggling all her items in one arm and looking down at the list she quickly scribbled up, Bella focuses less on walking and more on item-scratching.

"Shit! Sorry!" She bumps into someone and curses as the jar of poultry seasoning drops from her pile and rolls across the floor. She chases it as carefully as she can, watching as it rolls in between feet and gets kicked around.

Finally, the jar rolls to a stop at a pair of blue and white Nikes, the owner of which reaches down and picks it up. He holds it out to her and Bella sighs graciously.

"Thank you so mu-"

Her words cut off abruptly and she comes to a halt, almost dropping the rest of her things in the process. Her blood runs warm, horribly warm, and she wants to turn on her heel and run.

Because noticing her at the same moment she notices him, and staring at her with an expression of surprise and mild discomfort, is none other than Ben Cheney.

A/N: Am I mean? I'm mean. All that time, and I leave you with a cliffie. It had to happen.

Clutch Me If You Can is a deep, dark burgundy from Essie. It looks purple. It is not. It's one of those deceptive colors that look totally different in the bottle.

So, I'm going to be pretty busy for the next two weeks, so there most likely won't be an update before then. However, I PROMISE I will still be writing whenever I can and hopefully there won't be a horrendously long wait. I'm gonna try my best.

Stay safe, lovely people.